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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Four Types of Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, with Implications for the Book of Mormon

Students of biblical literature and of the Book of Mormon can now access an important new volume on chiasmus, Chiasmus: The State of the Art, just published as a special supplement to the journal BYU Studies Quarterly. For subscribers (or everyone?), the PDF of the entire edition can be downloaded or individual articles can be viewed as HTML or PDF files.
Today I'd like to discuss an excellent article by Dr. David Rolph Seely, “'With strong hand and with outstretched arm' (Deuteronomy 4:34); 'With outstretched hand and with strong arm' (Jeremiah 21:5): Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah" from pages 129 to 150. He discusses four different kinds of chiasmus that are shared in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, and also compares these types to what he sees in the Book of Mormon. Here is an excerpt:

Four Kinds of Distinctive Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah

Various scholars have identified four distinctive forms of chiasmus in Deuteronomy that may have provided a rhetorical prototype for Jeremiah. This does not necessarily mean that these forms of chiasmus are unique to Deuteronomy and Jeremiah but that they are suggestive of Deuteronomy providing a prototype for similar figures in Jeremiah. It could be argued that these four distinctive forms of chiasmus are representative of seventh-century Judahite rhetorical tradition. The four distinctive forms are: 
  1. Chiasmus of Speaker
  2. Chiasmus in the Position of Completing a Unit of Text
  3. Chiasmus Where Particles Create Semi-chiasmus in the Middle Two Cola of Four Cola Units
  4. Chiasmus Where Rhetorical Questions Occur in the Middle of the Structure
After examining these, Seely also considers examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and shows that all but the first form are present in the Book of Mormon. Below I will tentatively propose that one famous chiasmus in the Book of Mormon may also share features of that first form, chiasmus of the speaker.

Here is what Dr. Seely writes on this category of chiasmus:
1. Chiasmus of Speaker: A distinctive form of chiasmus in Deuteronomy is the chiasmus of speaker. This means that the inversion in the chiasmus is not with the themes or the keywords of the passage, but rather with the speakers. Deuteronomy 1:20–31 illustrates a chiasmus of speakers. This type of chiasmus was first noted by Lohfink in 1960 and later discussed by Moran. Lundbom describes this chiastic structure as follows: “In Deut. 1:20–31, Moses narrates in the first person, introducing the direct address of each of the participants in the discussion—including himself—in chiastic fashion.”

The  same  rhetorical  figure  of  chiasmus  of  speaker  is  found  in  Jer  8:18–21. In this passage Jeremiah speaks first (v. 8) and then he speaks on  behalf  of  the  people  (v.  19ab).  In  the  center  of  the  chiasmus,  Yahweh speaks (v. 19c), then Jeremiah speaks again on behalf of the people (v. 20), and finally Jeremiah concludes (v. 21).

Another example of chiasmus of speaker is found in Jer 5:1–8 where the chiasmus alternates between the words of Yahweh to the search party and Jeremiah, of Jeremiah to Yahweh, and then of Jeremiah to himself. It begins and ends with the words of Yahweh to the search party (vv. 1–2 // 7–8). The second and fourth speaker is Jeremiah speaking to Yahweh (vv. 3 // 5c–6) and in the center Jeremiah speaks to himself (4–5b).


Later, as Dr. Seely explores the presence of related forms of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, he presents good examples for three of the four types but not really for the chiasmus of the speaker:

While I have not yet located an example of a chiasmus of speaker in the Book of Mormon, we can point to a similar example  involving the reversal of the subjects in the text. In Nephi’s interpretation of the block of Isaiah chapters that he has inserted into his record in 2 Nephi 12–24 that equal Isa 2–14, he gives a long historical discussion of how these Isaiah passages may help illuminate the history of the Jews, the Lehites, and the Gentiles. Nephi presents this discussion in a chiastic  form—that  also turns out to  coincide with the historical  order of the visit of the Savior to the three peoples and their acceptance of the Book of Mormon:

I find that interesting. But there may be yet another example to consider, one that may come closer to the chiasmus of the speaker form found in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. Consider Alma 36, where Alma is narrating a sacred experience to his son, Helaman. Technically, everything being said is simply Alma speaking to his son, but in this discourse, he recalls or remembers the words of various parties (his own, his fathers, his father Alma, his father Lehi, the words of an angel, the ministering of the Spirit, and the answer to his plea unto Christ--the latter two, of course, do not involve explicit spoken words, but can be viewed as acts of communication and ministering). There are multiple speakers or "living sources" here with with recipients of communication, whether explicit or implicit.

The structure could be mapped as:

A. Alma urges Helaman to give ear to his words and keep the commandments (v. 1) [source: Alma's words]

B. Alma reminds Helaman of the story of their fathers ("our fathers") and their deliverance (vv. 1-3) [source: "our fathers"]

C. Alms shares his own testimony and story with Helaman, urging him to hear his words and learn that he might be blessed (vv. 3-5) [source: Alma's words]

D. As he sought to destroy the Church of God [by speaking to other against it] (v. 6), an angel descended and spoke to Alma and his brethren, causing Alma to fall and lose strength (vv. 6-11) [source: an angel]

E. Alma, in torment over what he had done (vv. 12-16), recalls the words of his father ("my father") about Christ (v. 17) [source: Alma's father]

F. Alma cries out to Christ, the Son of God (v. 18) [source: Alma, speaking to Christ]

F'. Christ answers Alma with forgiveness and joy (vv. 19-20) [source: Christ answering Alma]

E'. Filled with exquisite joy, Alma sees what Lehi ("our father Lehi") had written, describing what he saw in the heavenly court (vv. 21-22) [source: "our father Lehi"]

D'. Alma regains his strength and stands, is filled with the Holy Ghost, and speaks to others to build up the Church (vv. 23-25) [source: the Holy Ghost]

C'. Alma testifies that the word imparted to him has blessed many and has blessed him (vv. 26-27) [source: Alma's words]

B'. Alma appeals to the deliverance of their fathers ("our fathers") from captivity (vv. 28-29) [source: "our fathers"]

A'. Alma urges Helaman to keep the commandments to be redeemed. "Now this is according to his word." (v. 30) [source: Alma's words]

If we view the text with a lens of the source being cited or referred to and the directionality of communication (including ministering), rather than just key words and concepts, it does seem to divide into sections with a chiastic structure of its own. But some of this structure does rely on repeated concepts or keywords, so it's not entirely based on implied or explicit sources. It could be simplified to something like this:

A. Alma speaks to his son, citing the deliverance of their fathers

B. Alma recounts his "anti-ministery" to destroy the Church

C. An angel descends and speaks to Alma

D. In torment, Alma recalls the words of his father ("my father") about Christ

E. Alma cries out to Christ, the Son of God

E'. Christ implicitly answers Alma with forgiveness and joy

D'. Alma sees what Lehi ("our father Lehi") had seen in the heavenly court

C'. Alma is filled with the Holy Ghost

B'. Alma recounts his ministry to others to build up the Church.

A'. Alma speaks to Helaman, citing the deliverance of their fathers. 

There is certainly some poetic license being used here, but does that exceed the bounds of what might have been intended in the poetry itself by an author familiar with Hebraic rhetorical forms such as chiasmus? In other words, could this be viewed as a form of a chiasmus of the speaker? I'm not sure but welcome feedback.  

The references to fathers is interesting. Referring to Lehi as "our father Lehi" does strike me as a potentially deliberate device to link his and Lehi's vision of God and the heavenly court to his own father's prophecies of the coming of Christ, the Son of God. The tight relationship between the visitation of the angel and his loss of strength and the visitation of the Holy Ghost and his regaining of strength and arising seems to link the ministering of the Spirit to the words of the angel in this parsing of the chiasmus, in spite of the Spirit not using words in filling and fortifying him. 

Alma 36 is a complex chiasm, not just because it has many steps in its fully mapped structures based on related words and themes, but because in the "messy" parts there is actually a lot of structure that seems to call out for additional lenses to be viewed, like the chiasmus of the speaker lens. This may be related to some concepts I once explored in the article, “'Arise from the Dust': Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 3: Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus, Alma 36),” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 295-318. Speculative, yes, but I think there is more artistry to Alma 36 than anyone simply reading the English translation would have ever noticed until scholars began teaching us about the rhetorical and poetical devices of the ancient Hebrews, which we can still be seem shining through the translation process.

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Most Appropriate Thanksgiving Message for This Day: President Nelson on the Power of Gratitude

I just listened to President Nelson's short message delivered at noon (Central Time) via Youtube. I always enjoy listening to this kind, wise man, but he greatly exceeded my expectations. I feel it was the most appropriate and beautiful message that could be delivered as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, a message that can our minds away from political strike, anger, and division and instead fill us with the gratitude that can heal us and bring us closer to God. What an inspired message! And he gave us an inspired challenge to spend the next week sharing thoughts of gratitude each day on social media, using the hashtag #GiveThanks, to be a force for good across the globe. Truly inspired!



I'll start with one of the miracles that I ponder almost daily, certainly weekly, that fills me with wonder and delight at the handiwork of God. Can you guess what I'm talking about? Yes, ATP synthase! The amazing complex of proteins that acts like a finely tuned motor with a rotor that spins around 200 times a second cranking out energized reactants as enzyme structures open and close endlessly, turning the oxygen we breathe into the chemical energy that runs every cell and organ of our body. Fiendishly clever is the wrong word, and diabolically clever is worse! We need better words for cleverness. Divinely clever might work, but few use that expression. Why not? Satan's cleverness is a dead end while the Lord's gives us everything, including the breath of life and the motorized enzymes that give us life from each breath we take. 

Here are a couple of videos explaining what go on in mitochondria and show some different animations of the incredible whirling motors that catalyze formation of ATP to give our bodies energy:


These whirling motors of ATP synthase would quickly stall if they were not given the "fuel" of hydrogen ions (protons) atoms pumped into one portion of the mitochondria by another stunning mechanism, a complex of proteins that are precisely tuned to pump protons "uphill" across the membrane into the hydrogen-rich zone that drives the rotors. Check out the electron transport chain:

These wonders are just the beginning of the brilliant molecular machinery that makes life on this planet possible -- and even joyous. We should life our voices in praise of God's Creation every day. I'm so grateful that it's possible to be alive, thanks in part to the miraculous chemical engines in our mitochondria. What a marvel life is!

Monday, November 09, 2020

Video of My Presentation with Noel Reynolds, “'Strong Like Unto Moses': The Case for Ancient Roots in the Book of Moses"

On Sept. 18 and 19, 2020 in Provo, Utah, the Interpreter Foundation sponsored a virtual conference, "Tracing Ancient Threads in the Book of Moses." Dr. Noel Reynolds and I collaborated on a paper that I presented, joined by Noel in the Q&A session. The presentation and our Q&A are in the Youtube video below. You can also read a draft of the paper on the Interpreter Foundation website, where you can also see the video and listen to the audio recording.

In our paper, we propose that the extensive textual relationships between the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon is not easily explained by Joseph just relying on Book of Mormon language when he later dictated the Book of Moses, for many of the relationships suggest a direction of dependency from the Book of Moses to the Book of Mormon, as if something like the Book of Moses were on the brass plates used by Book of Mormon writers. In some cases, it is as if the Book of Moses text provides the backstory that Book of Mormon writers allude to, wherein knowledge of the relevant Book of Moses passage adds meaning to the allusions in the Book of Mormon text. Interestingly, writers most familiar with the brass plates like Nephi tend to provide the heaviest textual linkages to the Book of Moses. Further, the heavy relationship between the two texts is not evident when we compare the Book of Mormon with the Book of Abraham. The dozens of textual parallels not based on the KJV may provide an unexpected and fascinating insight into the ancient roots of both the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon, via its ancient roots in the brass plates. 

We recognize that this is a controversial position, but please consider the data presented in the paper and briefly summarized in the presentation before you dismiss the hypothesis.

An array of other speakers participated in the conference. The Interpreter Foundation is providing free access to the papers and to video recordings of most of the presentations. The presentations include:

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Dangers of Censorship: Static Science, Diminished Liberty, and a Population in the Dark

A few weeks ago I made a post on Linkedin.com that cited a report on the apparent media censorship of information on a certain compound that many doctors were finding helpful in treating COVID patients at an early stage. The article summarized the latest peer-reviewed findings and argued that the media's reliance on only the negative studies, even one that was fraudulent and had to be withdrawn, was putting the nation at risk and reflected harmful and inappropriate bias. I said that "if this story is true, it will decrease my respect for the media." I was not saying that everyone should start taking any particular medication, but was pointing to an article offering a different perspective on the debate around COVID treatments in light of scientific studies. I wanted some feedback and thought it was something worth considering, while also being worried about the possibility of media bias (or censorship) on that topic.

Shortly after sharing that post, a doctor I know who liked what I had shared told me that my post had just been censored. I had received no notice, but when I tried to view it, I saw a warning indicating that I had violated LinkedIn policies. The crime was linking to something not fully aligned with WHO policies. From a scientific viewpoint, I found that troubling, for science is inherently tentative. The scientific method is about continually recognizing that we don't know everything and being willing to test previous conclusions or explore new hypotheses, learning from the surprises, the exceptions, and the unexpected results. To say that what we think we know now is the Final Answer and that data, however anecdotal, challenging the Ruling Paradigm must be hushed is anti-science and potentially dangerous. 

If social media had been in force a century ago, one scientist might have received this notice:

Dear Mr. Einstein, your account has been suspended for providing false scientific information. Scientists have established that Newtonian physics governs the universe. Your statements about "quantum theory" and "relativity" contradict mainstream physics and are thus false. 

The power of elite officials to stifle debate and contrarian data about a reigning scientific paradigm cost the lives of tens of thousands of British sailors who died from scurvy during the two centuries after it was demonstrated that adding fresh fruits and vegetables to the sailors' diet seemed to prevent scurvy. Such data contradicted the proclamations of Aristotle on the source of disease from mysterious vapors. It cost thousands of lives in Europe after the medical establishment rejected the compelling data from Ignacz Semmelweis on the possibility that something unseen on hands (germs) was transmitting deadly disease. Doctors continued to deliver babies or conduct operations without washing their hands, even though they may have been dissecting a corpse shortly before going to the delivery ward in their studies as students in European medical schools. Semmelweis's own supervisor who had seen his excellent results in reducing mortality through careful handwashing and cleansing of medical instruments continued to focus on the hospital's ventilation system as the cause of disease rather than handwashing because, after all, Aristotle must not be doubted. He was rejected and it would be decades before "germ theory" would finally be accepted and safer medical practices would be implemented. (A short summary of his work and life, and his own failure as a change agent, is at "Ignaz Semmelweis and the birth of infection control" by M. Best and D. Neuhauser.)

But the scientific need for openness about scientific information is less important than for America's need for freedom of speech, a freedom viewed by our Founding Fathers as essential for the American experiment. I am not saying that all nations need to emulate that experiment. I'll leave it to other nations to decide how to live and don't want to meddle. China, for example, has quite a different system, and many of my friends in China will tell me that based on China's history, its peoples, and its needs, its approach to government must be different. Further, as an outsider, I have no right to tell China how to do things. But here in America, for our people, our systems, and based on our history, I believe freedom of speech is essential for a free Republic to flourish. And it is essential for religious freedom as well, for minority religions such as ours need to be able to share our information and views without government or coalitions of opponents silencing that voice.

My little taste of censorship was nothing compared to what is happening nationwide. What I am about to say now will be misinterpreted as being politically motivated. Maybe even as Russian disinformation. But as my mentor, Vladimir Putin, instructed me to say in my weekly guidance chat last night, that's ridiculous. I have profound disappointment and concerns about both of our political parties and do not trust either party or their candidates for President. But my trust dips even lower when it comes to our media, including the giants of social media, in their willingness to silence dissent. 

If you get your news from CNN, Facebook, or Twitter, you might not have any idea what I'm talking about. You might not know about a certain insider to one family that has come forward in an explosive interview with a certain journalist Tucker C. (yeah, I'm afraid to give too much info lest I overstep some invisible line for sharing harmful information) confirming many details related to prior story from a New York newspaper that was brazenly censored by social media outlets, another story you may not have heard about, except perhaps for a quick "fact check" declaration that it's all "Russian disinformation -- now move along folks, there's nothing there to worry about." 

Both presidential candidates have serious problems and I can understand why good people might refuse to vote for either one, or might prefer either one over the other. My point is not about which candidate is the lesser evil, but about the brazen censorship on news related to some critical controversies that would be considered news in any other era. Such censorship not only includes blocking links to certain news sources, suppressing videos, or hiding the sources in search results, but shutting down or freezing their accounts or demonetizing their accounts. Even some who rely on Mailchimp for reaching large groups via email are allegedly finding their accounts are being closed and their massive email databases are locked up if they share information that Mailchimp doesn't like, as just happened to two independent news organizations.

It's looking like an all-out war to prevent "harmful information" from reaching the masses, even when that information may be highly credible and confirmed from multiple sources. The media and their allies are creating new standards as excuses to reject and censor information. If you were around in the days of the Watergate scandal, imagine an alternate universe with all the same facts but a media totally dedicated to supporting Nixon. Imagine a populace who had never heard of Watergate, and reporters who were punished for even asking questions about what happened. Imagine having your business suddenly crippled in its ability to market or reach customers because you said something unfavorable to Nixon that social media giants and their allies didn't like. Vote for either party or something else, but please be aware that broad censorship is at play these days. Your help is needed to support freedom of speech and denounce censorship.

In countries where censorship is the norm in the name of national security and stability, people learn to cope and are very careful about what they say. I lived in one such country for nine years, a country I respect in many ways and whose people I love, but it was so strange to come back to the US, relishing the thought of not needing to be constantly cautious and having American-style freedom of speech, only to find that I was now in a land where I had to be exceedingly careful to not express my nn-mainstream political views and where social media censorship would soon be pushed and praised by many. 

Other sovereign nations can choose what they do and I don't believe we should invade or otherwise meddle in their affairs. But the way of censorship, however useful and stabilizing it may seem in other lands, is not supposed to be the way of United States. Our success and our liberty has come from people being able to challenge ruling paradigms, whether political, social, commercial, religious, or scientific, such that we can propose something different or point out what is flawed. We can change and improve our world by speaking out about wrongdoing, bigotry, foolishness, racism, scientific error, bad dance moves, or whatever inspires us to speak. Free speech comes with the danger that many speakers will say things that are foolish or wrong at times, as has often been the case in science and is typically the case in pop culture, religion, and perhaps most fields, but we must never let one mortal man, one party, or one company or coalition of aligned companies like our social media giants assume that they are so wise, so omniscient, so beautifully woke, that they can decide what may be spoken and what may not. In a world that is increasingly politicized, our liberty depends on being able to speak and share information that may clash with the political desires of others, including those who want more power and control over our lives. We need to be civil and respectful in this, but at the same time must not be so hyper-sensitive as to become angry at dissenting voices. Persuasion, not force and censorship, should be the tool for change. 

Freedom of speech supports all our freedoms, and without it, all our freedoms can ultimately be at risk.

Friday, October 23, 2020

An Update in the Scholarship Regarding the Archaic Language in the Book of Mormon

One of the most interesting puzzles about the Book of Mormon is the recent discovery that much of the language is archaic in ways not easily explained by imitating the King James Version. We've previously discussed work from Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack showing apparent influence from Early Modern English in the words dictated by Joseph Smith. Why that is the case is still a subject for debate, but there is solid data and careful scholarship behind that observation. Part of the scholarship has included looking at specific words that appear to have archaic meanings that predate Joseph Smith's era. 

In The Nature of the Original Language, parts 3 and 4 of volume 3 of the massive Book of Mormon critical text project, Skousen and Carmack compiled evidence from searches of Early Modern English texts that showed many aspects of the Book of Mormon (meanings of certain words, the use of specific phrases, and many aspects of grammar) had fallen out of use by the 1740s. Their findings at that time were limited by the challenges in searching the databases of Early Modern English texts. Since then, better search abilities and access to more data has made it possible to more fully test their published work, and over the past year, the authors have been carefully reviewing the data to more fully evaluate their prior findings. As a result, they have found a need to issue an update since a few of the archaic words and phrases turn out to have persisted longer than initially thought, while many remain solid examples of archaic language in the Book of Mormon. This is a great example of strong scholarship, reflecting a willingness to continue learning and to correct and revise one's findings in the ever tentative quest for knowledge.

To rapidly facilitate Book of Mormon scholarship and to make further review and feedback from others possible, a preliminary version of their update was just published by the Interpreter Foundation. See “Pre-print of 'Revisions in the Analysis of Archaic Language in the Book of Mormon'” by Stanford Carmack and Royal Skousen. The document is a pre-print of what will be published part 8 of Volume III: The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon in the critical text project. It is meant to be viewed only, not printed or saved.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

"I Think It Helps Them": A Young Boy with Cancer Teaches Us About Service, Duty, and Patience with Naughty Children

Steven J. Lund's talk at the recent October 2020 General Conference focused on "Finding Joy in Christ." It began with a story from his young son, a deacon, who lost a long battle with cancer. While in severe pain, when his family expected him to simply rest and not try to attend Church, he insisted on going, for he had an assignment to pass the sacrament that he wanted to fulfill. When encouraged to stay home because others could take his place, he answered, "I see how people look at me when I pass the sacrament. I think it helps them." This pure and simple awareness of how his service could help others, though at great pain to himself, moved me deeply. A child with such knowledge, such a Christlike desire to serve others, is one of the fruits of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that inspires me to see the world in a different way. 

After pondering this story, I recalled my own surprise this week while talking with an even younger granddaughter. A few months ago I had been worried for her after seeing her lose control repeatedly over her emotions. But for the past few weeks, all that has been gone and she seems to have been going out of her way to be peaceful and do kind things for others. So I simply asked while visiting the family if something has changed that has led to her being so helpful and nice to everyone. To my surprise and delight, this young girl began telling me how much she loves Heavenly Father and how she wants to do her duty on earth. She told me that she has been fasting and praying for a relative she is close to who is not a member of the Church, and said that she wants her home to be a place with the Spirit there always so that her relative can always feel it when he comes over and will want to have it in his life. So by staying calm, being kind, and having the Spirit in her life each day, she feels that she can do her part to make the world a better place. 

This young child floored me with that answer. I just about melted in wonder. I asked her permission to share this conversation with her parents and others. How I wish I had been like that at her age. I hope  can be like that someday. What a wonderful thing it is to find young people who don't just know about the Gospel, but who have decided  to actively live it and follow Jesus Christ. I love these fruits of the Gospel that spring from the hearts of those who allow the seed of the Word of Christ to flourish.

Here is the told by Elder Lund, to whom I am very grateful for sharing this personal and tragic story for our benefit:

A few years ago, our little family went through what many families face in this fallen world. Our youngest son, Tanner Christian Lund, contracted cancer. He was an incredible soul, as nine-year-olds tend to be. He was hilariously mischievous and, at the same time, stunningly spiritually aware. Imp and angel, naughty and nice. When he was little and was every day bewildering us with his shenanigans, we wondered if he was going to grow up to be the prophet or a bank robber. Either way, it seemed that he was going to leave a mark on the world.

And then he became desperately ill. Over the next three years, modern medicine employed heroic measures, including two bone marrow transplants, where he caught pneumonia, requiring him to spend 10 weeks unconscious on a ventilator. Miraculously, he recovered for a short time, but then his cancer returned.

Shortly before he passed away, Tanner’s disease had invaded his bones, and even with strong pain medicines, still he hurt. He could barely get out of bed. One Sunday morning, his mom, Kalleen, came into his room to check on him before the family left for church. She was surprised to see that he had somehow gotten himself dressed and was sitting on the edge of his bed, painfully struggling to button his shirt. Kalleen sat down by him. “Tanner,” she said, “are you sure you are strong enough to go to church? Maybe you should stay home and rest today.”

He stared at the floor. He was a deacon. He had a quorum. And he had an assignment.

“I’m supposed to pass the sacrament today.”

“Well, I’m sure someone could do that for you.”

“Yes,” he said, “but … I see how people look at me when I pass the sacrament. I think it helps them.”

So Kalleen helped him button his shirt and tie his tie, and they drove to church. Clearly, something important was happening.

I came to church from an earlier meeting and so was surprised to see Tanner sitting on the deacons’ row. Kalleen quietly told me why he was there and what he had said: “It helps people.”

And so I watched as the deacons stepped to the sacrament table. He leaned gently against another deacon as the priests passed them the bread trays. And then Tanner shuffled to his appointed place and took hold of the end of the pew to steady himself as he presented the sacrament.

It seemed that every eye in the chapel was on him, moved by his struggle as he did his simple part. Somehow Tanner expressed a silent sermon as he solemnly, haltingly moved from row to row—his bald head moist with perspiration—representing the Savior in the way that deacons do. His once indomitable deacon’s body was itself a little bruised, broken, and torn, willingly suffering to serve by bearing the emblems of the Savior’s Atonement into our lives.

Seeing how he had come to think about being a deacon made us think differently too—about the sacrament, about the Savior, and about deacons and teachers and priests.

I wonder at the unspoken miracle that had impelled him that morning to respond so bravely to that still, small call to serve, and about the strength and capacities of all of our emergent youth as they push themselves to respond to a prophet’s call to enlist in God’s battalions and join in the work of salvation and exaltation.

Yes, such faith, such commitment, and such love for others in the hearts of those who accept the Gospel, even our young children, is a remarkable and sweet fruit of the Gospel. Thanks to all the parents who are giving their children the chance to be transformed by the power of Christ. They may bicker and falter many times along the way, they may be mischievous and often naughty, but keep teaching and loving and sharing the Word, knowing that it will help and at some point may yield a surprising bounty of joy.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Turning Gems into Dirt: The Case for Adam Clarke as a Source for the "Inspired Translation" of the Bible

John Dehlin with his podcasts and videos criticizing the Church has recently stirred up a lot of interest in the "amazing" and "historic" case of "plagiarism" against Joseph Smith based on the "groundbreaking research" of Haley Wilson-Lemmon about Joseph's "Inspired Translation of the Bible" (often called the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible or simply JST) conducted as undergraduate research with BYU Professor Thomas Wayment. John in his Mormon Stories podcast tells us that this incredible work exposing plagiarism in the JST "strikes to the heart of Mormon Church truth claims." Before the publicity Dehlin created, others were already talking about the troubling implications of the work before the details were published, before we could see what the many purported examples of plagiarism actually were. 

All people had to go on until recently (as far as I can tell), was the very short paper of  Haley Wilson and Thomas Wayment, "A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation," published online in the Journal of Undergraduate Research at BYU, March 16, 2017. It alleged that there were hundreds of parallels that "demonstrate Smith’s open reliance upon Clarke and establish that he was inclined to lean on Clarke’s commentary for matters of history, textual questions, clarification of wording, and theological nuance." Only one example, and hardly a compelling one at that, was presented in the undergraduate paper--the first one we'll review in just a moment. 

As the rumors spread, I wondered if the crown jewel of Joseph's "Inspired Translation of the Bible," the canonized Book of Moses, had clear evidence of derivation from Adam Clarke. I was working on a paper that I just presented at the "Tracing Ancient Threads of the Book of Moses Conference" in Provo, Utah on Sept. 19, and I wanted to see if some of the cases of intertextuality linking the Book of Mormon to a possible text similar to the Book of Moses on the brass plates might be related to Adam Clarke. So I looked up Adam Clarke's commentary and began searching for distinctive Book of Moses terms related to Book of Mormon concepts to see if anything interesting came from Clarke. I couldn't find any connections, though I got exhausted before exhausting the numerous interesting phrases from the Book of Moses, so I could have missed something. But I quit searching when I heard a podcast (an interview with Laura Hales for LDS Perspectives) in which Thomas Wayment explained that they had found no connections with the Book of Moses (see p. 4 and especially p. 7 of the transcript: "There are no parallels to Clarke between Genesis 1– Genesis 24"). It was only in later material, especially in the New Testament, where parallels were found (but also apparently not in the also canonized revision of Matthew 24). If the canonized Book of Moses, with its breathtaking original material, lacked influence from Clarke, I wondered why parallels elsewhere in non-canonical material that Joseph never published would be such a big deal? But whatever evidence of "plagiarism" had been found was apparently a big enough deal for Haley Wilson-Lemmon that it shattered her testimony of the Restoration. She left the Church and has become something of a hero to our critics. 

Thomas Wayment, on the other hand, took what I felt was a more reasonable approach in light of the apparent parallels that he and his student thought they had found: he saw revelation at work in the Book of Moses, but as Joseph looked at other verses in his ongoing, incomplete work, he recognized the value of turning to "the best books" to help him study things out in his own mind and use suggestions from other scholars when they made sense. With that framework, the parallels, however clear and compelling they might be, could be parsed as the reasonable effort to use available knowledge in addition to seeking pure revelation on a few key issues. Those purported parallels only involve less than 5% of the JST and even if Adam Clarke was influential, should not pose a fundamental problem for cases of Joseph studying things out in his own mind to make reasonable alterations.

But there's much more to this story, now that we can see the details that so shook Wilson-Lemmon. Their long-awaited paper has been published as Thomas A. Wayment and Haley Wilson-Lemmon, "A Recovered Resource: The Use of Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary in Joseph Smith's Bible Translation," Chapter 11 in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, edited by Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020). I just purchased the Kindle edition.

While the paper looks solid and fascinating at first glance, there are actually some serious gaps. Unfortunately, readers are unlikely to spot most of the problems unless they are thoroughly familiar with the details of Joseph's "Inspired Translation of the Bible" and unless they take the trouble to look at Adam Clarke's text. That text is The Holy Bible : containing the Old and New Testaments,  8 volumes (New York: Daniel Hitt and Abraham Paul, 1817). The text of an 1831 version is available at Sacred-Texts.com. Images and the text from Vol. 1 of an 1825 printing is available at Archive.org, where I did my initial searching of Genesis-related material. Fortunately, the hard work of digging into ALL of the examples in the Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon paper has just been done by Professor Kent P. Jackson in a valuable paper, "Some Notes on Joseph Smith and Adam Clarke," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 40 (2020): 15-60, which just came out yesterday. I highly recommend that you read this paper, if only to understand how misguided anti-Mormon claims can be, and how the zeal to attack the Church can lead to the unfortunate tendency of turning gems into dirt and pearls into trash, even while thinking one is acting as an objective scholar. 

To be clear, I am not saying that the paper by Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon is "anti-Mormon" -- Wayment surely prepared it in good faith in spite of the now revealed major gaps in the analysis. Yes, LDS scholars like all scholars can make serious mistakes at times. But it is being used by many critics of the Church as if it provides compelling reasons to reject Joseph Smith. Those anti-Mormon claims would be misguided even if the paper were completely accurate, but upon closer inspection, the paper itself lacks any compelling evidence linking Joseph Smith to Adam Clarke. Jackson's response  devastates the claims of critics. Many of them will likely ignore Jackson's work and continue to talk for years about Joseph's "plagiarism" of Adam Clarke. Some may even go on to argue that Adam Clarke was a source for the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or other revelations, repeating perhaps the same mistakes shown here (mistakenly seeing Clarke as the source for a natural preference for "will" over "shall," etc.). As with the case for Joseph borrowing from a book about the ancient Hindus to create the Book of Ether, the topic of a recent post here, the cases for Joseph's "plagiarism" inevitably seem to fizzle upon closer inspection. When startled by new charges, stay calm and look for more information from those who have dug into the sources, as Kent P. Jackson so ably did for this case.

I was quite surprised to find out that the case for plagiarism by Joseph Smith wasn't just weakened considerably by Jackson's review, but was utterly demolished. Not a single example of the many newly published cases selected as the best and most compelling by Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon survives scrutiny. Some of the examples are completely erroneous, some actually have Joseph doing the opposite of what Clarke recommended, some have much simpler explanations than borrowing from Clarke, and many are a stretch at best. Not one still stands as reasonable evidence that Joseph was influenced directly by Clarke. There is simply no explanatory power in turning to Clarke as a source. The case for "plagiarism" is utterly without merit, but even the case for mild influence also has no foundation. Even Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon's alleged evidence that Joseph may have been exposed to Clarke's text is unfounded. It's an example of scholarship based on wanting to see something, on relying on a foregone conclusion or a premature conclusion that continued to drive the way data was filtered, resulting in a pile of "evidences" all without merit. It's an easy mistake to make. It happens all the time, which is why review from others like Dr. Kent Jackson is often needed to help expose the trouble with shaky methodology and weak evidence.

So let's look at a few of the examples from Jackson's thorough review. First up is the example from the 2017 publication in the BYU Journal of Undergraduate Research, presumably the most compelling single example they could offer at the time, taken from Colossians 2:20-22. First I'll show Adam Clarke's commentary from Colossians 2:20-22 from the 1831 edition at SacredTexts.com, with Clarke's relevant comment in bold:

Colossians 2:20

If ye be dead with Christ - See the notes on Rom 6:3, Rom 6:5 (note).

From the rudiments of the world - Ye have renounced all hope of salvation from the observance of Jewish rites and ceremonies, which were only rudiments, first elements, or the alphabet, out of which the whole science of Christianity was composed. We have often seen that the world and this world signify the Jewish dispensation, or the rites, ceremonies, and services performed under it.

Why, as though living in the world - Why, as if ye were still under the same dispensation from which you have been already freed, are ye subject to its ordinances, performing them as if expecting salvation from this performance?

Colossians 2:21

Touch not; taste not; handle not - These are forms of expression very frequent among the Jews. In Maccoth, fol. xxi. 1: "If they say to a Nazarite, Don't drink, don't drink; and he, notwithstanding, drinks; he is guilty. If they say, Don't shave, don't shave; and he shaves, notwithstanding; he is guilty. If they say, Don't put on these clothes, don't put on these clothes; and he, notwithstanding, puts on heterogeneous garments; he is guilty." See more in Schoettgen.

Colossians 2:22

Which all are to perish with the using - These are not matters of eternal moment; the different kinds of meats were made for the body, and go with it into corruption: in like manner, all the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion now perish, having accomplished the end of their institution; namely, to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

After the commandments and doctrines of men? - These words should follow the 20th verse, of which they form a part; and it appears from them that the apostle is here speaking of the traditions of the elders, and the load of cumbrous ceremonies which they added to the significant rites prescribed by Moses.

Now here is the excerpt from Kent Jackson's article:

Colossians 2:20–22

KJV: [20] why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, [21] (Touch not; taste not; handle not; [22] Which all are to perish with the using,) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

JST: why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances which are after the doctrines and commandments of men, who teach you to touch not, taste not, handle not all those things which are to perish with the using?

In this passage, Joseph Smith, among many changes, moved the second half of verse 22 to the end of verse 20. The Alexander Campbell and Rodolphus Dickinson translations reorder the verses in the same way. Clarke writes, “These words should follow the 20th verse, of which they form a part.” Without rearranging the words, the translations of Abner Kneeland and John Palfrey insert extra words in attempts to make better sense of the existing text.80 These examples show that others in Joseph Smith’s generation observed that the awkward passage was in need of repair. But had the Prophet done as Clarke advised, it would still be very awkward, and it would not look much like how he actually revised it. If there were a printed source that influenced the JST, Campbell’s translation, because it was widely available and known, would be a better candidate than Clarke’s six-volume commentary.

There is no way to tell if the Prophet was influenced by any printed source to make this revision. Campbell, Clarke, Dickinson, Kneeland, and Palfrey were not drawing from superior Greek manuscripts, nor from special academic knowledge, in wanting to revise the passage. They simply observed that in its current state — in Greek as well as in English — the text was cumbersome. The awkwardness of the text itself was sufficient to invite a change, and Joseph Smith could see this as well as anyone else. Verses 20–23 constitute a single sentence — both in Greek and in the King James translation — with a parenthetical phrase inserted in the middle that spreads over a verse and a half (verses 21–22a). The insertion interrupts the grammar of the sentence and makes the whole passage awkward and difficult to comprehend. Joseph Smith’s revision places the parenthetical phrase in a clause at the end of a sentence, and it makes the whole passage read very nicely. Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon write that “the change does little to smooth out the flow of the English translation, and nothing to clarify the meaning.”81 This is manifestly untrue, because the revision certainly does smooth out the flow and clarify the meaning, and thus it is startling that they would be so condescending about it. With several carefully selected additional words (not suggested by Clarke or Campbell), the revision creates the clearest reading of this passage that I have found. It makes the sentence grammatically whole, and the insertion of “who teach you to” changes [Page 45]the overall meaning significantly and makes sense of the “touch not, taste not, handle not” sequence. This JST revision is a gem.

Joseph Smith made other changes in the surrounding text (in verse 23, for example) that cannot be explained with reference to Clarke, suggesting even more that Clarke was not the source for any changes in this passage.

Clarke recommended reordering verses in other passages. He believed, for example, that verse 13 of Matthew 23 should come after verse 14, but Joseph Smith did not make that change. Joseph Smith, in turn, moved text in other places. He placed John 1:28 after 1:34 and Mark 14:10–11 after 14:28, moves not suggested in Clarke. He moved verse 23 of 1 Timothy 5 to after verse 25, even though Clarke (in a small mention in a large commentary on other topics) stated that the verse was in the correct place and should not be moved. The Prophet also put Philippians 1:22 in front of 1:21 and moved Hebrews 7:21 to after 7:22, changes not reflected in the commentary of Clarke. He moved a piece of Exodus 33:3 to 33:1, also not noted in Clarke. And he reversed the order of verses 49 and 50 in John 6, also not noted in Clarke. Examples like these show Joseph Smith’s independence as a reviser of the text, something readily apparent in the more dramatic changes he made in Genesis and elsewhere.

Jackson appropriately observes that Joseph's alteration goes far beyond the obvious need to move the parenthetical comments to make the passage more readable. What he does is convert a still puzzling and awkward passage into one that makes more sense than any of the numerous attempts others have made to improve the translation. Truly it is a gem. It's only commonality with Clarke can be explained by common sense. What makes the JST distinctive here is independent of Clarke. It's a gem that our critics would discard as the dirt of plagiarism. 

Here are a few more of the many examples Jackson treats:

Exodus 11:9

KJV: Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you

JST: Pharaoh will not hearken unto you

For linguistic reasons, Adam Clarke criticized the King James translators for their use of “shall” here instead of “will.”50

Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon suggest that Joseph Smith followed Clarke in making this change, but there is no reason to think that this is the case. The manuscripts show that the Prophet dictated both “shall” and “will” when revising texts. Prior to arriving at this verse, he had already changed “shall” to “will” in several places, including Genesis 23:9, Romans 3:30, and Revelation 19:15. In a passage similar to the one [Page 29]here, he had already changed “he shall not let the people go” to “he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). In a passage identical to this one, he had already changed “Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you” to “Pharaoh will not hearken unto you” (Exodus 7:4). Clarke suggested none of those changes, and thus, because Joseph Smith made them prior to arriving at Exodus 11, the connection that Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon make with Clarke is unfounded.

The Prophet made other significant changes in this verse and in surrounding verses, but Clarke’s commentary cannot explain any of them. This is something we shall see repeatedly.

Exodus 22:28

KJV: Thou shalt not revile the gods

JST: Thou shalt not revile against God

That Adam Clarke disliked the KJV here is understandable, because its wording is indefensible. Joseph Smith’s change is different from Clarke’s paraphrase, but both replace “the gods” with “God,” as do virtually all modern translations.

Wayment suggests that the Prophet was dependent on Adam Clarke here, but there is a much better explanation.51 One of his guiding instincts in revising Bible passages was to correct errors, particularly doctrinal errors. There are no “gods,” and why would the law of Moses want to protect “the gods” from ridicule anyway? This is a common-sense revision that is predictable and consistent with many other changes Joseph Smith made.

Psalms 119:20

KJV: My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times

JST: My heart breaketh, for my soul longeth after thy judgments at all times

King James’s translators rejected the sensible reading of the Geneva Bible in the first clause, “Mine heart breaketh.” Clarke does not call for a revision of the text but merely comments in the course of his discussion, “We have a similar expression: — it broke my heartthat is heart-breakingshe died of a broken heart.”

With no more evidence than that, Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon believe that those words from Clarke influenced Joseph Smith to change “soul” to “heart.”54 They have no case here, and there are other changes in the passage that cannot be attributed to Clarke. Many examples in the manuscripts and Joseph Smith’s Bible show that he viewed italicized words with suspicion. Because this verse contains a string of three italicized words, it invites a change. The unidiomatic nature of the first phrase is obvious. We do not say “My soul breaketh” in modern English, so Joseph Smith changed it sensibly to “My heart breaketh,” consistent with revisions he made to other unidiomatic phrases. But he may also have been especially sensitive about the meaning of the word “soul.” Shortly before he made this revision in Psalms, he received a revelation stating that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the [Page 31]resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul” (D&C 88:15–16). With those words in mind, the phrase “my soul breaketh” makes no sense at all.

True to his frequent pattern of preserving KJV words when changing the meaning of a verse, he saved the word “soul” and moved it to a different location in the verse, certainly not anticipated by Clarke. He revised the grammar of the sentence further by replacing the noun “longing” with a verbal phrase, “longeth after,” likewise not anticipated or desired by Clarke. The combined changes make the passage read very nicely and are a significant improvement over the KJV.

This is one of several examples in which Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon isolate one small similarity to something Clarke wrote in his commentary, but it is in a Bible passage where nothing in Clarke can account for the other changes Joseph Smith made.

Now we consider 2 Timothy 3:16. For context, below is Adam Clarke's commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16 (emphasis mine), where he offers a corrected translation that is radically different from the JST:  "Every writing Divinely inspired is profitable for doctrine, etc." This is followed by Jackson's reply to Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon's treatment:

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God - This sentence is not well translated; the original πασα γραφη θεοκνευστος ωφιλιμος προς διδασκαλιαν, κ. τ. λ. should be rendered: Every writing Divinely inspired is profitable for doctrine, etc. The particle και, and, is omitted by almost all the versions and many of the fathers, and certainly does not agree well with the text. The apostle is here, beyond all controversy, speaking of the writings of the Old Testament, which, because they came by Divine inspiration, he terms the Holy Scriptures, Ti2 3:15; and it is of them alone that this passage is to be understood; and although all the New Testament came by as direct an inspiration as the Old, yet, as it was not collected at that time, not indeed complete, the apostle could have no reference to it.

The doctrine of the inspiration of the sacred writings has been a subject of much discussion, and even controversy, among Christians. There are two principal opinions on the subject:

1. That every thought and word were inspired by God, and that the writer did nothing but merely write as the Spirit dictated.

2. That God gave the whole matter, leaving the inspired writers to their own language; and hence the great variety of style and different modes of expression.

But as I have treated this subject at large in my Introduction to the Four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, I must refer the reader to that work.

Is profitable for doctrine - To teach the will of God, and to point out Jesus Christ till he should come.

For reproof - To convince men of the truth; and to confound those who should deny it, particularly the Jews.

For correction - Προς επανορθωσιν· For restoring things to their proper uses and places, correcting false notions and mistaken views.

Instruction in righteousness - Προς παιδειαν την εν δικαιοσυνῃ. For communicating all initiatory religious knowledge; for schooling mankind. All this is perfectly true of the Jewish Scriptures; and let faith in Christ Jesus be added, see Ti2 3:15, and then all that is spoken in the following verse will be literally accomplished.

 Now from Jackson:

2 Timothy 3:16

KJV: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable

JST: And all scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable

Clarke states, “This sentence is not well translated,” and he renders it “Every writing divinely inspired, is profitable.” The primary issue in the English translation is whether there is an implied is before “given by inspiration of God,” as the KJV translators assumed, or whether “All scripture given by inspiration of God” is the subject of the sentence.

I can think of two reasons why Joseph Smith might have wanted to revise this verse, and neither of them suggests reliance on Adam Clarke. To begin with, the verse as it stands in the King James translation is not true. One of the Prophet’s guiding instincts was to remove errors, and it is an error to state that everything in the Bible is inspired and profitable. As we have seen, in revising the Old Testament he rejected a whole book as “not inspired,” and he later taught, “[There are] many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the [Page 46]Holy Ghost to me.”82 Perhaps it was the false idea expressed in this verse that led to the revision.

But there is also a textual issue here. Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon again distort the matter by not showing the italics in the KJV passage.83 They believe that Joseph Smith was “apparently persuaded by Clarke’s reading of the verse,”84 but instead the change reflects the Prophet’s instinct to focus on italicized words. This is another example in which he deleted italicized words and then adjusted the remaining words to make sense of what remained. In this case, the deletion of the first italicized word, the verb “is,” makes almost inevitable the other changes he made. Clarke argued that the “and” should be omitted, but the Prophet kept it and moved it to the beginning of the sentence. Altogether, the only words that the revisions of Joseph Smith and Adam Clarke have in common are the two words that neither of them changed. [emphasis mine]

 And one more that illustrates how big the mistakes can be in mining for "plagiarism":

Luke 23:32

Clarke’s KJV: there were also two other malefactors led with him to be put to death

Joseph Smith’s KJV: there were also two others, malefactors, led with him to be put to death

JST: there were also two others, malefactors, led with him to be put to death

Adam Clarke’s edition of the King James Bible reads as noted above. He states that this verse “should certainly be translated two others, malefactors. … As it now stands in the text, it seems to intimate that our blessed Lord was also a malefactor.” Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon state, “Apparently in deference to Clarke, Smith rendered the problematic line in precisely the same way,” that is, by inserting the letter s to change “other” to “others.”70

But there is nothing here “in deference to Clarke,” and the lack of care with which Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon treat this example is troubling. Unlike Clarke’s Bible, the edition of the KJV that Joseph Smith used in preparing his revision already has “others.” Joseph Smith did not change this verse at all. He simply read it as it appeared in his Bible, and his scribe wrote it down.71 [emphasis mine]

None of these are good reasons for leaving the Church. In fact, the Book of Moses, the crown jewel of the JST project, provides some excellent reasons for deeply respecting the prophetic gifts Joseph Smith employed in his translation work, as we shall discuss in an upcoming post here related to the "Ancient Threads" conference I mentioned above. Stay tuned, and stay faithful, no matter how momentarily shocking an alleged parallel between Joseph's writings and some other text may be -- until someone digs in and reveals just how weak if not silly the case for plagiarism actually is. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

No, B.H. Roberts Did Not Abandon Belief in the Book of Mormon

Sad to see an irresponsible critic of the Church pushing the easily debunked theory that a General Authority, B.H. Roberts, lost his testimony due to the overwhelming problems in the Book of Mormon. Ridiculous. B.H. Roberts did examine the leading evidences against the Book of Mormon. Those issues, frankly, were much more challenging in 1922 than they are today as some former weaknesses have become strengths through further discovery and learning, and as some problems have been resolved by better understanding what the text actually say. But to help Church leaders understand the arguments that could be waged against the Book of Mormon, he wrote what might be considered a version of a lawyer's brief detailing what one's adversary might argue. He was frank and open in doing this. But this exercise certainly did not wither his testimony of the Book of Mormon. He remained a firm advocate for the Restoration and the divine power of the Book of Mormon. For evidence about the nature of his work and the strength of his testimony afterwards, see these resources:

 "From The Truth, The Way, and the Life: The Truth About the Way B.H. Roberts Viewed the Book of Mormon at the End of His Life," a 2015 post here at Mormanity.

"Evasive Ignorance: Anti-Mormon Claims that B.H. Roberts Lost His Testimony"  by McKay V. Jones at FairMormon.org. 

"B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon: Exhumation and Reburial" by Stephen Smoot, Ploni Almoni, Aug. 11, 2020.  (Also see his addendum to the B.R. Roberts post where he addresses a radio broadcast used to suggest Roberts was vacillating in his faith.) Here is the interesting conclusion from Smoot's valuable contribution:

The burden of proof now rests on those who wish to portray B. H. Roberts as a closeted unbeliever.54 The published and publicly spoken words of Roberts from 1922 to the time of his death in 1933 are emphatically not the whimpering of a distraught, unsure man racked with doubt. To be sure, Roberts privately expressed frustrations that he felt “stumped” with the Book of Mormon “difficulties” he encountered in his studies and that his concerns were met with either indifference or silence from Church authorities.55 But this is not the same as Roberts being a closet doubter. Not by a long shot. “Roberts’s deeply ingrained commitment to scholarship made him a ‘disciple of the second sort’ who was always open to new information and willing at least to entertain new ideas and suggestions,” observes Allen.56 “This did not mean that Book of Mormon ‘problems’ convinced him that the book was not what Joseph Smith said it was. It only meant that he was willing to look at every possible challenge while maintaining his long-time convictions.”57

At this point, let me take a moment to point out what should now be obvious. Despite John Dehlin’s best efforts to gaslight his audience, B. H. Roberts is not some ex-Mormon role model. Not only is there is no evidence that Roberts lost his faith in Joseph Smith or the restored Church of Jesus Christ, there is, as we’ve seen above, in fact abundant evidence to the contrary. After 1922 and 1927, Roberts repeatedly and publicly declared his testimony and argued for the inspiration and authenticity of Joseph Smith’s scriptural texts. So if Roberts did secretly lose his faith in 1922 or 1927, he lied about it and continued to publicly advocate for the divinity and historicity of the Book of Mormon, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, and the inspiration of the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was, in this scenario, intellectually dishonest to the highest degree. Perhaps he was, as Dehlin ludicrously tried to claim about another eminent Latter-day Saint historian, merely in it for a paycheck and the social clout. After all, Roberts’ books continued to sell well during his lifetime and he remained a General Authority until his death. Perhaps after losing his faith pure avarice and narcissistic vanity motivated Roberts to continue writing and speaking positively for the claims of Joseph Smith. But is that the kind of person ex-Mormons want to gleefully claim as one of their champions and role models? Such a person is not a bold, brave truth-teller, but rather an intellectually bankrupt, morally decrepit impostor.

There is a much more parsimonious explanation for all this that does not require the absurd contrivances of barely literate podcasting hucksters. That explanation is that Brigham Henry Roberts was a faithful, committed Latter-day Saint throughout his life. He was not, as Brigham D. Madsen and other members of the mid-twentieth century Mormon intelligentsia have tried to portray him as, an Elias for the type of pseudo-Mormon historiographical and theological naturalism and skepticism that pervaded their own thinking. And he certainly was not, as Dehlin has tried to claim, “a high-level Mormon General Authority [who] lost his faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.” To suppose Roberts was some kind of proto-Redditor who would have found an intellectual home among the likes of John Dehlin or Jeremy Runnells is the absolute pinnacle of nonsense. 

As shocking as this might sound to bigots who suppose members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are nothing but unmindful, unthinking, uneducated, uncritical, and unaware simpletons, there has, in fact, been a rich intellectual tradition in the Church, with many Latter-day Saints who have asked hard questions while also remaining committed to their faith.

B. H. Roberts was one of them.

Smoot is responding to John Dehlin's recent podcasts featuring an "amazing" work of scholarship, a 2019 master's thesis from Shannon Caldwell Montez entitled "The Secret Mormon Meetings of 1922." You can read this online at https://scholarworks.unr.edu/bitstream/handle/11714/6712/Montez_unr_0139M_13054.pdf. As you read it, ask yourself how the author handles the numerous speeches given by Roberts, his many articles, and his several books, especially The Truth, the Way, the Life, the masterpiece he published long after his exercise in Book of Mormon problems, that affirm his conviction that the Book of Mormon is historical, and divine. It's the kind of question that Dehlin ought to have asked as well. But if I'm not mistaken, you won't find much awareness of Roberts's clear positions on the Book of Mormon in Montez's thesis, because such works are not listed in her bibliography. Here is the portion of the bibliography that shows all the sources whose last names begin with the letter "r":

It is simply irresponsible to pretend to tell us what Roberts thought without paying any attention to what he told us over and over in clear and powerful terms in primary sources. His great masterpiece cannot be ignored if we wish to know what he thought. It was clear that he had a powerful testimony of the divine nature of the Book of Mormon and of the Restoration. 

Other resources to consider:


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Growing Evidence for the Scriptures: Now a Centralized Source to Consider

If you've been following the steady stream of interesting findings and insights regarding the LDS scriptures at Book of Mormon Central (BookofMormonCentral.com) and Pearl of Great Price Central (PearlofGreatPriceCentral.org/), you may be pleased to know that a centralized site focusing specifically on evidences for the LDS scriptures has been launched, Evidence Central at EvidenceCentral.org. The offerings there so far are just scratching the surface, but some beautiful scratches are there worthy of a closer look.

For starters, may I suggest you read the article, "Book of Mormon Evidence: Iron Rod as the Word of God"? There's an interesting word play apparently involved in the very apt use of the iron rod as a symbol of the word of God in the Book of Mormon. Understanding this helps us better grasp the meaning of the text and the skill of its writers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Plagiarism Made Harder, or, The Book of Ether and the Genius of Joseph's Plagiarism

Students of the Book of Mormon have long noted that the brief book of Ether is quite different in its content and style than the rest of the Book of Mormon. Believers may argue that it's because the origins of the book came from an ancient culture much different than the later Nephites, while non-believing scholars might argue that Joseph must have simply concocted it from scratch or drawn upon sources from his day that may not have been found yet.

An intriguing new publication on the roots of the book of Ether has taken the debate over its origins to a new level. Keri Toponce in "Book of Mormon Sources Project: What Inspired the Stories? A Focus on the Book of Ether," proposes that an 1820 book, A Key to the Chronology of the Hindus by Alexander Hamilton -- not the US Founding Father and statesman of Broadway fame, but an Englishman who had lived in India -- may be the key to understanding how Joseph Smith fabricated the book of Ether. The book is available at Google Books. Volume 1  is at
https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Key_to_the_Chronology_of_the_Hindus/N71OIo6yRPIC?hl=en&gbpv=0 and volume 2 is at https://books.google.com/books/about/A_Key_to_the_Chronology_of_the_Hindus.html?id=T0K_2ZGL9n0C. Both of these pages allow you to download a free PDF (click on the “Free Ebook” link and get a popup menu allowing you to download the PDF by right clicking on that link and choosing “save link as…”). You can also read it or download it at HathiTrust.org, including volume 1 and volume 2. Then you can personally experience what Joseph the valiant plagiarizer went through as he pored over hundreds of pages in these volumes, hour after hour, to capture a handful of concepts to place into a few spots in the book of Ether. One can only guess how many dozens of other large books had to be mined in a similar manner to fill in the other 99% of that short text. The story of the creation of the Book of Mormon can be so inspiring, if not miraculous.

At last we can see where Joseph got such concepts as a man named Jared having a brother, specific words such as "windows" and "clouds," the concept of some people falling into apostasy, the idea of making an ark or ship and then having it experience or even be driven by "wind" and "waves" (and even face an environment with "whales"!), the old Jewish notion of glowing stones in the ark, the classic Book of Mormon concept of "tender mercies" (though without the "tender," an inconsequential gap that barely weakens the shocking parallel), unusual zoological terms like "cattle," and a few more surprising similarities. 

While it is true that nearly all of these parallels can be found in the Bible or in texts related to the Bible, Toponce's serendipitous find gives us a single source that brings so much together, with a mere 800+ pages of Hamilton's text able to account for a great deal of the book of Ether, perhaps as much as 1%, surely making it one of the most compelling exposés ever of Book of Mormon plagiarism (to be precise, it would be better to say "derivation from a specific modern source," for Toponce does not explicitly call her finds evidence of "plagiarism," perhaps because so little of the book of Ether is related to the parallels she finds, but implies direct borrowing from this source as if there is clear evidence that specific elements and terms have been taken from Hamilton, obviously without giving credit [this parenthetical remark was added for clarity on 10/11/2020]).

As one of many examples unearthed by Toponce, Book of Mormon believers may be surprised to learn that the following passage was published in Hamilton's book (p. 5 of volume 2) a full decade before Joseph dictated the book of Ether. Can you see the uncanny parallel? (WARNING: Please don't share the following quote with others until you read my full response to arm yourself you with the necessary desperate spinning and ad hominem attacks from standard "LDS apologetics" to help keep testimonies intact in the face of such clear evidence!)

In that egg the Great Power sat incarnate, a whole year of the Creator; at the close of which, by his thought alone he caused the egg to divide itself.

And from the two divisions he framed the heaven above and the earth beneath. In the midst he placed the subtile ether, the eight regions, and the permanent receptacles of waters.

From the supreme soul he drew forth mind, existing substantially, though unperceived by sense, immaterial; and before mind or the reasoning power, he produced consciousness, the internal monitor, the ruler.

Those familiar with the Book of Mormon will immediately see the problem: there is the word "ether," obviously the source for the name of the Jaredite prophet Ether and the title of a short but important book within the Book of Mormon. At this point, we've already accounted for one of the 27 names introduced in the Ether 1. As if that weren't bad enough, the same source, a couple hundred pages later, mentions not only the Book of Mormon name Jared also found in Ether 1 (though to be fair, it's the Jared of Genesis, the son of Mahalaleel) but also, incredibly, the claim that he had a brother. That's right, there is an 1820 source which not only mentions "ether," but also mentions "the brother of Jared," one of the most prominent characters in the book of Ether. (Really, what are the odds of someone named Jared also having a brother? Coincidence? Please!) That might be enough to seal the case against the book of Ether, but there is more. Literally several things more.

Before giving you more of the evidence that may shake your testimony, let me apply some standard "LDS apologetics" tools to help spin this faithfully. The first desperate response from the standard toolkit of the apologist is to demand unreasonable "proof" that Joseph had access to the "alleged" source for his plagiarism. Sure, it's a shamefully lazy and unreasonable demand, of course, but we've got to try something, anything, right? Unfortunately, refuting this objection is as easy as looking up some libraries or library catalogs and showing that the book was readily available in many locations near Joseph. For this, though, I may need your help. Yes, I've searched but so far have found no evidence that it was in the US while Joseph was alive. For example, to this day, the expansive Library of Congress still does not have Hamilton's work in its vast halls, per a search at loc.gov:

The large Harvard Library in 1830 apparently did not have the book, though they have a copy now. The 1830 Catalogue of the Library of Harvard University has 3 volumes (I, II, and III), so they may have had even more books than Joseph Smith's vast frontier library. But in my search of Vol. 1, there are no titles listed having the word "Hindu." "Hindus" occurs once according to my search of Vol. 2:, but for someone else's book:

 A search in Vol. 3 returned a couple hits for "Hindus" but not Hamilton's. Sigh.

Nor is the book to be found in the surprisingly large Rochester City Library of 1839 nor in the library today. (I discuss the history and significance of this library in my article "The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics" published in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 23 (2017): 161-235.)

So where is an ambitious plagiarizer to go to fetch such a promising book? Having struck out on multiple attempts to locate the book in the U.S., I finally found one clue in a New Hampshire publication that tells us something about the distribution of Hamilton's book. From Notes and Queries: A Monthly of History, Folk-Lore, Mathematics, Literature, Art, Arcane Societies, Etc., vol. 20 (1902): 35, a brief entry shown below discusses some sleuthing done in the 1870s to track down the book and figure out who its originally anonymous author was. A Mr. S. R. Bosanquet in England contacted numerous institutions to learn more about the book, only finding copies in the British Museum and the libraries at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Bosanquet reported that "Hamilton's work was a limited edition, and probably that many of the books were presentation copies." (A "presentation copy" is a book that was presented or gifted personally by the author, typically bearing the author's signature.) The editors of Notes and Queries state in this 1902 publication that they have finally obtained a copy for themselves, apparently after advertising their interest for 20 years. We can only conclude that the book was rare in England, at least in the first few decades after publication, and that it was still rare in the United States as of 1902, as the printed book is today.

Given that the book probably was not available at all in the US by 1829 or even much later, asking for "proof" that Joseph saw it is utterly unreasonable and a bit snarky, frankly. But doesn't that pretty much demolish the argument that Joseph plagiarized from a rare British book? Not so fast! If I may step out of my dubious role as an LDS apologist for a minute, there's a very powerful pro-plagiarism argument here that Toponce may have already considered:  what better way to cover up one's plagiarism that to steal from a book that appears to be completely inaccessible? We are already beginning to see some of the genius behind Joseph's plagiarism. 

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint have read Martin Harris's quip about the first time he felt the mass of the covered gold plates: "I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead." But few believers ask the next question: Why was Joseph so poor? Why couldn't he afford a few dozen pounds of lead? Could the reason be that Joseph had spent all his savings for exotic research to create the Book of Mormon, even going so far as to send someone on his technical advisory team or from the staff of his vast frontier library all the way to England to fetch a rare book or two to cover his tracks for one of the most audacious acts of plagiarism ever committed? Though it would eat up his financial resources, by acquiring a rare book unavailable in the US and on the unlikely topic of the Hindus in India, nobody would ever suspect plagiarism. Brilliant! For nearly 200 years, Joseph got away with that crime -- until now. 

Amazingly, the genius of Joseph's plagiarism goes far beyond selecting a rare and inaccessible book that may have required all his funds to obtain. As we look at how he plagiarized, we see a master adding level after level of deception to cover his tracks. We have already mentioned the masterstroke of turning the minor character, the apostate brother of Jared, into a prominent righteous prophet, or turning the metaphysical substance ether into the prophet who authored this book. But there is more brilliance in Joseph's method to explore.

To set the stage, recall that in many cultures, plagiarism is viewed as a negative that reflects poorly on the character of the plagiarizer. We tend to think of plagiarizers as lazy thieves, seeking to steal the creative works of others to make it easy to quickly create a marketable work as if it were their own. But what we learn from Toponce is that Joseph went to great lengths to not only conceal his plagiarism, using only the slightest bits of text -- a word or two here, a concept there, rarely more than one or two words at a time amidst hundreds of paragraphs of seemingly tempting text filled with rich stories and intriguing names that would be a feast for an ordinary plagiarizer. That makes Joseph's plagiarism tedious and clever enough, but he then goes much further as he applies creative transformation to virtually all that he stole, obscuring the intellectual ties between his work and its source.  What reader, upon seeing the title of the book of Ether, could possibly suspect that he plucked it from volume 2 of Alexander Hamilton's A Key to the Chronology of the Hindus? Joseph embodied the great American value of hard work. His unique kind of plagiarism is something that we could very well celebrate.

What also makes the plagiarism of multiple items from Hamilton's work so diabolically clever is that the Book of Mormon has no apparent connection to anything from the general thrust of Hamilton's work, the idea that the ancient Hindus knew the story of Genesis and had religious views related to Christianity, with an emphasis on the chronology of the Bible and of events in Hindu mythology. There was so much Joseph could have borrowed from the vast information provided across over 800 pages in those volumes, but he brilliantly covered his tracks to leave no trace of a connection until Toponce finally came along and revealed Joseph's subtle and tedious method to create the 15 short chapters of the book of Ether. 

While Hamilton provides us with the vital words "window," "cloud," "records," "kings" and "elephants," one can only imagine what other rare and obscure books Joseph may have mined to come up with the thousands of other Book of Mormon concepts as "hill" and "camp." It will take years of further scholarship, even with the most advanced computer search tools of our day, to settle this issue. For now, it's best that we focus on Hamilton's work alone and let Keri Toponce guide us in exposing his methodology. 

Keri first notes that most of the source material for Joseph's plagiarism is found in Hamilton's volume 2. Why? Of course! Joseph knew that few people get past the first volume of any book, so it's best to plagiarize from later volumes when possible. Most clever of all is the choice of Hamilton's book in the first place. But wait, wouldn't any true-blooded American rush to read a book by the famed Alexander Hamilton? Ah, but as noted above, the truth is that this book was merely anonymous in Joseph's day and anonymous books are much less likely to be read or acquired. Another stroke of genius! Of course, being unavailable (as far as I can tell) in the US was the key stroke of genius in the story of the plagiarism of the book of Ether.

So how did Joseph carry out his plagiarism when he began working with volume 2?

As we begin reading volume 2, we learn about the relationship of Hindu mythology to the Bible, with fascinating names like Rama-Swamy, Brahm, Semiramis, Narayana, Bar-Achmanes, Brachmen, Brahmen, Manaeva-Sostra, Oannes, Protogenes, Proclus, Sisuthrus, Nara, Ayana, all begging to be plagiarized (these would make wonderful names for Nephi's siblings!) -- and that's just in the first five pages. We learn of concepts that I imagine Nephi or Lehi would have loved to discuss, such as the First Cause (p. 2) and the relationship between "I Am" in the Bible to the Hindu "OM" (pp. 2-3), the idea that Oannes and Sisuthrus represent Noah and the Orphic egg of Proclus is the ark (p. 4), the great egg that was the "Forefather of all spirits" (p. 5), the immateriality of mind (pp. 5-6), etc. 

But from all these gems, from all this rich spiritual matter for a plagiarist to swipe, all that is plucked is one word, "ether" (p. 5), which is a metaphysical substance, not a prophet in a cave. The probability that Joseph plagiarized "ether" from Hamilton is increased dramatically when we realize it is used several times, making it more likely that he would notice this minor word. On 2:335, we have it in a poem:

Ere sphere beneath us roll'd or sphere above
Ere earth in firmamental ether hung,
Thou sat'st alone, till, through thy mystic love
Things unexisting to existence sprung,
And grateful descant sung. 
If Joseph had missed the two prior instances of "ether," he surely would not have missed it on p. 398, where it is even capitalized, surely suggestive of Ether as a name: 

And we learn from Cornulus that the old European heathens considered Jupiter, not as the son of Saturn, but of Ether, or pure Spirit; having sprang to life without carnal parents. 

Granted, "Ether" here is still referring to the same ether used twice before, the immaterial fluid or "pure Spirit" of the cosmos, but when capitalized, surely the knave Joseph would have thought of it as a name and built the book of Ether around this passage. Note that this passage also deals with other classic Book of Mormon concepts such as life, parents, and heathens. 

As for the most dramatic evidence of plagiarism, the "brother of Jared," increasingly desperate LDS apologists might throw up a smokescreen by saying that a man having a brother is not all that unusual (a retort that is an insult to single children and children with only sisters). But they cannot hide from the fact that the exact phrase "brother of Jared" is mentioned in Hamilton and in the book of Ether. The last hope for the apologist is to argue that Hamilton's "brother of Jared" has nothing to do with the righteous prophet of the book of Ether, but is actually an apostate:

The error, of supposing them such, apparently arose from the too commonly received opinion that Osiris, or Meon, was intended for Mizraim, instead of Enoch. If we restore this prince to his proper place in chronology , all the rest follow of course. For admitting Osiris to be Enoch, Typho or Typhos, (the apostatę brother of Jared) one of the fallen giants was his uncle. But by Typho I should rather suppose the oriental Neptune to be meant: the Jupiter Marinus of the Romans, and Thor of the Goths. (2:385)

The phrase "brother of Jared" occurs at 2:303, 321 and 414, the first and last again describing him as "apostate." Likewise at 2:313, we read of that son of Mahalaleel who disobeyed "his brother Jared." Not as clearly plagiarized as "the brother of Jared," but it's giving us the same stunning detail: Jared had a brother. Granted, it was not a Jared who was a prophet who sailed to the New World, but a much earlier apostate son of a patriarch. But that's the genius of Joseph for you, always adding creative content and major differences, sometimes even opposite concepts, to the tidbits he swiped to make his crime much harder to detect.

Here I must grant a slight weakness in Toponce's documentation, who gives us this citation: 

"But from the period, when Jarasandha , the apostate brother of Rama (aka Jared), formed a new dynasty at Magadha… the solar race never prosper." vol.2 page 312 

The quotation, actually from 2:311, not 2:312, does not mention Jared. The "aka Jared" is Toponce's editorial insertion and while accurate, may confuse some readers. Brackets instead of parentheses might have been better. A similar statement is also found at 2:142:

For after the apostasy of the race of the Sun, who were headed by Jarasandha (a brother of Rama's) the Solar racę are said never to have prospered.

Somebody seeing a passage about the brother of Rama might not be inspired to extract "brother of Jared" from it unless they had read the text carefully. No need for such embellishments: "the brother of Jared" has been established elsewhere, and in fact, occurs five times in Hamilton's 800+ pages of text, while Joseph mentions him 44 times in the 15 chapters of Ether. 

Again, that is part of Joseph's genius, to make a barely noticeable minor character become a major character in his work, with a role that is completely different than, if not a polar opposite to, the role played in the source text. Such plagiarism takes a lot more work, granted, that just lifting text and concepts wholesale as less successful plagiarizers tend to do, but that's one of the very clever keys to Joseph's success.  Meanwhile, all the major characters, themes, plot lines, stories, etc. of Hamilton's work are ignored to create plausible deniability should Hamilton's hard-to-find book ever fall into the hands of Joseph's believers or his critics. Joseph was adept at covering tracks that nobody would ever guess needed to be covered.

The most interesting parallel that Toponce uncovers regards the common elements of glowing stones used to light up a boat. Students of the Book of Mormon are likely to already know that this concept in the book of Ether is related to a well-known Jewish and other ancient traditions, especially the tradition that Noah's ark had glowing stones to provide light, which is what Hamilton alludes to. While we recovering LDS apologists used to think of that tidbit as a "friendly" ancient parallel to the book of Ether account,  now that we see it came from a rare book on the Hindus, it's much more troubling, somehow. But in any case, it's something LDS writers have been discussing for a long time as if it were helpful, not hurtful information. For example, see John A. Tvedtnes, "Glowing Stones in Ancient and Medieval Lore," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 6/2 (1997): 99-123, DOI: 10.2307/44758823 and https://www.jstor.com/stable/44758823. Tvedtnes examined numerous linkages between the book of Ether's stones, the Jaredite interpreters, the Urim and Thummim, and many ancient traditions, and felt that "the parallels to the Jaredite story are remarkable and suggest an ancient milieu for the book of Ether." While the glowing stones in the ark mentioned in Hamilton's book do not provide many of the interesting connections discussed by Tvedtnes, some of which occur in other parts of the Book of Mormon, it would be simple for Joseph to acquire the additional books -- the more obscure the better! -- needed for such linkages and daintily select and transform a few passages here and there to complete his work on this theme. Also see a recent article on glowing stones discussed as if it were Book of Mormon evidence by Book of Mormon Central in "Where did the Brother of Jared Get the Idea of Shining Stones?" One should now recognize that the correct answer to that question may well be, "From a rare book about Hindu mythology and Genesis that Joseph must have secretly imported from England -- which is why he couldn't afford a box of lead." Everything is starting to fit together now. 

But Toponce isn't finished yet! Let's consider more of the specific smoking guns she uncovers. Much of what she uncovers is based on clearly similar concepts and specific words, such as "windows,"  "records," "kings," and glowing stones. But some things she recognizes may not have explicit parallels, but still "just sound Smithish":

This just sounds Joseph Smithish- “‘Chryser exercised himself in words, in charms and
in divinations.’ Ravan had recourse to magic in all his contests with Rama” vol. 1 page

While Joseph missed the name Chryser (later to be plagiarized by an automobile manufacturer) and never uses the nouns "divination" or "charm" (though charm is used once as a verb), nor mentions "contests," Toponce astutely recognizes that his passage is "Smithish" and implies that it may have influenced Joseph. One of her related parallels is that the personal name Rama is very close to the name of a Jaredite hill, Ramah. And magic is mentioned as well. Definitely Smithish. Given how many books have such obviously Smithish elements, one can easily see what an incredibly voracious reader and voracious but delicate plagiarizer Joseph must have been. 

Now let's consider her list of similarities beginning on p. 3 of Toponce. We've already discussed the first two. For the others, I'll add brief comments (temporarily turning off the tongue-in-cheek remarks).  

1. "Both speak of a man called the brother of Jared."

2. "Both speak of a stone that is placed in an ark/vessel to give light (vol. 2 page 28, Ether 6:2-3)."

3. "Both speak about Nimrod (mentioned several times throughout both volumes, Ether 2:1, 4 &
Ether 7:22)."

Comment: Nimrod is a biblical name and Hamilton is referring to that person ("Nimrod the son of Cush" at 1:352, as in Genesis 10:8-9) as he discusses parallels between the Bible and Hindu traditions. The Valley of Nimrod in Ether 2:1,4 is named after the same Nimrod from Genesis. Much later in Ether 7:22, a king names his son Nimrod, with no connection to Hamilton. There is no reason to see Hamilton as the source for this name. 

4. "Both speak about God guiding the vessel through the storm." 

Comment: Toponce fails to recognize that most of her parallels are from biblical material in Hamilton's book, especially the story of Noah and the ark. God guiding Noah as He guided Nephi's ship and the Jaredites does not require anything from Hamilton, nor does it require "plagiarism" from the Bible, but certainly Book of Mormon writers were keenly aware of parallels to the Bible in divinely led journeys and other themes. That should be no surprise and does not detract from the historicity or antiquity of the Book of Mormon.

5. "Both mention records."

Comment: No argument here. Like literally millions of books, letters, legal documents, etc., records are mentioned. No surprise there. This padding is not the least bit interesting or informative. 

6. "Both mention the word ether (vol. 2 page 5, 335, 398, Book of Ether)."

Comment: Yes, like numerous books in Joseph's day. But there's an important difference between the metaphysical "subtile ether" of Hamilton and a man's name, just as there is a difference between the food called "ham" and the biblical name. A source talking about one is not necessarily a plausible source for "plagiarism" of the other.

7. "Both mention the word windows."

Comment: Yes, just like the Bible and countless other sources in Joseph's day. Interestingly, Hamilton mentions the window of the ark (2:28) while in Ether, we read that the Jaredite barges could not have windows (Ether 2:23), so at best it's a case of some creative transformation for the use of one word rather than the easy work of plagiarizing material directly.

8. "Both mention the ark/vessel moving due to wind/waves."

Comment: Long ago Hugh Nibley in The World of the Jaredites wrote about ancient traditions of strong winds driving the ark. Genesis 8:1 also mentions a wind going over the water near the end of Noah's time in the ark, though not necessarily driving the ark. But the concept of ships being driven by wind and waves is not exactly a novel innovation, but one of the most basic aspects of being in a vessel of any kind on the ocean. There's no case for influence from Hamilton here. 

9. "Number 8 is significant (8 vessels/ 8 people in ark & Noah is the 8th king / 8 corners of the

Comment: Grasping at straws here. On p. 7 of her paper, Toponce gives us more detail:

This quote from A Key to the Chronology of the Hindus could have definitely been the inspiration behind the eight vessels. Very similar! The description of the barges in Ether 2 also sound like they would fit the description of a crescent shaped float.
“During the churning of the milky ocean were thrown up eight great blessings.” The first is a float that is crescent shaped, is an emblem of the ark but is frequently mistaken for the moon. (vol. 2 page 22)
A phrase is found mentioning "eight blessings." That's supposed to "definitely" be possible evidence that Joseph Smith turned to Hamilton to get the idea of eight vessels? Is there any number between 1 and, say, 100, that is not mentioned in Hamilton's massive work? If there had been, say, 24 or 80 vessels, could Toponce not have equally well found have pointed to Hamilton at 2:63 which has "twenty-four days before the waters were dried up, and eighty days before the earth was dry" to find numbers associated with the flood story (like much of vol. 2)? What does Joseph gain by reading about and using the passage about "the churning of the milky ocean were thrown up eight great blessings"? To take the lengthy section containing this passage and to extract only the number 8, not even the idea of 8 ships, and to turn that into 8 vessels for the book of Ether seems like an exhausting way to pluck a number out of the air. Why could he possibly gain from turning to Hamilton at this point?

10. "Both mention seeing God."

Comment: Toponce might have even more success in her work if she were to spend some time reading the Bible, and then any of the thousands of books in Joseph's day that also mention this ancient concept, one found in the Bible and many other ancient sources. More padding. 

11. "Both mention destructive serpents (vol. 2 page 105, Ether 9:31, 33)."

Comment: Again a glance at the Bible might be helpful here, and any book describing the occasional but very real problems that many parts of the world have faced from venomous snakes. Not that the Bible or any other source mentioning the trouble serpents can cause is needed to explain a tiny detail in Ether 9:31--33. An abundance of venomous serpents can be a real problem in some parts of the world, especially Mesoamerica which appears to be the most plausible candidate for the Book of Mormon. 

Further, the cited portion of Hamilton's text has nothing that could have assisted Joseph in writing the account in Ether where large numbers of poisonous serpents begin to cause trouble for some of the Jaredites. Hamilton describes the future end of the world when "the great serpent Ananta will pour forth flames from his several mouths, for the destruction of the world; after which the universe will be re-created." A divine serpent with multiple heads spewing fire that triggers the destruction and rebirth of the universe has absolutely nothing, apart from the word "serpent," that could have helped Joseph write the book of Ether in any sensible way. (Google Books has a garbled page for 2:105. Instead see 2:105 at HathiTrust.org.) More grasping.

12. "Lord seeing Moses/Moroni “face to face” (vol. 2 page 128, Ether 12:39)."

Comment: The Bible has several references to people encountering God face to face. Hamilton's text is obviously referring to the biblical account of Moses seeing God "face to face." No need for plagiarism from an inaccessible English source about the Hindus if Joseph were plagiarizing. But expressing related spiritual events in related biblical language is what we expect from the Hebrew writers of the Book of Mormon, just as New Testament writers often used language straight from the Old Testament. No surprise here and no evidence of plagiarism. 

13. "There is a veil that covers deity (vol. 2 page 84, Ether 3:6, 19-20 & Ether 12:19, 21)." 

Comment: There is a parallel here, with Hamilton speaking of a "veil of golden light" that hides the face of the "true Sun," which is Deity. The Bible also has references to sacred veils. Paul in Hebrews 9 and 10 speaks of the veil in the temple as a symbol of the veil that Christ passed though for us and that we should pass through at least symbolically to obtain redemption through His sacrifice. But the whole idea that we can't normally see God is pervasive in the scriptures. What Hamilton lacks is the concept of humans passing through the veil (or having the veil as a barrier be removed in whole or part) to see God or be in His presence, rather than removing the veil of light that masks God in Hamilton.

14. "Man created in God’s image (vol. 2 page 90, 95, Ether 3:15)."

Comment: Again, Book of Mormon writers are said to be Hebrews who have brought Old Testament writings with them. The basic idea from Genesis 1 of being created in the image of God ought to be part of their faith. The fact that Hamilton also refers to Genesis 1 does absolutely nothing for the case of plagiarism. Senseless padding. 

15. "Elephants (vol.1 page 15, 230 & vol. 2 page 173, Ether 9:19); 'Mr. Wilford adds, “elephants were called oxen in the west.”'"

Comment: This might be a more reasonable parallel if the book of Ether noted that elephants, "also called oxen in the west," were among the Jaredites. Then we'd have some evidence of the kind of plagiarism that real plagiarists do, borrowing more than just a verb or a noun or two, but text that provides something creative and interesting to reduce the work load, not make more work. 

16. "Phrase 'curious workmanship' (vol. 2 page 16, Ether 10:27)."

Comment: Toponce is late to the dance on this one. "Curious workmanship" has already been used by various critics citing a number of references to argue that Joseph plagiarized this term. They have a lot of potential sources to choose from, I have to admit, because this was a relatively common term in Joseph's day, but not in ours. Today we might say "fine workmanship," but look at how the relative usage of these terms has changed over time according to the Google Ngram Viewer, which examines how frequent word groupings were over time in their database of digitized books. Here's the result for "curious workmanship" versus "fine workmanship" (click to enlarge, or view it directly at Google Books):


So this is a matter of translating a text into the English of Joseph's day (or even much earlier, getting back into the Early Modern English era, if you're curious). This word choice gives no evidence of a link to Hamilton, apart from both being in English. For more on the charges made about "curious workmanship," see my "Book of Mormon Plagiarism Theories and The Late War: Smoking Gun or Smoke and Mirrors?"

17. "Negligent on [sic] worshipping [sic] God (vol. 2 page 29, Ether 2:14-15)."

Comment: The Bible and countless other books have this concept. Can you find any book advocating the worship of God that doesn't criticize those who neglect God? Here Hamilton's text would offer a more plausible parallel if it looked like the Book of Mormon actually used something from his text, which reads: "so little mindful were mankind of this blessing that the divine cow became totally neglected" (2:29), which does not seem like much of a source to inspire the account in Ether where a prophet is chastised by God for three hours because he "remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord." Toponce takes a passage that mentions "neglect" and equates that basic idea with "remembering not." Yes, it's neglect, but as far as finding a smoking gun for plagiarism, it would have been more convincing if the Book of ether stated that the brother of Jared had "totally neglected the divine cow" or was criticized by the divine cow, giving us the kind of thing that plagiarists do. Going from "neglect" of the divine cow to "remembering not" to pray to God is a big enough transformation that one has to wonder what good plagiarism does for the plagiarizer when so much creative work is needed and so little benefit is reaped from the rare patches of text that are allegedly snatched. 

18. "Faith and good works both mentioned (vol.2 page 35, Ether 12:4)."

Comment: Yes, of course, just as you find in numerous books dealing with Christianity and the Bible. A mention of very common words or concepts does not constitute evidence for plagiarism. 

19. "Both speak about destruction/ bad things happening followed by rain (vol.2 page 36, Ether 9:30-35)."

Comment: If you think about it, just about everything that happens on this planet is eventually followed by rain, and often right away. And some of the bad things that happen are caused by rain. Hamilton's lengthy discussions of the Flood do not create the slightest evidence for plagiarism.

20. "Praying because of mercies shown to them (vol.2 page 40, Ether 6: 12)."

Comment: Toponce still has not noticed that Hamilton's book is all about the connections between Hindu tradition and the Bible and Christianity in particular. People praying in gratitude is not a novel idea that points to Hamilton as the necessary source. It's really getting hard to see how Toponce could be "BLOWN AWAY" by these similarities. 

21. "Confusion of tongues and Tower of Babel (vol. 1 page 380, 398, vol. 2 page 126, 308 are just some of the references; Ether 1:3, 5, 33."

Comment: In writing his translation of Ether, Mormon is keenly aware that future readers will be aware of the record in Genesis about the tower and the confusion of languages. The Bible and numerous religious books mention this. Hamilton's reliance on Genesis does not contribute to Toponce's case for plagiarism. 

22. "Both speak of a “contrite heart” (vol. 2 page 188, Ether 4:15)."

Comment: Yes, as does the Bible. This is biblical language being used in the Book of Mormon, as it is in Hamilton. Does not mean Joseph had to bring a book from England to the Sates to swipe a phrase that had already become common in religious discourse. 

23. "Both speak about attacks of monsters of the sea/ocean and shark/whale (vol. 1 pages 60 and 61, Ether 6:10."

Comment: As does the Bible and countless tales from sailing. Traversing the ocean is dangerous. No plagiarism required. 

24. "Jaredsandha’s (brother of Rama Chandra aka Jared) race didn’t prosper due to apostasy (vol.2 page 141/142)."

Comment: The Bible and many religious books tend to suggest that God blesses the righteous and that wicked apostates sooner or later face consequences. This goes back to the Torah and beyond. It's no surprise that Hamilton would point to his apostate brother of Jared as one who was not blessed richly by the Lord, quite unlike the righteous brother of Jared in Ether. No need for plagiarism here. 

25. "Both mention cattle (several times throughout both volumes, Ether 9:18) and bees (Vol. 2 page 68, Ether 2:3)."

Comment: Ouch! I thought I was going to breeze through this list without being totally stymied, but Toponce finally got me on this. OK, now I'm stymied -- completely unable to understand why stray mentions of camels and bees would count as evidence of plagiarism, when mentions of water, goats, silver, hair, hands, trees, and tents would all get a pass. And what about verbs like "see" and "read" and "eat," or conjunctions like "and" or "or"?  There's a world of spurious evidence out there being overlooked. I'm looking forward to a more consistent approach in the next edition.

Speaking of the next edition, there is one relatively more impressive parallel that Toponce missed: the idea of sacred lost books that needed to be recovered/restored. Now that's getting closer to home, a very Book of Mormonish/Smithish concept if ever there was one. OK, the mention of lost books of scripture is something one can find in many verses of the Bible and in other writings, but not with the piquant pizzazz found in Hamilton's book. From 2:31, we have another smoking gun for Joseph's clever transformative plagiarism: 

Under the Matsyu Avatar he [Mr. Maurice] writes "the first incarnation of Vishnu, in the form of a fish, to recover the sacred books, lost during the deluge." that these sacred books were emblematic of the true religion being lost in idolatry, and the period stated at the four hundred and twentieth year of the world, has been fully proved in a former Letter.

I'll try to find some desperate apologetic spinning to cope with that little shocker later. I'll just say this version is much easier than if Vishnu had been a salamander. 

There are a few more points scored in the latter part of Toponce's document. She mentions two "races" being destroyed. But Hamilton refers to all peoples as "races" and here refers to the descendants of Cain and the descendants of righteous Seth as the two "races" that were destroyed in the Flood, except for one survivor descended from Jared. This has nothing to do with warring Nephites and Lamanites or the destruction of the Jaredites in a war between two armies. 

One final topic Toponce raises is "tender mercies," and when I got to this part of her argument, I finally thought maybe we had something interesting. "Tender mercies" is a very "Book of Mormonish" concept that has not been widely used outside of our own Church literature. So if Hamilton were using it in a similar way, it would be interesting indeed, though this kind of parallel can always happen by chance. If you are going to put an adjective in front of mercy, "tender" seems like a good one and surely someone else might have used that before. Maybe Hamilton was first, but that need not mean direct transmission of influence/plagiarism. 

Here, though, I was gravely disappointed to see that the source for "tender mercies," according to Toponce, is this:

"The first action recorded of this patriarch after the deluge, is raising an altar to the Lord, and pouring out prayers and thanksgivings for the mercies that had been shewn him, and his family.” vol. 2 pages 39-40

Here I have to cry foul. "Mercy" and "mercies" are not rare words. It's the "tender" that makes the phrase interesting, and Hamilton completely lacks it. Not just in the cited passage, but anywhere in volume 1 or 2, according to my searches. Had it even been somewhere in volume 1, Toponce could at least have displayed "tender ... mercies" in the time-honored manner of some of our most dedicated critics. To imply at all that "tender mercies" is derived from Hamilton is reckless and deceptive, more so than most of the arguments presented here. She admits, of course, that the cited passage doesn't exactly have "tender," but people will see the header and not notice the details. That needs to be fixed in the second edition. 

There are a few more last-ditch attempts to pad the list of parallels. "Lots of talk about kings" and "Lots of talk about war." Again, what does one expect? How many historical or even fictional works fail to mention rulers and have nothing but peace? Certainly not the Bible.  Maybe I'll treat the rest of these weak attempts later. Nothing very interesting. Three Vedas = the three Nephites? Sigh. Yes, 2:101 has the phrase "three Vedas," but Vedas are not disciples, prophets, or holy men. They are scriptures, sacred writings, an inanimate object. The number three in front of a noun occurs in millions of publications, but if plagiarism is at play, we would expect to find a passage that could help Joseph with his story line, not just with a number between 1 and 12. For that, any poorly educated farm boy could handle that task in a jiffy without having to turn to a rare book and spending time reading about Hindu scriptures to just extract a lone "three."

Returning to my initial thoughts (and again turning off my more serious mode), while Toponce's work may be weak in terms of its specific details, its real value lies not so much in trying to explain around 1 or 2% of the book of Ether, but in explaining the incredible way Joseph Smith must have conducted his audacious plagiarism, if plagiarism were indeed his approach. Toponce, like other accusers of Joseph, shows us (implicitly) a brilliant, dedicated, almost manically obsessed plagiarizer who spared no cost in time, effort, or book and travel expenses to pursue an arduous course that was vastly more difficult than just fabricating stories. Genius-level strategies were used to cover his tracks, obtaining books that apparently were not available in the United States, and then mining them for just a few dainty pieces, never the meat they seemed to offer -- seemingly little things like the numbers three or eight, words like "windows" and "bees," the idea of ships facing waves, arcane concepts like praying to God, and Nephi's memorable trademark term "tender mercies," brilliantly hiding his plagiarism by using a book that didn't even mention "tender" anywhere -- spending hours per verse using who knows how many other books for each line, making it nearly impossible for anyone to ever detect his plagiarism or provide a semi-coherent theory for how he did it. 

While witnesses seem to recall Joseph putting his head in a hat and spewing out vast amounts of revealed text at a breakneck pace while "translating," it is clear that they erred and that many man-years if not man-decades from Joseph as well as his overworked technical advisory team must have been required for this masterpiece of "plagiarism made harder" -- vastly harder to write, and also much harder to detect, largely due to the general lack of any real relationship between the texts. We are indebted to the careful sleuthing of Keri Toponce and anxiously await the next edition on the origins of the book of Ether. (Hint: Don't overlook Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Yes, technically, it was published 25 years after the Book of Mormon -- but what better way to disguise a key source for plagiarism?)

Update, 9/16/2020: In Toponce's defense, the approach she has taken is actually quite understandable, though fatally flawed. Imagine a student of the Book of Mormon, skeptical of its origin, picking up an obscure book and suddenly finding a Book of Mormon name in it. Wow! Then after further reading, maybe a few dozen pages later you find some philosophical concept discussed that sounds like Lehi preaching. Then you notice the book talks about fortification, cattle, ships, prayer, and other elements. Have you found the smoking gun? It's only when you do some tests with clearly impossible sources like the names of craters on the moon or the poetry in Whitman's Leaves of Grass that you discover just how easy it is to find random parallels and just how little of the work of writing the Book of Mormon is explained by, say, a source of 800 pages with a couple dozen vague parallels and one or two interesting ones. 

If you insist that plagiarism is behind the Book of Mormon, show us how these alleged sources would make life easier for Joseph, not vastly harder. Toponce, unfortunately, has fallen into the parallel-o-mania trap that has led many other critics of the Book of Mormon to feel they have one of Joseph's sources, when upon closer inspection the proposal lacks merit and is likely based on random scattered parallels without a cohesive theory to connect them to the work of writing the allegedly plagiarized text. It's understandable and many intelligent people have been mislead by enticing parallels that do nothing to explain the Book of Mormon. But I agree that it can be fun to piece together an article like Toponce's and play with the uncovered parallels, as I have done with Leaves of Grass and features of the moon.  Fun indeed, but the shallow parallels do nothing to explain the Book of Mormon, though I don't think any of our critics has come up with more impressive parallels than we find in Leaves of Grass.