Book of Mormon Notes– How deep can you dig?

2008, October 26

Book of Mormon: “BUT Joseph Smith Could Have Copied…!” by grego

Book of Mormon: “BUT Joseph Smith Could Have Copied…!”
by grego

I find it very interesting that much of what Joseph Smith wrote was not necessarily the first time something had been written about, and how this is used as a “con” against him and the Book of Mormon.

Just today I ran into a website that said this:
“•Judith [and] Nephi
One of Nephi’s exploits is remarkably similar to an incident found in the book of Judith, in the Apocrypha of the Catholic Bible, which Joseph Smith was familiar with. The story in the Apocrypha goes like this:
Judith was a devoted servant of God. She was opposed by Holofernes, who was evil. She sought help from the Lord. She went to the city where Holofernes lived, entering the city by night, and found him asleep, drunk with wine. She unsheathed his sword, then grabbed him by the hair, and then using his own sword, cut off his head. She then departed, taking some of his possessions. When she rejoined her people there was great rejoicing, and burnt offerings were offered to the Lord.
Now, if you go back over the preceding paragraph, and substitute the name Nephi for Judith, and Laban for Holofernes, and “he” for “she,” you have the story of Nephi and Laban. There are other details, of course, which don’t correspond, but the similarities are sufficient to make one wonder if the similarities might be a result of something other than coincidence.”
Which makes me wonder, was Joseph familiar with the Apocrypha in the Catholic Bible, and what are the chances that he would use this story?1

Here’s another section:
“• Alma [and] The Westminster Confession
In 1729 the Presbyterian Church in America adopted a statement of beliefs called The Westminster Confession. Many phrases from the Confession are similar to phrases in the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon. For example:
Westminster: “before the tribunal of Christ” (Confession 33:1)
Alma: “before the tribunal of God” (Alma 5:18)
Westminster: “our first parents” (Confession 6:1)
Alma: “our first parents” (Alma 42:2)
Westminster: “the souls of the wicked…remain in darkness: (32:1)
Alma: “the souls of the wicked…yea, in darkness…remain in this state” (40:14)
Westminster: “their souls…return to God who gave them.” (32:1)
Alma: “the spirits…are taken home to that God who gave them life.” (Alma 40:11)
Westminster: “bodies…shall be united again to their souls.” (32:2)
Alma: “the souls and bodies are re-united.” (Alma 40:20)
Westminster: “The souls of the righteous.are received into the highest heavens” (32:1)
Alma: “The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness.” (Alma 40:12)
Westminster: “The souls of the wicked are cast into hell…and utter darkness.” (Confession 32:1)
Alma: “The spirits of the wicked…shall be cast out into outer darkness.” (40:13)
Other Book of Mormon prophets besides Alma used terms that also occur in the Westminster Confession. For example, Nephi uses the term ‘carnal security’. That strange term is never found in the Bible, but it is found in chapter 33 of the Confession. There is no doubt that Joseph Smith had access to a copy of the Confession, since his mother and three of his siblings had joined the Presbyterian church prior to his writing of the Book of Mormon. Again, it could be argued that the similarities are coincidental, but they do seem rather remarkable.”1
Once more, I wonder if they really had a copy of the Confession just because they were Presbyterian…
Possible? Maybe. But was it probable?2

What about Nahom, in Arabia? Is that a direct hit, a sure sign of prophecy? Well… not really. Yet, as found here3: the odds are extremely high.

Other similar comments bring me to a certain belief that “impossible” is almost never the keyword in these discussions, but it all comes down to a question of probability.

In comments like this, I have three considerations:

*Was It Available to Joseph Smith?
Among apologists who frequently run into this type of argument, there is the joke that the local library in the little frontier town of Palmyra or Manchester was akin to the Library of Congress, and that Joseph Smith lived in the library most of the time as a youth (Out working in the fields supporting his poor family? Yeah, whatever! Obviously just a front.), up until the writing of the Book of Mormon; and that no matter how rare or old or difficult to obtain the book/ map/ ancient document, or how late the records might show, the local library had it; and no matter what Smith or his mother or relatives or neighbors or anyone said about his lack of schooling and desire to read, he had read it, preparing for the Book of Mormon! Add to that, some of these materials were only available in foreign languages, which means that Joseph Smith either read them or had someone in Palmyra who could read them and would take the time to read them to him and wait while he took notes.
If nothing else, the possibility that a wandering Jew came through town and stopped and talked to Joseph Smith and gave him lessons in Hebrew, or someone teaching him about something that couldn’t really have been gotten in any other way, is always there…

*How Did Joseph Smith Compile It?
Smith would have had to pull so many fragments of rare material that didn’t conflict from so many rare sources in such a short time, that just the feat of compiling the Book of Mormon–instead of bringing it forth as he said–still stands to be something incredible.
Anyone doing even a 10-page research paper can attest to the problems of time, sources, footnotes, borrowing and originality, internal conflict (think deconstructionism), etc. What are the odds that Joseph Smith, in his state of education, really did that?

*How Did Joseph Smith Know What to Choose?
We are aware that many things that used to be true, aren’t now; and vice-versa. The Book of Mormon contains many examples of things that “weren’t true” then, but now are. The incredible thing is, out of all the things Smith could have chosen, how did he know what to choose, that wouldn’t later be proven wrong? What are the chances he would choose so many unknown/ unsupported/ “wrong” things, only to have them verified later–maybe even 178 years later? The list of “facts” that confront the Book of Mormon is dwindling incredibly fast, as more and more understanding is attained and continues to whittle it down.

I’m not old, but I’m not really young, either; I’m not Catholic, but probably unlike Joseph Smith, I’ve had Catholic friends and spent two years among 98% Catholics or such; I’ve studied languages more than Joseph Smith did, and definitely spent more time in the local library (literally hundreds of hours as a youth, though it wasn’t always in the religion/ history/ rare collections sections); I have a university degree (and actually attended 13 years of school prior to that); etc. What made the story of Judith interesting to me was, I had never heard it before. And yet, of course, it’s so obvious. Now, that reflects bad on me, I guess. But then if so, more so on the critics… I haven’t heard it, even from a critic, and I had been in apologetics heavily for about two years! Which makes me wonder even more, why is it that it takes the critics years and years to do what they accuse Joseph Smith of having done in a few short years as a young man in an obscure town?

Is it impossible? No.
Is it improbable? Yes. Probably somewhere in the odds of a monkey at the typewriter writing one of my 10-page research papers… (No doubt many critics are laughing about right now, yes, that’s about what it was, “a monkey at the typewriter” ha ha ha ha!!)

1. http://www.mormonism-proandcon.org/id10.html
2. Here’s an explanation that spreads a little light: http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Plagiarism_accusations/Westminster_Confession
3. http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2001_Arabia_and_the_Book_of_Mormon.html


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7 Comments »

  1. Grego,
    Fascinating stuff. I’m LDS. Today a non-LDS friend who happens to have his own ministry sent me a note – we’ve been “arguing via e-mail for years – that the anti-Mormon writers, The Tanners have established that 63% of the Book of Mormon comes verbatim from the King James version. The number doesn’t matter but we know of course that there are many passages in the Book of Mormon that quote scripture and does follow word for word the King James version. I’ve heard many different explanations why this is so — discounting of course the Tanner and others who simply claim he copied the Bible; What is your view on this subject based on your reading and research?
    Thanks for your insights,
    Kieth

    Comment by Kieth Merrill — 2009, January 28 @ 2:23 am

  2. Well, it’s far, far less than 63%, that’s for sure–ask him to crack it open and look for himself if he doesn’t believe it. Maybe 6.3%?
    An interesting thing is that it often isn’t quite verbatim.
    I believe it’s possible that when he (Joseph Smith) came to a section he recognized as Isaiah (often conveniently mentioned by Nephi, Jacob, and Jesus), he found where it was in the Bible and copied it. (At least, that’s what I as a translator would have done.) Note that much of the Isiah is found in the small plates, which were translated after the large plates were done. Joseph Smith could have followed Moroni’s lead—that part about “supposing the records are already had by you and not wanting to go through all the work again to give them to you”—and copied the Bible.
    It’s also possible he translated it again, which is why it comes out different in so many places. There’s not a consensus as to why, and even more troublesome to most people’s thinking, most of the time it’s the “wrong” words that are different.
    If God gives the same revelation to two people, chances are some things will be the same and some things will be different. Then, have men (inspired, but human) translate it, and the possibilities increase. Look at the examples of Moroni quoting the Bible on his visits to Joseph Smith for prime examples of this, or even later when Joseph Smith gave discourses with references to the Bible. Sometimes he quoted, sometimes he rendered a clearer or more suitable translation.
    Interestingly, the parts of Isaiah that are in the Book of Mormon have been identified as being the parts that would have been able to be in there/ available at that time to be on the brass plates. If Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, how did he guess right which parts of Isaiah to write in?
    But actually, no major thoughts or theory about it at this time.
    I see two two main ways to look at the Book of Mormon. Your friend is obviously choosing to look at the “problems”, while there are quite a few “problems” that the text brings up for him and the other side (such as mentioned in my post). How does one account for the other parts which lead to the incredibly high probability that Joseph Smith couldn’t have written it in any other way than like he said? Not only are the Book of Mormon “problems” rapidly dwindling, but when that happens, the problems increase by that amount on the other side. Let’s say, for sake of illustration, there are 100 problems with the Book of Mormon, yet 150 years later, there are only 10, and we see that most all of the problems are only because of lack of information. It’s not that there are just 90 less problems—now the critics must come up with answers as to why Joseph Smith got those 90 correct, when most everyone thought he was plain wrong at the time. Let’s say I’m writing a science book years ago, and I use a Bohr diagram for an atom. Current at the time, very helpful, no one would find a problem with it—but it’s not quite the truth, and someone reading the book now would catch it. On the other hand, years ago many people “caught” Joseph Smith, but now, the more we learn, the more it turns out they were wrong—and that is not the way it’s supposed to be happening, and the critics-in-the-know realize that. It just starts becoming ridiculous, especially when most critics are still relying on arguments that have been put out to pasture years ago.
    By the way, there are LDS apologetic answers to most of the “problems” (like the Presbyterian one in my blog: http://www.en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Plagiarism_accusations/Westminster_Confession ) and others seem logical when you think about them. For example, Jesus visits the Nephites—what would one, hypothetically, expect Him to say to a people who had been abiding the law of Moses? Maybe pretty much what he told the people in Israel? So even the majority of the parts of the Bible that are in the Book of Mormon, make sense in their setting and time.
    I wonder why—after all these years—your friend is still relying on the Tanners et. al. for “facts” when he could just open the Book of Mormon and read (or even skim!) it himself?

    Comment by grego — 2009, January 28 @ 8:37 am

  3. So, I’m a Presbyterian (non-LDS) and came across the accusations about Alma 40:11, 12, 13, 14 and 20 being plagiarized from the Westminster Confession (of which Presbyterians have historically subscribed to). I actually stumbled upon this from the website you referenced. I wasn’t aware of the earlier possible references in Alma you mentioned. To be honest, I have a lot more questions about this than the answers they offered. Why are there so many significant textual matches in Alma, but not elsewhere in the Book of Mormon? In addition to the textual similarities in Alma 40:11-20, other thoughts are paraphrased into different words that don’t result in a textual match. What are the odds that similar significant matches (10+), in both text and meaning, occur in the same passage in Alma 40, and in roughly the same sequence as in the Westminster Confession of Faith?

    Comment by Craig — 2014, January 29 @ 12:22 am

  4. Hi Craig,

    About the matches–here’s a satirical article I didn’t include, that I probably should have: http://www.jefflindsay.com/bomsource.shtml .

    “To be honest, I have a lot more questions about this than the answers they offered.”
    Ha ha, don’t we all! And not just for that one…
    Though they are almost always a wonderful resource, I don’t feel some of the apologetic arguments, especially from FAIR, are good.
    On the other hand, it’s interesting that LDS/ Mormon apologists are pretty familiar with and openly share the more important, unanswered, bothersome questions about Mormonism. The KJV and Westminster Confession “plagiarisms” are interesting, and the KJV is definitely one of those high on the list. Everyone is able to comment and come up with evidence. (I have found that this actually helps me do better thinking.)

    As to a good answer to your question? I don’t have one right now. ((shrug shoulders, sorry)) :)

    grego

    Comment by grego — 2014, January 31 @ 1:56 am

  5. Thanks for your response. I see the point in the satire piece, hence my question about the probability. Most of his examples show the pitfalls of drawing ignorant and insignificant parallels, but there are proven methods of textual analysis. Plus it should be much simpler if we are just analyzing a small portion of the text of the Book of Mormon (I think, I could be wrong on that, but I don’t feel like we’re picking and choosing here). My current opinion, based on a very rough in-my-head statistical analysis based the similar topic, semantics, text matches, and sequence would indicate that it is extremely probable this portion of Alma was plagiarized directly from WCF ch 32. I would invite feedback or insight from anyone, and I would challenge you to dig deeper on this question. In the meantime, I’ll do some research and see if I can put together more concrete method and numbers. Another option or interpretation, if the BoM is truly inspired, is that somehow all the authors of the Westminster Confession were equally inspired in a manner to reproduce the text of scriptures far before their time! But I think it’s more likely Joseph Smith had a copy of the WCF lying around, especially since his family were members in the local Presbyterian church.

    Comment by Craig — 2014, January 31 @ 10:27 pm

  6. “But I think it’s more likely Joseph Smith had a copy of the WCF lying around, especially since his family were members in the local Presbyterian church.”
    Well, some were, and to what degree, who knows. Were copies passed out to all Presbyterian members at that time? What about now?
    I’ll say if there was, there’s a very good chance he used some of the wording for translations.
    Best wishes,
    grego

    Comment by grego — 2014, February 3 @ 8:00 am

  7. Sorry grego, I was getting off point with that comment. Yes, it would make sense that he would potentially borrow some phrasing or wording from various sources, but that would not account density of textual matches and common semantic sequencing that is found in this match, indicating a high probability that this portioin of Alma 40 was derived from WCF 32 using even the strictest criteria for identifying plagiarism.

    Comment by Craig — 2014, February 3 @ 2:34 pm


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