Experiencing Battle in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: Historical chronicles of military conflict normally focus on the decisions and perspectives of leaders. But new methodologies, pioneered by John Keegan’s Face of Battle, have focused attention on the battle experience of the common soldier. Applying this methodology to a careful reading of details within the Book of Mormon shows an experience in battle that is just as horrific as it is authentic. Continue reading

The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics

Abstract: A novel theory for the origins of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life has been offered by Rick Grunder, who argues that the story was inspired by a June 1829 visit to Rochester where Joseph could have seen a “great and spacious building,” a river, an iron railing, and even fruit trees. The purported source for the great and spacious building, the Reynolds Arcade, has even been suggested by one critic as a place where Joseph might have found “rare maps,” such as a map of Arabia that could have guided his fabrication of Lehi’s trail. As beautiful as such theories may be to their champions, they utterly fail to account for Nephi’s text.

Among the shortcomings of Grunder’s theory and creative extensions of it, the timing is problematic, for Joseph’s visit to Rochester likely occurred well after 1 Nephi was dictated. The proposed parallels offer little explanatory power for Book of Mormon creation. (For comparison, two online appendices for this article have been provided to illustrate how interesting random parallels can be found that may be more compelling than those Grunder offers.1) Further, any inspiration from a visit to Rochester as the plates of Nephi were being translated fails to account for the influence of Lehi’s vision and Nephi’s text on other portions of the Book of Mormon that were translated long before Joseph’s trip to Rochester. Finally, Nephi’s account of the vision of the Tree of Life and surrounding text cannot be reasonably explained by Grunder’s theory of last-minute fabrication inspired by Rochester or by any other theory of modern fabrication, as it is far too rooted in the ancient world and far too artfully crafted to have come from Joseph Smith and his environment. Continue reading

“Their Anger Did Increase Against Me”: Nephi’s Autobiographical Permutation of a Biblical Wordplay on the Name Joseph

Abstract: Nephi’s record on the small plates includes seven distinct scenes in which Nephi depicts the anger of his brethren against him. Each of these scenes includes language that recalls Genesis 37:5‒10, 20, the biblical scene in which Joseph’s brothers “hate him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd] for his dreams and for his words” because they fear that he intends to “reign” and to “have dominion” or rule over them (Genesis 37:8). Later, they plot to kill him (Genesis 37:20). Two of these “anger” scenes culminate in Nephi’s brothers’ bowing down before him in the same way that Joseph’s brothers bowed down in obeisance before him. Nephi permutes the expression wayyôsipû ʿôd in terms of his brothers’ “continuing” and “increasing” anger, which eventually ripens into a hatred that permanently divides the family. Nephi uses language that represents other yāsap/yôsîp + verbal-complement constructions in these “anger” scenes, usage that recalls the name Joseph in such a way as to link Nephi with his ancestor. The most surprising iteration of Nephi’s permuted “Joseph” wordplay occurs in his own psalm (2 Nephi 4:16‒35). Continue reading

The Song I Cannot Sing

Scene One

The story of her birth is a raucous family tale that begins with her arrival into the world on December 19. Her parents named her Joy. She was the youngest in a line of eight children, and every one of them could tell a story, so a person couldn’t breathe for laughing. One or another of them would string this story up over the family dinner table each year — rushing to tell it, piling on top of each other’s words. And then they would sit back in their chairs as the room pealed with laughter like big, singing bells. Continue reading

Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon (Part 2: Structural Evidences of Earlier Ancient versus Later Modern Constructions)

Abstract: Joseph Smith made various refining changes to the Book of Mormon text, most of them minor grammatical in nature. However, one type of textual change has been virtually unstudied in Book of Mormon scholarship: extemporaneous change that was present the moment Smith dictated the original text to his scribes. This type of change appears to have been improvisational, a fix or repair made in the middle of a thought or expression. I study these improvisations in depth — when they appeared historically, their purpose, and their authorship. The evidence of Article One points to ancient authors and editor-engravers whose extemporaneous changes appeared during the early layers of the Book of Mormon’s construction. But how were these improvisations affected by later contributors? In this paper, Part 2, we study the improvisational work of Moroni as compiler, finishing-editor, and conservator, and of Joseph Smith as modern translator. The findings tell us much about the Book of Mormon as scripture, and about the construction and compilation of scripture by ancient editors and authors. Continue reading