Is the Book of Mormon a Pseudo-Archaic Text?

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Abstract: In recent years the Book of Mormon has been compared to pseudo-biblical texts like Gilbert J. Hunt’s The Late War (1816). Some have found strong linguistic correspondence and declared that there is an authorial relationship. However, comparative linguistic studies performed to date have focused on data with low probative value vis-à-vis the question of authorship. What has been lacking is non-trivial descriptive linguistic analysis that focuses on less contextual and more complex types of data, such as syntax and morphosyntax (grammatical features such as verb agreement and inflection), as well as data less obviously biblical and/or less susceptible to conscious manipulation. Those are the kinds of linguistic studies that have greater probative value in relation to authorship, and that can determine whether Joseph Smith might have been able to produce Book of Mormon grammar. In order to determine whether it is a good match with the form and structure of pseudo-biblical writings, I investigate nearly 10 kinds of syntax and morphosyntax that occur in the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible, comparing their usage with each other and with that of four pseudo-biblical texts. Findings are summarized toward the end of the article, along with some observations on biblical hypercorrection and alternative LDS views on Book of Mormon language.

This study addresses the degree to which Book of Mormon language differs from that of pseudo-biblical writings of the late 1700s and early 1800s, investigating whether there are small or large differences in form and structure. Pseudo-biblical writings can be considered a control group in relation to the linguistic form and structure that Joseph Smith might have produced had he been attempting to mimic biblical style in 1829. He was repeatedly exposed to King James idiom growing up. Thus, either adherence [Page 178]to biblical language or deviations from biblical language that are close to pseudo-biblical patterns could support the position that Joseph was the author or English-language translator of the Book of Mormon text. On the other hand, there is nothing to indicate that Joseph was well versed in many Early Modern English texts when he dictated the Book of Mormon. Hence, large deviations from both biblical and pseudo biblical patterns that approach attested archaic usage could support the position that Joseph was not its author or English-language translator.

By means of deeper linguistic analysis we can discover whether the influence of pseudo-biblical style on the earliest text of the Book of Mormon is noticeable, or (as another possibility) whether there is substantial correspondence in style between pseudo-biblical texts and the Book of Mormon. Are there fundamental, structural similarities in syntax and morphosyntax? Alternatively, do low-level differences rule out classifying the Book of Mormon as just another pseudo-biblical literary production? Does the earliest text match Early Modern English usage sufficiently so that it should not be regarded as a pseudo-archaic text?

There is of course a very large amount of syntactic data to consider, and much of the syntax would have been produced subconsciously, based as it is on implicit knowledge.1 Consequently, systematic analysis is possible and meaningful. Careful, thorough investigation of Book of Mormon grammar can therefore go a long way toward telling us whether Joseph could have been the author or English-language translator.

Specifically, this study focuses on those grammatical features whose usage patterns are either less noticeable (to non-linguists) or not as easily imitated. This is a crucial point. Linguistic items that are readily noticed and easily imitated are, at least as far as authorship determination is concerned, trivial and uninteresting. Such items have made up the bulk of the linguistic comparisons that the Book of Mormon has been subjected to up to this point. In contrast, some of the features analyzed [Page 179]for this study are reliably characterized only after rather detailed linguistic analysis.

The Pseudo-Biblical Texts Examined

The four pseudo-biblical texts examined for this study have been chosen based on frequent comparison to the Book of Mormon and/or being prominent, worthy specimens of the genus.2 The four texts include John Leacock’s The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times (1774–1775), Richard Snowden’s The American Revolution (1793), Michael Linning’s The First Book of Napoleon (1809), and Gilbert Hunt’s The Late War (1816).3 These four pseudo-biblical texts are freely available in the WordCruncher library.4

The background of these authors is as follows: John Leacock (1729– 1802) was a goldsmith and silversmith from Philadelphia, Richard Snowden (1753– 1825) was a Quaker from southwest New Jersey, Michael Linning [Page 180](1774–1838) was a Scottish solicitor originally from Lanarkshire near Glasgow, and Gilbert J. Hunt was a manufacturer from New York City.5

According to Eran Shalev, Leacock’s work was “the most popular writing in biblical style of the Revolutionary era;” Snowden’s two-volume effort was “the first full-blown, thorough, earnest, and mature attempt to biblicize the United States and its historical record;” and Hunt’s history of the War of 1812 was “the most impressive text among the numerous published during the opening decades of the nineteenth century.”6 A contemporary review of Linning’s pseudo-biblical effort found that

the book gives, in language with which they [the Bible-reading public] are best acquainted, a just view of the principle which led to the French revolution, to the elevation of Buonaparte to the throne of the Bourbons, and to all the miseries under which the continent of Europe has so long groaned; contrasting those miseries with the happiness which Britons, here denominated Albions, enjoy under the mild government of our excellent and amiable sovereign.7

Other Primary Sources

The critical edition of the Book of Mormon was essential to this study: Royal Skousen, editor, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2009). Directly related to this is Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 2nd edition (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2017) and Skousen, Grammatical Variation (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2016). LDS View provided access to the current LDS text of the scriptures, [Page 181] (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2001–).

The principal English textual source used in this study was the Early English Books Online database ( The publicly searchable portion of EEBO (Phase 1 texts) is currently found at I have mainly derived Early Modern English examples from a precisely searchable 700-million-word WordCruncher corpus I made from approximately 25,000 EEBO Phase 1 texts. Other important textual sources include Eighteenth Century Collections Online ( and, Literature Online (, and Google Books (

Observations on Pseudo-Biblical Influence

Both LDS and non-LDS perspectives on Book of Mormon language have tended toward the pseudo-archaic or pseudo-biblical. Two commonly held beliefs are the following: (1) archaic Book of Mormon usage is not systematically different from King James language; (2) the earliest text is often defective in its implementation of archaic vocabulary and grammar. Many scholars believe Book of Mormon grammar is a flawed imitation of biblical usage. That conclusion, however, has been founded on insufficient grammatical and lexical study.

A number of LDS scholars believe that because Joseph Smith’s mind was saturated with biblical language, he could have produced the text of the Book of Mormon from a mixture of biblical language and his own dialect.8 Other commentators, whose affiliation is not always known, [Page 182]have drawn similar conclusions. Here is one observation made in 2013 by a blogger — who goes by the initials RT — on the influence that one pseudo-biblical writing might have had on the formulation of the Book of Mormon text:

In sum, linguistic and narrative elements of the [Book of Mormon] are probably descended, at least in part, from Gilbert Hunt’s pseudo-biblical account of the War of 1812. The relationship between these two literary works is relatively strong, suggesting that the book had quite a memorable impact on Joseph Smith. But Smith did not borrow directly from [The Late War] (at least for the majority of the narrative content) during the process of composing the [Book of Mormon].9

For purposes of determining possible influence on authorship, RT has focused on linguistic and narrative evidence. However, the linguistic evidence he has considered is not syntactic in character, and there is no discussion of possibly obsolete lexis. Instead, this commentator has concentrated on archaic phrasal and lexical evidence that is rather obviously biblical or that is contextual to a larger degree than syntactic structures are, which can be employed in a wide array of diverse contexts. Phrases and lexical items routinely identifiable as biblical are of course more susceptible to imitation. Moreover, they are also less likely to have been produced subconsciously than syntax, so they are of secondary importance in determining authorship influence, compared to more complex linguistic studies. Also, the narrative evidence RT has considered is, by its nature, weaker than substantive linguistic evidence from the domains of semantics, morphology, and syntax.

Here is another summarizing comment about the Book of Mormon which one can currently find online: “Joseph most likely grew up reading a school book called The Late War by Gilbert J. Hunt and it heavily influenced his writing of The Book of Mormon.”10 Again, a comparison of phrases and lexical usage shared between the Book of Mormon and The Late War led to this comment. Specifically, the two researchers [Page 183]responsible for this comment carried out n-gram comparisons between the Book of Mormon and more than 100,000 pre-1830 texts. A significant flaw in the comparisons they made was failing to incorporate many Early Modern English texts — regularized for spelling and morphology — in their large corpus.11 Nor is it clear that they used the critical text, the text closest to Joseph Smith’s 1829 dictation.12 In addition, as Benjamin McGuire pointed out in 2013 (using different language), n-gram analyses provide only a brute-force approach to the question of authorship, since they ignore constituent structure.13

To these points I would add that issues of lemmatization have been ignored as well. Lemmatization involves regularizing words with inflectional differences as equivalent variants of the same lexeme. And even many lemmatization efforts cannot remedy the inherent deficiencies of most n-gram analyses. For example, Nicholas Lesse’s translation language “do not cause hym, that he shuld performe . . .” (1550, EEBO A22686) is a syntactic match with “causing them that they should . . .” (3 Nephi 2:3). These are both ditransitive causative constructions with repeated pronominals. But such a correspondence isn’t caught by standard n-gram comparisons, nor by narrowly drawn lemmatized comparisons, so that competent linguistic analysis is ultimately needed to determine relevant syntactic matching.

The website that contains the above comment comparing The Late War to the Book of Mormon has a large quantity of material to digest, and the linguistic analysis is confined to phrasal and lexical elements, which have their interest but are contextual in many cases. If there were [Page 184]no syntax, morphosyntax, or obsolete lexis to study, then we would have to content ourselves with studying mostly contextual linguistic evidence, such as we find on this website. But there are other things that can be studied that are either more complex and less contextual or can be studied in a way that brings out relevant complexity. Hence, the choice of data and methodologies are quite important.

As McGuire mentions in his 2013 article, quoting Harold Love, the explosion of available textual data has made “intelligent selectivity” extremely important.14 Syntactic studies rank very high in terms of intelligent selectivity. (To this may be added studies of potentially obsolete lexis not undertaken here but soon to be available in Royal Skousen, The Nature of the Original Language. A substantially different version of this paper will be available in that two-part book as section 12.) Syntactic studies constitute a richer source of linguistic information and a more reliable data set on which to base conclusions about Book of Mormon authorship. One specific example is the study of relative-pronoun selection after human antecedents in earlier English, addressed below.

The aforementioned website liberally employs the ellipsis symbol (…), at times in lengthy or discontinuous passages. The way this symbol is used goes against customary practice in quite a few cases and can mislead the unaware. The casual reader is led to believe there is much more compact correspondence between the Book of Mormon and The Late War (and other texts) than there actually is. This analysis has been referred to by the CES letter, whose latest iteration links to the site rather than incorporating it in the body of the letter.15 A recent imitation of the CES letter provides the reader with a reprint of some of the color-coded comparisons that are heavy in ellipsis.16

Another short blog entry to consider is one titled “American Pseudobibles (and the Book of Mormon).” The author, John Turner, quotes Eran Shalev as suggesting that “the unique combination of the biblical form and style that the Book of Mormon shares with the pseudobiblical texts, as well as their distinctly American content, provide a case for seeing Smith’s book as meaningfully affiliated to that [Page 185]American mode of writing.”17 This view of things — that pseudo-biblical style and Book of Mormon style are not substantively distinguishable — is only based on superficial linguistic considerations. We must dig deeper before we can be confident that such a view is accurate.

Eran Shalev wrote the following at the end of his article on pseudo-biblicism:18

The tradition of writing in biblical style paved the way for the Book of Mormon by conditioning Americans to reading American texts, and texts about America, in biblical language. Yet the Book of Mormon, an American narrative told in the English of the King James Bible, has thrived long after Americans abandoned the practice of recounting their affairs in biblical language. It has thus been able to survive and flourish for almost two centuries, not because, but in spite of the literary ecology of the mid-nineteenth century and after. The Book of Mormon became a testament to a widespread cultural practice of writing in biblical English that could not accommodate to the monumental transformations America endured in the first half of nineteenth century. [emphasis added]

The character of the Book of Mormon’s English is a matter that demands special study, not unstudied assumptions. Before Skousen, no one had acknowledged and accepted this reality.

Just before final submission of this piece, I was alerted to a recent Purdue University dissertation by Gregory A. Bowen.19 Bowen’s thesis examines usage in 10 texts and two small corpora, with the focus on the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon. Because the net is cast wide and touches on several linguistic areas, this study is a preliminary one in relation to the Book of Mormon. Hunt’s The Late War is one of the 19th-century texts examined.

[Page 186]Bowen either begins with or comes to an expected academic conclusion.20 He doesn’t explore the possibility that a significant amount of Book of Mormon usage could be genuinely archaic, despite the existence of extra-biblical archaic markers occurring throughout the text. Although he mentions a few, he never pursues lines of inquiry that might have revealed true archaism. In short, there is good material in this thesis, but it doesn’t approach lexical and grammatical issues that might be dispositive of the authorship question.

Bowen concludes that some heavy usage of archaisms found in the Book of Mormon were biblical hypercorrections by Joseph Smith. In the case at hand, a hypercorrection is a presumed overuse by Joseph of a prestigious biblical form.21 The issue of biblical hypercorrection will be addressed at various points in this study.

One item of archaic vocabulary that Bowen tracked was the adjective wroth. This word is a strong marker of archaism because the EEBO database clearly shows that usage rates dropped off significantly during the first half of the early modern era. He classifies the Book of Mormon’s high-frequency wroth usage as a biblical hypercorrection, since its textual rate exceeds that of the King James Bible: 90 words per million (wpm) versus 64 wpm.22 In this case, however, the close synonym angry could have been considered as well.

If we include angry in calculations and determine a relative rate of archaism, we find that the King James Bible is 53 percent wroth (49 of 93) and that the Book of Mormon is only 26 percent wroth (24 of 93). As a result, even though the absolute rate of wroth in the Book of Mormon is greater than it is in the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon’s archaic wrothangry rate is half that of the King James Bible. This extra bit of analysis — which recognizes the importance of also considering the close synonym angry — reveals that the Book of Mormon’s high rate of wroth is partly due to archaism and partly due to a higher textual frequency of the notion ‘angry.’

In summary, after duly considering a variety of evidence, a number of critics and researchers have concluded that the Book of Mormon isn’t [Page 187]genuinely archaic, and that its language is close to that of Gilbert J. Hunt’s The Late War and similarly styled texts. Some see direct influence from The Late War, others see indirect influence. Yet no one has drilled down to the foundational elements of style beyond shared lexical and phrasal usage in context and simple morphological studies; all have ignored independent archaic semantic usage, syntactic structure, and in-depth morphosyntactic research. Those are the things that can tell us most reliably and convincingly whether the Book of Mormon is similar to pseudo-biblical texts in terms of style and archaism. My primary concern in this study is with syntactic structure and morphosyntax. To my knowledge, a substantive syntactic comparison of the Book of Mormon with pseudo-biblical writings has never been performed. There is much to compare; I only touch on a few things here.

Summary of Analyses

Topics covered include agentive of and by, lest syntax, relative-pronoun usage with personal antecedents, periphrastic did, morepart usage, had (been) spake, the {-th} plural, and verbal complementation after five common verbs as well as the adjective desirous.

Agentive of and by

In most syntactic domains, Book of Mormon archaism turns out to be different from that of the King James Bible, while exceeding that of the four pseudo-biblical writings. The following is one example. Agentive of is biblical syntax, but it is the kind that was apparently more difficult for pseudo-biblical authors to imitate. Its use is less obvious than that of lexical items like thou, saith, unto, or past-tense spake (to this we may also add the prominent lexical phrase it came to pass).

In late Middle English, just before the early modern period, the chief preposition used in passive constructions to indicate the agent was of, later giving way to by.23 (Late Middle English ended around the time William Caxton began to print books in English in the final quarter of the 15th century, and Early Modern English continued to the end of the 17th century.) An example is the following sentence from a book found in the EEBO database: “God requireth the law to be kepte of all men” (1528, EEBO A14136). By the late modern period this expression would have [Page 188]almost always been worded “God requires the law to be kept by all men.” A Book of Mormon example is “Moses was commanded of the Lord” (1 Nephi 17:26), equivalent to “Moses was commanded by the Lord.”

Royal Skousen has carried out systematic but incomplete sampling of past participles followed by either agentive of or by in the two scriptural texts (mostly from an inspection of the syntax of regular verbs ending in {-ed} that are immediately followed by of or by and an animate agent). I have done the same for the four pseudo-biblical writings. This research has yielded the following estimates:

Estimated agentive of rates

  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Scottish pseudo-biblical text
  • American pseudo-biblical texts
< 20%
< 10%

In this domain we find that the King James Bible has the greatest archaism, followed by the Book of Mormon, and followed more distantly by the four pseudo-biblical writings. The one by the Scottish author Matthew Linning comes closest to the scriptural texts in its level of archaism at less than 20 percent agentive of. The Book of Mormon exhibits considerable biblical influence, while the pseudo-biblical texts exhibit slight biblical influence.

The King James Bible favors the use of agentive of (estimated at 72 percent), but there are still significant levels of use of agentive by. The Book of Mormon slightly favors the use of agentive by (estimated at 54 percent), but there is almost as much agentive of usage. In contrast, the four pseudo-biblical writings do not use much agentive of, strongly preferring the modern alternative.

The kind of verb and agent involved in the syntax influence the selection of the agentive preposition (of or by ), complicating matters. Yet the large differences in agentive of rates permit one to reliably observe that while the Book of Mormon is quite archaic in agentive of usage, pseudo-biblical writings are not — especially the American ones.

Agentive of is used with a wide variety of verbs in the scriptural texts, and the usage in many cases is not overlapping. In other words, the King James Bible employs agentive of with some verbs quite frequently whereas the Book of Mormon does not; the Book of Mormon also employs agentive of with some verbs quite frequently while the King James Bible does not. An example of this is the passive construction “commanded of/by.” The King James Bible has four examples of “commanded by” but no [Page 189]examples of “commanded of”; the Book of Mormon has nine examples of “commanded of” and three examples of “commanded by.” This means it is not inaccurate to state that the Book of Mormon’s agentive of usage approaches but is independent of biblical usage. This is statistically verifiable.24

Pseudo-biblical texts are not that archaic in this regard, especially the three American ones. Of the four pseudo-biblical writings considered in this study, the Scottish one contains the highest rate of agentive of usage — estimated to be 15 percent. This is about one-third the rate found in the Book of Mormon. The three American pseudo-biblical writings have been estimated to be below 10 percent in their agentive of usage. Some details follow:

  • Leacock’s text (1774–1775) has no examples of agentive of out of about 10 possibilities. The agentive of rate in this text is 0%.
  • Snowden’s text (1793) has three instances of “beloved of the people” (5:14, 19:13, 26:2). The estimated agentive of rate in this text is 7% (3 of 43 regular verbs). (There are also three instances of “beloved by,” with various noun phrases [3:13, 45:7, 52:3].)
  • Linning’s text (1809) has four instances of agentive of: “despised of men” (twice: 12:7; 14:2), “favoured of Heaven” (14:5) and “approved of men” (21:19). The estimated agentive of rate in this text is 15% (4 of 27 regular verbs).
  • Hunt’s text (1816) has only one example of agentive of: “the king was possessed of an evil spirit” (1:14). The estimated agentive of rate in this text is 2.5% (1 of 40 regular verbs).

Lest syntax

Next, we consider the syntax of sentences that occur after the conjunction lest. The 1611 King James Bible consistently employs the subjunctive mood in sentences following this conjunction. About 80 percent of the [Page 190]time no modal auxiliary verb is used. This of course means that about 20 percent of the time a modal auxiliary verb is used with an infinitive after lest, most frequently should.

A fairly comprehensive search of the 1611 King James Bible (including the Apocrypha) yielded 63 lestshould constructions. This tally is probably close to the actual figure and is equivalent to a textual rate of 68 wpm. But because lestshould usage continued into the late modern period robustly (after the year 1700), use of lestshould syntax in pseudo-biblical texts isn’t actually a good candidate for possible biblical hypercorrection. Some of it could represent late modern usage.

A few details of lest constructions in the other texts are the following:

  • The Book of Mormon employs a modal auxiliary verb in sentences after lest about 80 percent of the time, usually should. It has much higher levels of modal auxiliary usage after lest than the biblical text does. Its 44 lestshould constructions translate to a rate of 175 wpm — 2.6 times the biblical rate.
  • Leacock’s American Chronicles (1774–1775) and Linning’s Book of Napoleon (1809) have six and five instances of lest, respectively, without any following modal auxiliary usage. These pseudo-biblical texts are more closely aligned with biblical patterns than the other two pseudo-biblical texts.
  • Richard Snowden’s The American Revolution (1793) has 14 lestshould constructions, a rate of 284 wpm. Snowden’s lestshould rate is more than four times that of the King James Bible, and higher than the Book of Mormon’s.
  • Gilbert J. Hunt’s The Late War (1816) has six instances of lest, and five times the sentences that follow employ a modal auxiliary: three with should and two with might. Its lest– should rate of 70 wpm is very close to the biblical rate.

Continuing our investigation, we find that there is only one short passage in the entire King James Bible (including the Apocrypha) where the modal auxiliary verb shall occurs in sentences following lest:

2 Corinthians 12:20–21

For I fear lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not, …

And lest when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already,

The phrase when I come may have triggered the shall usage. This passage also has a simple case of lest there be (not shown), as well as one instance of the auxiliary verb will (“my God will humble me”).

[Page 191]In descending order of frequency, the auxiliaries most commonly found in the Early Modern English textual record after the conjunction lest are should, might, may, would, will, and shall (based on extensive searches of the EEBO Phase 1 database).25 Consequently, we wouldn’t have expected there to be many lest constructions with shall in the King James Bible, and this expectation is borne out by the text. Taking into account the close to one million words found in the 1611 Bible (including the Apocrypha), these three instances mean that the lestshall rate of the biblical text is 3.2 wpm. Because lestshall usage did not continue into the late modern period robustly, heavier usage in other texts could qualify as a biblical hypercorrection.

Yet the four pseudo-biblical writings do not have any examples of lestshall syntax. As noted, Snowden’s The American Revolution and Hunt’s The Late War do have lestshould constructions — 14 and 3 instances, respectively — but the other two pseudo-biblical texts do not. So, lestshould syntax, which is both biblical and persistent usage, is fairly well represented in the pseudo-biblical set, while the lestshall usage of 2 Corinthians 12:20–21 is not represented at all.

Specifically, Snowden’s text had five contexts in which he might have employed lestshall syntax and Hunt’s text had one;26 all 11 of Leacock’s and Linning’s lest sentences could have employed shall. Because lestshall syntax is missing in 17 possible cases, it is possible that the [Page 192]pseudo-biblical authors were unaware of the rare biblical usage (only three times after 240 instances of lest), and this was also possible for Joseph Smith.

Nonetheless, the Book of Mormon has 14 cases of the conjunction lest followed immediately by sentences with the modal auxiliary verb shall, as in the following example:

Mosiah 2:32

But O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit which was spoken of by my father Mosiah.

Present-tense ye list, conjoined to there shall arise, suggests the shall may primarily be a subjunctive mood marker. The Book of Mormon variation — “lest there shall arise . . . and ye [ø] list” — has been found in the textual record after lest and should.

These 14 cases represent an extraordinary amount of lestshall usage. It is equivalent to a rate of approximately 55 wpm, which is slightly more than 17 times the rate of the King James Bible. An analyst such as Bowen would call this outsized use of lestshall in the Book of Mormon a biblical hypercorrection. As noted, however, there is no supporting pseudo-biblical usage; in this domain Joseph Smith rather obviously exceeded the four pseudo-biblical texts in reproducing hardly noticeable, archaic biblical syntax. This same set of circumstances is encountered in the Book of Mormon in many different linguistic domains and raises the possibility that Book of Mormon authorship might have involved Early Modern English competence (implicit knowledge).

The argument for the Book of Mormon’s lestshall usage not being a biblical hypercorrection, but rather representing Early Modern English competence, gains a measure of support from a passage in the olive tree allegory, which displays triple variation in auxiliary selection after lest:

Jacob 5:65

[A]nd ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once,

lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft,

and the graft thereof shall perish,

and I [ ø ] lose the trees of my vineyard.

Here we read three clauses after the conjunction lest: the first one has the auxiliary should, the second one shall, and the third one has no auxiliary (shown by [ø]). Initially, without any knowledge of past grammatical possibilities, we might assign the auxiliary mixture in Jacob 5:65 to Joseph making a mistake. Yet there are rare textual precedents found in the early modern period to consider, as in this example:

[Page 193]1662, Abraham Wright, A Practical Commentary
  [on] the Pentateuch
 [EEBO A67153]

Lest either Abraham should not do that for which he came, or shall want means of speedy thanksgiving for so gracious a disappointment;

Here and below the spelling of EEBO examples has been regularized. In this case, only a hyphen has been deleted from thanks-giving.

The auxiliary variation of this 1662 example and Jacob 5:65 provide us with a clear syntactic match. Neither the King James Bible nor pseudo-biblical texts contain this variation. It slightly strengthens the position against biblical hypercorrection and for Early Modern English competence. Without further support, however, this should be regarded as a coincidence. As it turns out, however, there are dozens of coincidences in the earliest text — of one kind or another — some of them edited out. These things taken together materially strengthen the position against biblical hypercorrection in this specific case and for the entire Book of Mormon text.

Personal that, which, and who(m)

The cataloguing of relative-pronoun usage after human antecedents in the Book of Mormon has much to tell us about the issue of authorship. That is because the majority of such usage is generated subconsciously. This contrasts with the mostly conscious use of content-rich phrases and words, some of which are obviously biblical.

Just as speakers and writers today rarely pay attention to whether they use that or who(m) to refer back to human antecedents (in phrases like “those who were there” or “the people that heard those things”), 400 years ago speakers and writers would have paid little attention to whether they employed that, which, or who(m) — the three options available in the early modern period — to refer back to human antecedents. They would have followed personal and dialectal preferences, almost always subconsciously.

Personal that was the most common option coming out of late Middle English and throughout most of the 1500s and 1600s, and it has persisted to this day, at close to a 10 percent usage rate.27 Over time, personal which (e.g. “Our Father which art in heaven”) became less and less common and personal who took over from personal that as the dominant form. Personal which is the option that has become very rare except in narrowly confined contexts.

[Page 194]Syntax and the antecedent affect relative pronoun selection. Also, the antecedent cannot always be determined. Yet enough clear data exists to lead to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon usage is different from modern whothat usage and from the usage patterns of the four pseudo biblical writings considered in this study. Book of Mormon usage is also significantly different from the dominant form of Early Modern English represented in the King James Bible. Book of Mormon usage is not derivable from any of these sources, but it is similar to less common Early Modern English usage.

Details for the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible are as follows:

  • The Book of Mormon’s personal which usage rate probably exceeds 50%; one sampling involving four different types of high-frequency antecedents — those/they/them, he/him, man/men, and people — shows an interesting diversity in usage patterns and an overall personal which usage rate of 52%; personal that (30.5%) and who(m) (17.5%), taken together, are used slightly less than half the time after these antecedents in the earliest text.28
  • The King James Bible employs personal which only 12.5% of the time after these same antecedents; personal that is dominant (83.5%), with who(m) occurring only 4% of the time; only when the relative pronoun’s antecedent is he/him are these two scriptural texts correlated; otherwise their usage is uncorrelated or negatively correlated.29

Personal which was extensively but incompletely edited out of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith for the 1837 second edition.30 It is more likely this was a case of Joseph’s attempting to grammatically [Page 195]change and partially modernize the text rather than attempting to achieve original authorship aims.31

On the topic of personal which, Bowen recently wrote the following in his dissertation: “Smith modernized this feature aggressively in the 2nd edition and only a few instances of the older form remain.”32 However, in the process of performing thorough text-critical work, Skousen has noted that 952 of 1,032 instances were changed in 1837 and only several more later.33 Consequently, calling the remaining instances of personal which “a few” gives the wrong picture; there aren’t fewer than 10 remaining (the typical upper-bound meaning of “a few”) but actually almost 80. If we take “a few” to mean less than 10 percent, then it works. As we might expect, in changing so many instances of which to who, Joseph occasionally over-edited which to who, making mistakes.34

Three of the pseudo-biblical writings have examples of personal which but are dominant in who or that: Leacock’s text (six instances of personal which), Linning’s text (two instances: “multitudes/captives which”), and Hunt’s text (one instance: “false prophets which come”). No examples of personal which in Snowden’s text were found in a recent search. All pseudo-biblical writings but the earliest one, Leacock’s, are strictly modern in their profile. Thus, three pseudo-biblical authors didn’t break from the preferences they learned as native speakers and writers of late modern English.

Recent counts yielded the following details (here I exclude prepositional contexts):

  • Leacock’s text has 45 instances of personal that (58%), 6 instances of personal which (8%), and 26 instances of who(m) (34%). The relative order of use of these relative pronouns (in descending frequency) — that, who(m), which — makes this text a biblical–modern hybrid.
  • Snowden’s text has about 20 instances of personal that (10%), no instances of personal which (0%), and about 180 instances of [Page 196]who(m) (90%); this text exhibits a strong preference for who(m) over that.
  • Linning’s text has 8 instances of personal that (20%), 2 instances of personal which (5%), and 31 instances of who(m) (75%); this text exhibits a strong preference for who(m) over that.
  • Hunt’s text has 44 instances of personal that (47%), 1 instance of personal which (1%), and 49 instances of who(m) (52%); this text exhibits a slight preference for who(m) over that.

As a side note, Joseph Smith’s 1832 History is strictly modern in its profile since it contains 10 instances of the relative pronoun who(m), two instances of personal that, but none of personal which. This agrees generally with the contemporary textual record and independent linguistic research.35 Moreover, Bowen’s 2016 dissertation provides supporting evidence from Joseph Smith’s letters (see pages 167 and 171). This means, of course, that Book of Mormon usage is different from Joseph’s own linguistic preferences.

It is relevant and important to note that the short 1832 History has quite a few archaizing, biblical features in it. Thus, if a desire for archaism on the part of Joseph Smith had been the driver of the heavy usage of personal which in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon,36 we would expect some personal which to have been employed in the History. The lack of it there weakens the position that heavy doses of personal which in the Book of Mormon emanated from Joseph’s attempts to be archaic and biblical.

To recap, here is the breakdown of usage in the texts considered in this study:

Table 1. Percentage usage of relative pronouns
with personal referents.

Text that which who(m)
King James Bible (est.) 83.5 12.6 3.9
Book of Mormon (est.) 30.5 52.0 17.5
[Page 197]American Chronicles 58.4 7.8 33.8
The American Revolution (est.) 10.0 0.0 90.0
Book of Napoleon 19.5 4.9 75.6
The Late War 46.8 1.1 52.1

As mentioned, the Book of Mormon is uncorrelated with the King James Bible in this domain. The Book of Mormon is negatively correlated with all four pseudo-biblical writings, usually strongly negatively correlated, and especially with Gilbert J. Hunt’s The Late War, the text compared most often to the Book of Mormon. Based on the above figures, The Late War correlates with the King James Bible at 0.32 and with the Book of Mormon at –0.96. Two of the pseudo-biblical writings are positively correlated with the King James Bible — the oldest one, Leacock’s text, correlates most strongly at 0.8.

Again, an analyst might claim the Book of Mormon overuses personal which as a biblical hypercorrection.37 I will briefly note two things here. First, heavy use of personal that is the most likely biblical hypercorrection. Second, it is unlikely Joseph Smith could have successfully dictated against subconscious relative-pronoun tendencies approximately 1,000 times. The four pseudo-biblical texts support this view. The more likely divergence from Joseph’s own linguistic tendencies would have been something like Leacock’s distribution, which is heavy in personal that. Familiarity with biblical usage and internalizing it to a degree might have led to such a result.

Periphrastic did

In this section, periphrastic did means the use of the auxiliary did or didst in declarative contexts with an infinitive and without not, as in [Page 198]“they did go forth,” without full or contrastive emphasis on the auxiliary. To be clear, I have counted phraseology such as “neither did they go,” headed by a negative conjunction, as an instance of periphrastic did, since “neither went they” was possible in earlier English, and the simple, non-periphrastic option was available to pseudo-biblical authors. Phraseology such as “neither did they go” could be considered a type of negative usage along with did not, but I have chosen to follow Ellegård 1953 in the matter.38

The two main syntactic types of non-emphatic periphrastic did are differentiated by whether did and the infinitive are adjacent. It is important to note that non-emphatic non-adjacency has persisted in English, in limited fashion, while non-emphatic adjacency has not. Thus, the two syntactic types followed distinct paths, diachronically speaking. Texts with very high levels of adjacency are uncommon and mainly confined to the first half of the early modern period (specifically, from the 1530s to the 1560s).39

Other than a recent dissertation by Bowen referred to above, I have not read any studies by linguists of the Book of Mormon’s periphrastic did. (Bowen’s treatment is only preliminary, and besides some brief comments [see page 156], he doesn’t treat present-tense and past tense usage separately.) My own analysis of periphrastic did in the Book of Mormon, following Alvar Ellegård’s approach in his wide ranging work on the subject, has shown that the Book of Mormon’s past-tense syntax matches some 16th-century texts in their rate and syntactic distribution. There also appears to be some correlation with individual verb tendencies of the early modern era, as I discovered by performing many nearly comprehensive searches of the EEBO Phase 1 database.40 Thus, the Book of Mormon contains an early and robust form of periphrastic did, something chiefly found in the middle of the 16th century. A book written by the Cambridge theologian and mathematician Isaac Barrow, A Treatise of the Pope’s Supremacy [1683, EEBO 31089], first published posthumously in 1680, may be the latest one whose past-tense rate exceeds that of the Book of Mormon.41

[Page 199]Ellegård estimated that the King James Bible’s overall periphrastic do rate (both present-tense and past-tense) was 1.3 percent.42 In 2014 I estimated that its past-tense periphrastic did and didst rate was 1.7 percent.43 This rate, however, is conspicuously skewed by more than 95 percent usage of did eat instead of ate and an outsized rate of periphrastic didst (more than 10 times the overall periphrastic did rate, and about 20 times the periphrastic did rate when did eat is excluded). Notably, there is no significant skewing present in the Book of Mormon with either did eat or any other verb, and not even with periphrastic didst, since neither type of periphrastic did makes up a significant percentage of examples.

Joseph Smith’s own language, as determined from an analysis of his 1832 manuscript history, lacked periphrastic did.44 Bowen’s dissertation provides supporting evidence from Joseph’s letters (see Table 37 on page 167). This agrees with independent linguistic assessments.

None of the four pseudo-biblical writers produced anything like what the Book of Mormon has in this regard. One text barely employed periphrastic did. The two pseudo-biblical texts with the most examples — Snowden’s and Hunt’s — are almost completely modern in their implementation of the periphrasis, especially in their wholly modern syntactic distribution of did and the infinitive (non-adjacent). Specifically, Snowden and Hunt almost always inverted the order of the grammatical subject and the auxiliary. Their syntactic distribution is negatively correlated with that of the Book of Mormon: about –0.4 and –0.6, respectively.

The Book of Mormon is much closer to the King James Bible in syntactic distribution of the did auxiliary and the infinitive. The Book of Mormon has more than 90 percent did–infinitive adjacency, while current estimates indicate that the King James Bible has close to [Page 200]72.5 percent did–infinitive adjacency. The inescapable difference between the two scriptural texts is that they are very far apart in overall textual rates of periphrastic did. And their individual verb use with did is also substantially different, correlating at only 0.3.45

Three of the four pseudo-biblical texts have very little did–infinitive adjacency. The oldest one, Leacock’s text, has 10 cases of adjacency, but eight of these occur in one stretch of about 500 words in the context of proving, feeling, and concluding; all but one of these eight instances appear to be emphatic. The first two adjacency examples are did eat (biblical). Another candidate of did–infinitive adjacency is exceptional since it is a case of did resumption, at the end of a complex intervening adverbial used in a proclamation (the lengthy adverbial phrase is bracketed below):

1774–1775, John Leacock, American Chronicles, 4:28d

the Usurper . . . did [most daringly, wantonly, abominably, wickedly, atrociously and devilishly, and without my knowledge, allowance, approbation, instruction or consent first had and obtained, and without my name, and the imperial signet of the Commonwealth affixed thereunto,] did presume, and ipso facto issue forth and publish a most diabolical and treasonable proclamation,

I have counted this as an intervening adverbial example. Ultimately, Leacock’s text doesn’t have much interesting periphrastic did usage in it. It is infrequent and sporadically concentrated.46

There are 11 examples of periphrastic did found in Snowden’s book. The only time he used the periphrasis with adjacency was when he wrote “thou didst take,” thereby avoiding simple past-tense tookest, a verb form that is found five times in the 1611 King James Bible.47 The syntactic [Page 201]distribution of periphrastic did in Snowden’s text is 9% adjacency, 91% inversion, and 0% intervening adverbial.

Linning’s text has only one example of periphrastic did, with inversion of did and the subject: “nor did they seek further to molest the Albions” (63). As far as archaic periphrastic did is concerned, there is nothing of note in this pseudo-biblical text.

The sole use of did–infinitive adjacency in Hunt’s text is “the king did put … and give.”: The syntactic distribution of periphrastic did in Hunt’s text is 4.8% adjacency, 95.2% inversion, and 14.3% intervening adverbial (in three cases there is both inversion and an intervening adverbial phrase).

The following table summarizes these periphrastic did findings:

Table 2. Estimates of periphrastic did adjacency rates
and shares of non-adjacency.48

Past-tense rate of Share of
did–infinitive adjacency
Share of did–infinitive
King James Bible 1.2 > 25 percent
Book of Mormon 24.0 < 10 percent
American Chronicles 0.8 > 50 percent
Book of Napoleon 0.0 one example
Snowden’s and Hunt’s texts 0.1 > 90 percent

In summary, the text of the Book of Mormon does not follow scriptural style authors, the King James Bible, or Joseph’s own language in its past-tense usage. Book of Mormon periphrastic did usage is well distributed in past-tense passages throughout the text, although usage rates do ebb and flow, as is the case in some high-rate, 16th-century EEBO texts. No single verb dominates periphrastic did in the Book of Mormon, and periphrastic didst makes up a small part of the overall usage.

In contrast, both did eat and periphrastic didst in the King James Bible are noticeably out of line with the rest of its periphrastic did usage. If these two types are eliminated from rate calculations, then the biblical rate of did–infinitive adjacency drops significantly, to less than one percent. On the other hand, neither eliminating did go from Book of Mormon rate calculations (the most frequently occurring [Page 202]periphrasis) nor eliminating periphrastic didst causes its did–infinitive adjacency rate to change appreciably.

Morepart usage

In the Book of Mormon, the phrase the more part (and close variants) is used at nearly 40 times the rate of the King James Bible. It is accurate to state that the Book of Mormon follows the most common Early Modern English formulation of this phrase (Coverdale’s usage in Acts 27:12: the more part of them), and not King James style (the more part), since a prepositional phrase always follows part (or parts), 26 times. In addition, the more part of X in the Book of Mormon cannot be said to stem from pseudo-biblical writings, since they have no examples of the obsolete phrase. And it matches several historical works from the late 15th century and the 16th century, both in usage frequency and in the various forms of the era (some rare). One text that stands out is a 1550 translation of Thucydides by Thomas Nicolls [EEBO A13758]. It employs morepart phraseology at nearly double the rate of the Book of Mormon.

  n Comment
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
26 (3 rare)
Never post-modified
by a prepositional phrase
Always post-modified
by a prepositional phrase
no examples

The two exceptional forms of this phrase type — with an indefinite article (a more part of it, Helaman 6:32) and with plural parts (the more parts of his gospel, Helaman 6:21; the more parts of the Nephites, 4 Nephi 1:27) — provide support for the view that morepart phraseology in the Book of Mormon is Early Modern English usage and not a conscious revival by Joseph Smith of earlier language, which is what we find in some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novels and elsewhere.

Those who used the archaic phraseology the more part in the second half of the 19th century (and later) were literate authors who had read widely from older writings. Joseph certainly did not fit their educational or experiential profile in the 1820s. Based on what is currently known, linguistic revivalists of the usage, such as the Oxford historian Edward Freeman, the medievalist William Morris, and the novelist Stevenson, did not employ a more part or the more parts with this particular meaning. Because the phrase the more part was in obsolescence and not productively used in [Page 203]the late 19th century, they naturally did not employ rare, alternate forms (which they may not have encountered), but merely reproduced the most frequent and more easily known form.

The Book of Mormon’s morepart usage is quite unexpected from a perspective of Joseph generating it from his own biblically-styled language. One must go back in time 250 years to Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577) to encounter a text with the level of usage found in the Book of Mormon.49 As a result, its morepart profile fits the occasional use found in the first half of the early modern period and no other time. Intimate knowledge of neither the King James Bible nor pseudo-biblical texts would have led to the distinctive and relatively heavy use of the more part found in the Book of Mormon.

Had (been) spake

There are 12 instances of pluperfect had spake in the Book of Mormon, but none in the King James Bible or in pseudo-biblical writings. There are also 48 instances of had spoken found in the earliest text (for both these counts I exclude passive constructions involving had been). The more common form of the past participle occurs 80 percent of the time in the pluperfect tense in the Book of Mormon; the less common form, had spake, occurs 20 percent of the time.50

I have found, by carefully searching EEBO and Google Books and rejecting many false positives, that the only time had spake wasn’t rare in the textual record was the latter half of the early modern era.51 Even then, however, this particular leveled past participial usage was quite uncommon. The other minority variant of the past participle used in the pluperfect — had spoke — is found much more often than had spake in earlier English. (Had spoke is typical Shakespearean usage, but it is not found in either the Book of Mormon or the King James Bible.) After the year 1700 we hardly encounter original instances of had spake in the textual record. Because of an explosion of publishing there are cases of it, but very few. One example is found in an 1812 book published in Troy, [Page 204]New York. As a result, we must accept that there is a slight possibility the Book of Mormon’s had spake could have come from Joseph Smith’s dialect. As a result, we must rely on ancillary evidence to determine whether the Book of Mormon’s 12 occurrences of had spake are best viewed as examples of Early Modern English or modern dialectal usage.

Two items of related past participle evidence lend support for viewing the 12 instances of had spake in the Book of Mormon as an archaism rather than examples of rare modern usage. First, we note that had been spake occurs once at Alma 6:8. As of now, the two-word passive phrase been spake has been found only three times in the textual record: “this had not been spake of at all” [1646, EEBO A26759]; “the spiritual afflictions have been spake of much” [1659, EEBO A30566]; and “one had been spake to about it” [1699, EEBO A48010]. The bigram been spake has not yet been found after the year 1699, suggesting that any late modern example that might turn up in the future will be quite rare. Second, we note that the distinctive five-word phrase “of which hath been spoken” — meaning ‘previously mentioned’ or ‘aforementioned’ — occurs twice in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon. (Variants with the expletive subject it are known — that is, of the form “of which it hath been spoken,” so the syntax is probably singular.) Currently there are approximately 30 known instances of this phraseology in the EEBO database of approximately 60,000 texts, but none attested after the year 1685. These two related items support the Book of Mormon’s use of had spake as an archaism.

In summary, it is unlikely that we would read “had (been) spake” and “of which hath been spoken” a total of 15 times in the canonical Book of Mormon text if Joseph Smith had been responsible for its wording, from either his own language or an attempt to follow King James style. We encounter this same set of circumstances repeatedly in the Book of Mormon: lexis and syntax that Joseph probably would not have produced by following 1820s American dialect, pseudo-biblical writings, or King James language.

The {-th} plural

Lengthy biblical passages in the earliest text contain instances of what may accurately be called Early Modern English modifications that are not biblical in nature. These include cases of {-th} inflection used with persons other than the third-person singular,52 such as “them that [Page 205]contendeth” (2Nephi 6:17), “they dieth” (2 Nephi7:2), and “I have put … and hath covered” (2Nephi 8:16).

Even though {-th} inflection could occur historically in all person number contexts, linguists have come to call the inflection — when used with subjects that aren’t third-person singular — the {-th} plural, since that was the primary usage in the past. It was a less-common option of the early modern period, emanating from southern varieties of Middle English. The {-th} plural can be found throughout the early modern era, but it was used at a diminishing rate over time. By the 18th century, only vestigial use of the {-th} plural remained, usually with the auxiliary verbs doth and hath.53

The two earliest pseudo-biblical writings examined in this study have examples of the {-th} plural, with the earliest one containing five of them:

1774–1775, John Leacock, American Chronicles, 1:5, 1:10, 2:33, 4:15, 6:47

their ships, that goeth upon the waters

these letters in mine hand witnesseth sore against them

these are the extortionersthat causeth the kingdom to pass away

the pious ashes of them that sleepeth

for blessed are all they that shaketh hands with them in peace

Leacock employed a somewhat limited variety of the {-th} plural, four times after the relative pronoun that, and once in a possible case of proximity agreement with singular hand.

Snowden’s text has two examples:

1793, Richard Snowden, The American Revolution, 18:14, 34:17

Nevertheless there were some who maintained their integrity,
and were as the strong oaks in the forests of Columbia,
that feareth not the windy storm and tempest.

for vice and luxury weaken the people,
and the rulers causeth them to err.

In verse 18:14 the agreement controller is oaks. In this case there is also the possibility of proximity agreement with the nearest singular [Page 206]nominal Columbia. In verse 34:17 the {-th} plural occurs after a plural noun-phrase subject, something that was very rare by the end of the 18th century. Notice that there is also nearby variation, since weakeneth wasn’t used after the complex subject “vice and luxury.”

Linning’s text has two possible examples, but the subjects are probably singular:

1809, Matthew Linning, Book of Napoleon, 6:11, 12:7

by means of your wisdom and counsel,
which reacheth from the earth beneath unto the heaven above,

so in like manner doth the prince and his people.

The first example has two conjoined abstract nouns; multiple nouns of this kind often resolve to a singular noun phrase in English, even up to the present day. This example is similar to the language of 1 Kings 10:7 — “thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard”54— where the verb translated as exceedeth precedes the abstract nouns in the Hebrew and is singular in form (although many later translations into English do use a plural verb). In the second case, the conjoined agreement controllers follow the verb, and the closest one to the verb is singular. It may be helpful to consider that for many English speakers — if not most — similar phraseology would be unobjectionable (e.g. “so does the queen and her people”).

At first blush, Leacock’s and Snowden’s {-th} plural usage suggests that Joseph Smith might have been able to produce the archaic {-th} plural of the earliest text of the Book of Mormon. I will mention here a few things to consider on this point.

First and foremost, there is no {-th} plural usage immediately following pronouns in these pseudo-biblical texts, such as “they dieth” or “we layeth” or “ye doth.” The Book of Mormon has 13 of these, setting it apart from what we find in the King James Bible and in the four pseudo-biblical texts.

Second, there are close to 150 instances of the {-th} plural in the Book of Mormon. Despite its relatively late date of composition, the earliest text of the Book of Mormon employs the {-th} plural at nearly twice the rate of Leacock’s text and at about 20 times the rate of Snowden’s text.

Third, overall usage patterns in the earliest text match Early Modern English tendencies non-superficially.55 The {-th} plural is employed with [Page 207]all the variety of earlier English: after noun phrases and pronouns; after relative pronouns and in conjoined predicates, with different kinds of nearby variation; and with first-person and second-person subjects. Also, there is little of its usage after pronouns and heavier rates of use after relative pronouns, as in EEBO Phase 1 texts.56 None of the pseudo biblical texts have enough data to be sure of this; they have no usage after pronouns or first- and second-person subjects, and none in conjoined predicates. The fact that there is no usage of the type “they dieth,” or “we layeth,” or “ye doth,” or “I have … and hath,” as we encounter in the Book of Mormon, means that these texts are somewhat limited in their usage of the {-th} plural.

Fourth, taking the two Linning examples shown above to be singular means that the 19th-century pseudo-biblical writings do not have examples of the {-th} plural. These pseudo-biblical authors were further removed from the end of the 17th century, when the {-th} plural was becoming rare. Consequently, they were less likely to be aware of the historical usage of this particular verb morphology. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that they didn’t employ the {-th} plural, and it also makes the robust usage of the Book of Mormon exceptional.

The following Book of Mormon passage contains two examples of the {-th} plural as well as nearby variation:

Mosiah 3:18

but men drinketh damnation to their own souls
except they humble themselves and become as little children,
and believeth that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

In this verse {-th} inflection is employed after the noun men (similar to Snowden’s “rulers causeth”) and also in a conjoined predicate. “They humble themselves and become … and believeth” is an example of an optional Early Modern English they-constraint, where the {-­th} inflection is used only in a predicate linked to they but not immediately after they.57 It should be noted, however, that in both Early Modern English and in the Book of Mormon counterexamples are found — that is, where the {-th} inflection is found immediately after they, but not in the conjoined predicate. The reason linguists write of a they-constraint is that in Early Modern English and later the pronoun they used next to a verb in {-th} was much less common than verbs in {-th} used in conjoined predicates (and in relative clauses).

[Page 208]Thorough analysis of the earliest text’s {-th} plural patterns demonstrates that the Book of Mormon’s systematic usage in this domain is attested, archaic, and well-formed from the point of view of Early Modern English. This is one way the present-tense verbal system of the Book of Mormon is archaic and extra-biblical. This also points to the occasional third-person singular usage of {-s} forms in the earliest text being typical Early Modern English variation rather than occasional slip-ups by Joseph Smith.

Verbal complementation patterns after five verbs

This next section mainly focuses on whether the verbal complement following five high-frequency verbs — cause, command, desire, make, and suffer — is infinitival or finite. Also of concern is whether finite cases are simple or complex, and whether a modal auxiliary verb occurs in the complement. As an example, consider the following Book of Mormon excerpt:

3 Nephi 2:3

causing [them]object 1

[ that they should do great wickedness in the land ]object 2

This is ditransitive or dual-object syntax: the verb cause takes two objects. The first object in the above example is a pronoun and the second object is a clause: a sentence follows the conjunction (or complementizer) that. In this case the following sentence is “they should do great wickedness in the land,” and it contains the modal auxiliary verb should. Modal auxiliary usage is a sign of archaism, especially shall, and the Book of Mormon has plenty of it. The above syntax can also be called a complex finite construction, since an extra constituent occurs before the that-clause. Complex finite syntax is a strong marker of archaism.

The one-object equivalent of the above 3 Nephi 2:3 language would have no them: “causing [ø] that they should do great wickedness in the land.” Such simple finite syntax is by far the most common type of finite complementation found in the textual record of English.

The infinitival equivalent of this 3 Nephi 2:3 language would have to instead of that they should: “causing them to do great wickedness in the land.” Infinitival complementation is the most common type in English after many verbs, including the five studied here. The Book of Mormon has more than 100 examples of all three types: the infinitival, the simple finite, and the complex finite.

[Page 209]There are different ways to count complementation, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For the following analyses I have adopted a conservative approach and have not counted any conjoined cases unless there is a switch in complementation type. There are arguably errors in the counts I have made, and perhaps a few examples that have been overlooked, but none that should affect the results materially.58

In general, the Book of Mormon has much more finite complementation than the King James Bible and pseudo-biblical texts. The differences are quite large with four of the five verbs, none more so than in the case of cause.

Complementation patterns following the verb cause

Finite complementation rates
(finite clauses governed by the verb cause)
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
 (out of 303 instances)
 (out of 236 instances)
 (out of 37 instances total)
Instances of archaic, ditransitive syntax
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts

These two shorts lists show that verbal complementation following the verb cause in the Book of Mormon is utterly different from that of the King James Bible and the pseudo-biblical texts. As indicated, the above figures are based on an examination of hundreds of examples in both the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible, and 37 examples total in the four pseudo-biblical texts. Chi-square tests run on simple finite, complex finite, and infinitival counts — comparing the Book of Mormon with the King James Bible or with the four pseudo-biblical texts — are statistically significant to a very high degree. This is true for the verbal complementation patterns after four of the verbs.59 This means that the [Page 210]syntactic differences are almost certainly not accidental. In the case at hand, it means either that Joseph deliberately produced these syntactic structures (since the patterns were vastly different from his own modern patterns), or that they were part of the English-language translation transmitted to him.

As indicated, pseudo-biblical texts only employ infinitival complementation after the verb cause. The chi-square test indicates consistency with biblical influence, in this case. For Leacock’s text, I have counted 14 infinitival instances of extended cause syntax, for Snowden’s text 11, for Linning’s text 4, and for Hunt’s text I have counted 8. This consistent pattern matches modern tendencies and is similar to what we see in authors contemporary with the initial publication of the Book of Mormon, such as Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. I made two small corpora of about five million words each from dozens of texts written by these prolific authors. After isolating hundreds of examples in past-tense contexts, I found that these two authors employed only infinitival cause syntax.

The King James Bible is 99 percent infinitival in its cause complementation: it has only three instances of finite cause syntax. In contrast, the Book of Mormon has 136 cases of finite cause syntax. One might assert that Book of Mormon usage was a vast expansion based on these three biblical examples. But what about the other extra-biblical, archaic cause syntax present in the earliest text? Most obviously, how does one account for the 12 dual-object causative constructions, exemplified by 3 Nephi 2:3 above? How are they biblical hypercorrections when there is no such syntax in the King James Bible? These are the kinds of questions a thorough analyst must confront.

The level of finite cause syntax in the Book of Mormon is very high — much higher than Early Modern English averages, which probably varied between three and one percent, in a roughly descending trend over time. Of course, outliers do exist in the print record. For example, one mid-16th-century text I inspected employed finite cause syntax about 13 percent of the time (6 out of 45 instances).60 Thus, a textual rate [Page 211]significantly higher than the currently estimated upper-bound average of three percent is attested.

Overall, cause syntax with verbal complements was implemented in the Book of Mormon in a variety of contexts in a principled manner, pointing to tacit knowledge of various tendencies of Early Modern English.

First, the Book of Mormon has 12 instances of dual-object complementation, as in the above example from 3 Nephi 2:3. This uncommon archaic construction can be found a few dozen times in EEBO, but it may have been obsolete by the late modern period. The high number of archaic ditransitive structures decisively marks Book of Mormon cause syntax as Early Modern English in character.

Second, the Book of Mormon exhibits extra-biblical auxiliary usage in the embedded clause with shall (13 times) and may (3 times). Although such usage can still be found in the late modern period, its rate of use by then was low compared to the rate of the earlier period.

Third, the earliest text contains one case of mixed complementation, also characteristic of the earlier period:

Mormon 8:40

why do ye … cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord,
and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto theLord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?

1643, William Prynne, The Popish Royal Favorite [EEBO A56192]

He caused the image of the cross to be redressed,
and that men should not foul it under their feet.

The following nominal example has the same order of complementation as Mormon 8:40:

1651, Jeremiah Burroughs (died 1646), An Exposition
  [on] the Prophecy of Hosea
 [EEBO 30575]

for the act was so foul, that it could not but make
all the people (as Jacob thought) to abhor him,
and would be a cause that they should all rise against him,
and utterly to cut him off,

Fourth, the earliest text optionally leaves out that in finite complementation with the verb cause, but only in conjoined syntax, as in the following example (where [ø] indicates a missing that):

3 Nephi 3:14

he caused thati fortifications should be built round about them,
and [ø]i the strength thereof should be exceeding great

[Page 212]These constructions can be explained by possible analogous usage after many other verbs, but the that-ellipsis is constrained in Book of Mormon causatives — that is, restricted to this particular syntactic context. The that-ellipsis is similar to the syntax of the following Early Modern English examples, which have mixed complementation:

1566, William Adlington (translator),
  Apuleius’ Metamorphoses [EEBO A20800]

When the people was desirous to see me play qualities,
they caused the gates to be shut, and [ø] such as entered in
should pay money,

1629, Nathanael Brent (translator),
  Paolo Sarpi’s The History of the Council of Trent [EEBO A11516]

He caused a bull to be made, and in case he should die before his return, [ø] the election should be made in Rome by the College of Cardinals.

The following nominal example has more obvious that-ellipsis:

1678, Thomas Long, Mr. Hales’s Treatise of Schism
  Examined and Censured
 [EEBO A49123]

It was none of the old cause, thati the People should have liberty,
and [ø]i the Magistrate should have no power,

To finish this subsection on extended cause syntax, we consider the following rare language, which was removed after the 1830 edition (page 513, line 10):

3 Nephi 29:4

if ye shall spurn at his doings
he will cause it that it shall soon overtake you

The first it was removed for the 1837 edition, although not marked in the printer’s manuscript for deletion by Joseph Smith. The reader may consult Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon for a good discussion, as well as Skousen, Grammatical Variation, 308, 1050.

The above excerpt is a poor candidate for biblical hypercorrection for the following three reasons (arranged according to currently perceived significance):

  • the pronominal it redundancy isn’t implemented in other similar, dependent complementation in the biblical text where an infinitival to could have replaced the that it shall part (generally, “that it [<auxiliary>]”);61
  • [Page 213]the verb cause never governs a dual-object complement in the biblical text (the above construction was rare in the early modern period, and is currently unattested in the late modern period, suggesting 18th-century obsolescence);
  • the auxiliary shall is not used in the complement after the verb cause in the biblical text.62

Here are the four examples of the “cause it that it” phraseology of 3 Nephi 29:4 that I have found thus far:

1616, translation of La maison rustique [EEBO A00419]

To prevent the decay of beer,
and to cause it that it may continue and stand good a long time,

1626, Henry Burton, A plea to an appeal
  traversed dialogue wise
 [EEBO A17306]

For how is it mere mercy, if any good in us foreseen,
first caused it, that it should offer a Savior to us?

The larger context does not clearly point to the comma indicating a purposive or resultative reading.

1634, Thomas Johnson (translator), Ambroise Paré Works [EEBO A08911]

which causeth it that it cannot be discussed and resolved
by reason of the weakness of the part and defect of heat

1697 [commonly misattributed to John Locke] A commonplace book
  to the Holy Bible
 [EEBO A48873]

When this Epistle is read among you,
cause it that it be read also in the Church of Laodicea,

Earlier and later editions don’t have the ditransitive syntax. This is a paraphrase of Colossians 4:16, which reads as follows:

And when this Epistle is read amongst you,
cause [ø] that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans;

From all the causative structures I’ve been able to study and compare — in EEBO, Google Books, the scriptural texts, and elsewhere — neither the King James Bible nor the four pseudo-biblical writings appear to [Page 214]have been adequate models for the archaic implementation of cause syntax found in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon.

Complementation patterns following the verb command

In the case of the verb command, both the King James Bible and the four pseudo-biblical texts have appreciable levels of finite complementation, but nothing that approaches Book of Mormon levels:

Finite complementation rates
(finite clauses governed by the verb command)
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
 (out of 167 instances)
 (out of 165 instances)
 (out of 35 instances total)
Instances of archaic, ditransitive syntax
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts

The Book of Mormon is again markedly different from both the King James Bible and the four pseudo-biblical texts in terms of extended command syntax, in the two ways shown above and in other ways. The four pseudo-biblical writings analyzed for this study do not employ dual-object syntax except in one complex case involving mixed complementation.63 Their finite complementation rates are similar to the King James Bible’s.

We must go back almost 350 years to find a text that has close to the number of instances of dual-object command syntax that the Book of Mormon has. William Caxton’s translation of The Golden Legend [1483, EEBO A14559] has about 65 instances of dual-object command syntax in fully active constructions; the Book of Mormon has about 75 instances [Page 215]of dual-object command syntax in fully active constructions. (These texts have many additional examples in passive structures.)

The biblical hypercorrection view takes the Book of Mormon’s heavy finite usage — both simple and complex — to be an overexpansion of the King James Bible’s finite syntax. Yet there are other considerations that a thorough analyst must take into account.

First, the Book of Mormon employs the auxiliary shall in the complement clause seven times. This is absent from the King James Bible and from pseudo-biblical writings and is either early modern usage or uncommon late modern literary usage.

Second, the tendency of Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577) to not use a modal auxiliary verb after second-person embedded subjects is present in the Book of Mormon, as is an infinitival tendency when the verb command is in the passive voice.64

Third, the Book of Mormon is almost completely consistent in employing finite complementation in several specific contexts with complex embedded syntax: with embedded negation, reflexives, passives, and multiple verb phrases. In other words, “heavy” verbal complements are usually finite.

Fourth, should (not shall) is used after non-past passive command verbs (e.g. “we are commanded that we should … ”), in line with Early Modern English tendencies (this conclusion is based on extensive searches of the EEBO Phase 1 database).

Fifth, there is an unlikely match with the nearby shall/should variation employed by the following prolific translator:

1608, Edward Grimeston (translator), Jean François le Petit’s
  A general history of the Netherlands [EEBO A02239]

The said magistrates therefore command
that every man shall govern himself …,
and that every one should behave himself peaceably,
without upbraiding or crossing one another,

Textual analysis reveals that the presence of the reflexive pronouns in this example made the choice of finite complementation more likely for the translator Grimeston. For example, the King James Bible employs finite complementation at a significantly higher rate with embedded reflexives.

[Page 216]Alma 61:13

But behold he doth not command us that we shall subject ourselves to our enemies, but that we should put our trust in him, and he will deliver us.

Alma 61:13 combines several Early Modern English possibilities: finite complementation with a reflexive verb, a dual-object construction, and a switch in modal auxiliary marking (from shall to should). It seems unlikely that Joseph would have produced such a mix of archaic syntax.

In conclusion, had Joseph followed the usage of pseudo-biblical writings or the King James Bible to formulate the Book of Mormon’s extended command syntax, either consciously or subconsciously, we would expect few instances of the archaic, ditransitive construction, not 99 of them. In addition, complementation would have been mostly infinitival, similar to what is found in the pseudo-biblical texts. All this reduces the likelihood that Joseph was responsible for formulating the wording of the text in this case.

Complementation patterns following the verb desire

For this subsection I have examined contexts in which the subject of the verb desire and the subject of its complement are distinct. This keeps the analysis in line with the syntactic structures involving the verbs cause and command (in the active voice).65

Finite complementation rates
(finite clauses governed by the verb desire)
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
 (out of 18 instances)
 (out of 58 instances)
 (out of 2 instances total)
Instances of archaic, ditransitive syntax
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts

Finite complementation in the Book of Mormon in this domain exceeds what is found in the King James Bible, both in numbers and in rate: 58 instances versus 18 instances; 93 percent finite versus 67 percent [Page 217]finite. But against what we see in extended cause and command syntax, an object occurs before a that-clause at a lower rate in the Book of Mormon than it does in the King James Bible: 30 percent of the time versus 75 percent of the time. In other words, ditransitive desire syntax is the most common type in the King James Bible but not in the Book of Mormon, which often employs a simple finite structure. Furthermore, while the biblical text strongly prefers the auxiliary would, the Book of Mormon prefers the auxiliary should, the least common of the three principal modal auxiliaries used after the verb desire in the earlier print record of English (shown by extensive searches of the EEBO Phase 1 database).

In the four pseudo-biblical texts examined for this study, there are only two instances of desire used with verbal complementation — one is finite, the other infinitival:

1809, Matthew Linning, Book of Napoleon, 18:9

And the angel yet again desired me to turn mine eyes the way toward the north,

1793, Richard Snowden, The American Revolution, 33:14

Now he had desired that the usual ceremonies of the dead should be omitted,66

The Book of Mormon employs a wider range of auxiliaries than the King James Bible does, including may and might as well as non past shall (EEBO shows that shall auxiliary usage after the verb desire was uncommon in Early Modern English). In addition, the Book of Mormon also matches earlier English by employing several objects in of-constructions and two instances of that-ellipsis in contextually favored environments: in a conjoined clause and after a wh-phrase.

The wide array of archaic, finite syntax after the verb desire found in the Book of Mormon clearly could not have been derived from pseudo biblical writings, since they only have two examples total. Rather, the Book of Mormon is the consummate example of archaic possibilities in this domain.

[Page 218]The closest match between the scriptural texts occurs in the case of infinitival complementation; in both texts the infinitival option is employed with verbs whose argument structure is simple (usually intransitive), but the Book of Mormon is stricter in this regard.

Complementation patterns following the verb make

Finite complementation rates
(finite clauses governed by the verb make)
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
 (out of 291 instances)
 (out of 9 instances)
 (out of 11 instances total)
Instances of archaic, ditransitive syntax
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts

One apparent difference between the scriptural texts resides in the frequency of verbal complementation after the verb make. The Book of Mormon has far fewer examples of this syntax than the King James Bible. The rate of usage of this syntactic structure in the biblical text is about 10 times higher. The Book of Mormon prefers to express the notion with the verb cause.

The Book of Mormon is close to 56 percent finite in its verbal complementation after the verb make. In contrast, the King James Bible is nearly 100 percent infinitival, and pseudo-biblical writings are 100 percent infinitival. Specifically, Leacock employed seven infinitival instances, Snowden three,67 Linning one, and Hunt zero.

Clearly, syntactic patterns involving the verb make and verbal complements in the Book of Mormon are distinct from both King James and pseudo-biblical patterns. The one biblical example of finite complementation was apparently too obscure for pseudo-biblical writers to notice or to prompt them to adopt language mirroring this characteristically archaic usage. This particular case stems from Tyndale’s earlier phraseology:

[Page 219]2 Peter 1:8

they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful
in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1534, William Tyndale, The New Testament [EEBO A68940]

they will make you that ye neither shall be idle nor unfruitful
in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

they wyll make you that ye nether shalbe ydle nor vnfrutefull
in the knowledge of oure lorde Iesus Christ

If one wished to sound archaic, this would be an ideal structure to emulate. Yet the pseudo-biblical texts do not have anything that comes close to it. In contrast, the Book of Mormon employed this type of syntax several times (with different auxiliaries, both with and without a noun phrase object after the verb make). In this way, it once again surpassed pseudo-biblical writings in archaic usage. And in the case of the verb make, the Book of Mormon also exceeded the King James Bible in archaic usage, implementing the less common finite construction at 15 times the rate of the biblical text and employing three specific structures not found in the biblical text.

Embedded auxiliary usage in the Book of Mormon is varied after the verb make may, could, shall, and no auxiliary — and the match in this regard with broader Early Modern English is solid. As one example, the simple finite syntax of 1 Nephi 17:12 (“will make that they food shall become sweet;” structurally “make that <subject> shall <infinitive>”) matches earlier English usage, including one translation of an Ezekiel passage by Tyndale.

Finally, there is a striking match between the curious language of Ether 12:24 and that found in a 1675 example with the verb cause:

Ether 12:24

for thou madest himi that the things which heiwrote were mighty
even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them

1675, John Rowe, The Saints’ Temptations [EEBO A57737]

it was Christ’s prayer for Peter,
that caused himi that hisifaith did not fail.

In both cases — ditransitive causative constructions — the first object of the causative verb (him) and the subject of the complement clause are distinct, but the embedded subject contains a pronoun (he or his) that refers to the preceding object (shown by the index i).

[Page 220]Complementation patterns following the verb suffer

Finite complementation rates
(finite clauses governed by the verb suffer)
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
 (out of 65 instances)
 (out of 99 instances)
 (out of 29 instances total)
Instances of archaic, ditransitive syntax
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
 (Leacock and Snowden)

The Book of Mormon is the text that exhibits a comprehensive match with much of Early Modern English usage after the verb suffer. It easily surpasses the four pseudo-biblical texts in the use of a variety of syntactic structures found in earlier English with the archaic verb suffer. Though King James translators knew of this usage, they employed very little of it.

The Book of Mormon employs finite complementation after the verb suffer nearly 63 percent of the time. Dual-object constructions occur 15 times in the text after the verb suffer: five times with should, four times with shall, twice with may, and four times with no auxiliary. This is an exceptional level of archaic usage. In contrast, the four pseudo biblical texts contain 29 instances total of the archaic verb suffer used with verbal complements; their combined infinitival rate is 93 percent. The King James Bible’s infinitival rate is close to this at 95.4 percent. The Book of Mormon’s infinitival rate of 37.4 percent is clearly very much lower than either of these.

Early Modern English employed infinitival complementation exclusively (or nearly so) with reflexive objects (e.g. “Christ suffered himself to be taken”).68 The Book of Mormon is sensitive to this tendency, employing infinitival complementation in such contexts 12 out of 14 times, strongly against its typical usage. This makes it difficult to argue that finite complementation in the Book of Mormon was employed in an [Page 221]unprincipled fashion, without regard for tendencies of earlier English. Instead we find that finite suffer syntax wasn’t employed indiscriminately in the Book of Mormon text.

The best fit between the Book of Mormon and the textual record of English in this domain is the 16th century. My current conclusion is that neither the King James Bible nor pseudo-biblical writings could have served as adequate templates for the wide variety of syntactic forms found in the Book of Mormon after the archaic verb suffer.

A comparison of verbal complementation after five verbs

Now that we have considered the verbal complementation of five high frequency verbs — cause, command, desire, make, and suffer — we can make a side-by-side comparison of the patterns found in the Book of Mormon, the King James Bible, and the four pseudo-biblical writings:

Table 3. Finite complementation rates
(object clauses governed by the verb).

Verb King James Bible Book of Mormon Pseudo-biblical texts
desire 66.7 93.1 50.0
command 25.5 77.2 25.7
suffer 4.6 62.6 6.9
cause 1.0 57.6 0.0
make 0.3 55.6 0.0

The large differences in finite complementation rates are apparent. Simple statistical tests of standard deviation indicate that Book of Mormon verbal complementation after these five verbs is more consistent than that of the King James Bible and more consistent than that of the pseudo-biblical set of texts, taken as a whole. The five-term correlations are all strong, but the closest is between the King James Bible and the pseudo biblical set at 0.998. What is more noteworthy, statistically speaking, is that the pseudo-biblical set does not approach the Book of Mormon’s rate of finite complementation in every case but the verb desire, which isn’t sufficiently represented in the four pseudo biblical texts.

The Book of Mormon adopts higher finite complementation rates across the board, independent of biblical usage, and similar to the high command syntax rates found in at least two of William Caxton’s [Page 222]late 15th-century translations.69 By employing high doses of finite complementation after verbs, the Book of Mormon contains language that is, from a syntactic standpoint, plainer and more versatile.

Such high finite rates are neither biblical, pseudo-biblical, or modern. Averages of the early modern period are also lower than Book of Mormon rates, though closer than the very low averages of the late modern period. Auxiliary usage of the earlier period is a very good match with Book of Mormon usage, as well as dual-object tendencies and other less noticeable features mentioned previously. This means that if Joseph Smith was the author or English-language translator of the Book of Mormon, then he must have deliberately produced all this divergent finite syntax that was a best fit with early modern usage, including ditransitive syntax:

Table 4. Archaic, ditransitive rates (instances per million words).

Verb King James Bible
(~790,000 words)
Book of Mormon
(~250,000 words)
Pseudo-biblical texts
(~250,000 words total)
command 24 396   8
desire 11   64   0
suffer   2   60 16
cause   0   48   0
make   1   16   0

Moreover, Joseph must have dramatically increased biblical levels of finite complementation while not doing so indiscriminately — that is, he must have occasionally departed from heavy finite usage in a principled manner. It seems quite unlikely that he would have been successful at such a task. No pseudo-biblical author came close to what is found in the Book of Mormon. There are a number of archaic features of complementation missing from the four pseudo-biblical writings in this domain. This argues against Joseph having been the author or English language translator of the Book of Mormon.

If we approach this from the angle of the pseudo-biblical authors, we realize that they give us an indication of the archaism that Joseph Smith was likely to have produced in this domain, if his effort was a conscious attempt to imitate biblical archaism. He went beyond them in almost every [Page 223]way possible. We reasonably assume that he lacked native-speaker Early Modern English competence, as the pseudo-biblical authors did. They could only go as far as persistent use and biblical knowledge could take them, along with making a reasonable number of analogical connections. Joseph exceeded biblical archaism in a number of ways, matching broader Early Modern English usage as he did so. The pseudo biblical set informs us that the verbal complementation he dictated was unlikely for him, on multiple levels: rates of finite complementation and ditransitive syntax, as well as modal auxiliary usage. On top of that, the Book of Mormon text contains archaic variational patterns that are not present or discoverable in the pseudo-biblical texts.

To finish this discussion of verbal complementation after these five high-frequency verbs, I present here a case of a passive command verb whose embedded verb is suffer, which itself takes an infinitival complement:

1523, John Bourchier (translator),
  Froissart’s Chronicles (Books 1 and 2) [EEBO A71318]

but they were straitly [strictly] commanded
that they should in no wise suffer him to pass out of the castle

The Book of Mormon example that matches this language is particularly interesting because of the ungraceful switch from a that-clause (after the verb suffer) to an infinitival complement:

Mormon 6:6

And knowing it to be the last struggle of my people,
and having been commanded of the Lord
that I should not suffer that the records
which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred,
to fall into the hands of the Lamanites70

Yet there are occasional cases in the textual record of this same mid stream complementation switch. Here is one with the same verb suffer:

1598, A.M. (translator),
  Jacques Guillemeau’s The French Chirurgery [EEBO A02364]

which was also an occasion of his resanation [cure],
because he suffered that the truncheon of the lance,
which stuck clean through his head,
to be with force and violence drawn thereout.

And here is another example of this same syntax, after the verb command:

[Page 224]1485, Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur (written about 1469) [EEBO 21703]

And anon the king commanded that none of them upon pain of death to mis-say them [revile them] ne [nor] do them any harm

And anone the kynge commaunded that none of them vpon payne of dethe to myssaye them ne doo them ony harme

Various idiosyncrasies of earlier English, such as the above finite-to-infinitival complementation switch, are often found in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon. Many of these textual oddities are not clear candidates for being examples of the “bad grammar” that Joseph Smith might have employed.

Verbal complementation after the adjective desirous

Closely related to verbal complementation after the verb desire is complementation after the adjective desirous. This subsection briefly discusses the usage, since once again Book of Mormon syntax is utterly different from the corresponding biblical and pseudo-biblical syntax.

Finite complementation rates
(finite clauses governed by the adjective desirous)
  • King James Bible
  • Book of Mormon
  • Pseudo-biblical texts
 (out of 3 instances)
 (out of 58 instances)
 (out of 3 instances total)

The sheer number of instances of the adjective desirous taking verbal complements in the Book of Mormon differs from the usage found in the King James Bible and in the four pseudo-biblical writings considered here. An examination of the EEBO database suggests that this Book of Mormon syntax corresponds best with language from the middle of the early modern period.

Pseudo-biblical texts have very few examples of this language (Leacock’s and Hunt’s texts do not have any instances of the adjective desirous). The few instances they do contain are either infinitival or participial (modern) in construction:

1793, Richard Snowden, The American Revolution, 9:4

yet he was desirous to do something to please the king his master,
and gain a little honor to himself;

1809, Matthew Linning, Book of Napoleon, 13:12, 36

and that thou art desirous to foretaste the dreary night of death?
[Page 225]If, O people of Albion, ye are truly desirous of preserving
and enjoying the many and invaluable blessings which
the goodness of Providence has vouchsafed to you,

Linning’s second example employs of with two present participles rather than to with infinitives. According to the Google Books Ngram Viewer, desirous of became the favored form only after the middle of the 18th century. By the year 1800, desirous of was more than twice as common as desirous to. The Book of Mormon doesn’t have of usage after the adjective desirous. In this way, syntactically speaking, it is not a modern text in its verbal complementation following the adjective desirous, dozens of times.

Excluding the Apocrypha, the adjective desirous takes verbal complements in the King James Bible only three times, despite having nearly three times as many words as the Book of Mormon. This means that the biblical usage rate of desirous in this regard is less than two percent the rate of the Book of Mormon. In each of the three biblical cases the complements are infinitival:

Luke 23:8 for he was desirous to see him of a long season,
John 16:19 Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him,
2 Corinthians 11:32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:

The governor is the understood subject of the desirous-clause, and the verb be is ellipted.

Based on little data, the finite complementation rate of the King James Bible following this adjective is zero percent. In contrast, the Book of Mormon’s finite complementation rate is close to 43 percent (25 of 58 instances).

Because the King James Bible and two of the pseudo-biblical texts are strictly non-finite in their scarce usage of the adjective desirous with verbal complements, they have no examples of the following finite syntactic structures, which are fairly common in the Book of Mormon:

<subject>i<be verb> desirous

that <subject>jshould <infinitive> (19 instances)

<subject>i<be verb> desirous

that <subject>imight <infinitive> (6 instances)

[Page 226]The Book of Mormon has six examples of the second type listed above — where the subjects are the same (shown by the index i): 1 Nephi 10:17, 1 Nephi 17:18, Mosiah 25:17 (two instances), Alma 14:2, Alma 23:16. Two of these are shown below. That the Book of Mormon has six of these is noteworthy, since this figure is close to the number that I have currently been able to isolate in approximately 25,000 EEBO Phase 1 texts. As a result, had Joseph Smith been responsible for the wording found in the six examples of this grammatical construction, it is very likely that the phraseology would have been infinitival or participial.

In the two examples that follow, I have recast the language into what I have determined to be the more likely wording for Joseph to have used if he had been responsible for rendering the words into English. In the following recasting of these excerpts, the same substantives are used along with the adjective desirous:

1 Nephi 17:18

And thus my brethren did complain against me
and were desirous that they might not labor,

Recast: And thus my brethren complained against me
and were desirous not to labor.

Alma 14:2

But the more part of them were desirous
that they might destroy Alma and Amulek;

Recast: But most of them were desirous to destroy Alma and Amulek.

This same reality is present throughout the text of the Book of Mormon, making it highly improbable that the wording flows from what Joseph’s own biblically influenced language might have been.

Summary of Findings

Areas addressed in this study have included the following items of linguistic usage: agentive of and by, lest syntax, personal that, which, and who(m), periphrastic did, obsolete morepart phraseology, pluperfect had spake, the {-th} plural, and patterns of verbal complementation governed by the verbs cause, command, desire, make, and suffer (also the adjective desirous). Here is a summary of the comparative grammatical findings:

  • Agentive of and by: The Book of Mormon is broadly archaic in this regard, approaching King James levels; pseudo-biblical writings have little agentive of usage.
  • [Page 227]Lest syntax: The overall Book of Mormon pattern is not biblical, pseudo-biblical, or modern; shall is used as a modal auxiliary more than a dozen times and there is rare, mixed should/shall use; the entire King James Bible has only one passage with shall (three instances) and no mixed should/shall use; pseudo-biblical writings do not have any examples with shall.
  • Relativepronoun usage with personal antecedents: The Book of Mormon’s overall personal relative-pronoun usage pattern is not biblical, pseudo-biblical, or modern; this solid authorship marker argues strongly against Joseph Smith wording the earliest text.
  • Periphrastic did: Joseph Smith was unlikely to have produced the ubiquitous past-tense syntax of the Book of Mormon; its high rate and syntactic distribution are 16th-century in character, not pseudo-biblical or biblical.
  • Morepart phraseology: Book of Mormon usage is similar to what we see in several writings of the first half of the early modern era; we don’t find this obsolete phrase in pseudo-biblical writings; scant King James usage left no impression on them in this regard.
  • Had (been) spake: This leveled past-participial form is absent from the King James Bible and pseudo-biblical writings; the Book of Mormon’s use of “had been spake” and “of which hath been spoken” — rare and very uncommon usage of the 17th century, respectively — strongly suggest that the 12 instances of had spake in the earliest text are best classified as Early Modern English morphosyntax.
  • The {-th} plural: The Book of Mormon provides a nearly complete view of the diverse possibilities of {-th} inflection in earlier English; neither the King James Bible nor pseudo biblical writings do.
  • Verbal complementation: One cannot generate the Book of Mormon’s heavy finite complementation rates from biblical, pseudo-biblical, or modern syntactic patterns; only deep knowledge of Early Modern English possibilities generates its archaic auxiliary usage, heavy doses of ditransitive syntax, and principled variation.

[Page 228]The above comparative linguistic evidence indicates that the Book of Mormon was not fashioned in the image of pseudo-biblical writings, or in the image of the King James Bible, or in the image of Joseph Smith’s own language. Nevertheless, Book of Mormon language contains a wealth of archaic forms and structures. This runs counter to the received view of many commentators who have imagined it to be a flawed imitation of biblical language. A variety of substantive linguistic evidence argues that Book of Mormon grammar is deeply and broadly archaic and very different, in one case after another, from both pseudo-biblical grammar and King James style. Many more types of syntax could be given, but the above is sufficient to dismiss the view that pseudo-biblical writings approach the Book of Mormon in archaic form and structure. Those who espouse such a view have ignored crucial syntactic and morphosyntactic evidence.

Biblical Hypercorrection

It is often possible to come up with creative links between Book of Mormon and King James usage. It would be no problem for me to do so in many instances. However, if biblical hypercorrection is properly constrained to cases of actual biblical usage, then it ultimately lacks explanatory value vis-à-vis Book of Mormon grammar, as it fails to explain many individual cases and plenty of systematic usage. In the following list, I mention a few of the issues beyond a lack of pseudo biblical support (which is generally the case):

  • Agentive of and by: This is a potential case of considerable biblical influence rather than hypercorrection. Joseph Smith outperformed the four pseudo-biblical authors in this domain.
  • Lest syntax: The Book of Mormon’s heavy lestshall usage is a candidate for biblical hypercorrection, but there is mixed should/shall use to account for. If this is a hypercorrection, then Joseph was successful in noticing and expanding on rare biblical usage and matching rare Early Modern English variation.
  • Relativepronoun usage with personal antecedents: If one views the Book of Mormon’s heavy personal which usage as a biblical hypercorrection, then one must (1) ignore the more likely hypercorrection of personal that, (2) accept Joseph being able to dictate about 1,000 times against subconscious preferences, (3) disregard correspondence with some less-[Page 229]common Early Modern English usage, and (4) dismiss counterevidence from Joseph’s 1832 History, which has archaizing elements in it.
  • Periphrastic did: Bowen views this as a biblical hypercorrection. Things to be explained are the Book of Mormon’s possibly unmatched rate of did infinitive adjacency (in the 19th century) and the good correlation with individual verb tendencies of the early modern period, as discoverable in the EEBO database.
  • Morepart phraseology: The case for biblical hypercorrection must be weighed against Book of Mormon usage of “the more parts of his gospel,” “the more parts of the Nephites,” and “a more part of it.” Joseph was successful in consistently modifying the phraseology against rare biblical usage as well as matching rare Early Modern English variants.
  • Had (been) spake: There is no direct biblical support for this morphosyntax: the King James Bible doesn’t employ leveled past participles (although the American pseudo biblical authors do occasionally, with other verbs). As a result, it’s a stretch to say that the use of past-tense spake as a past participle is a biblical hypercorrection.
  • The {-th} plural: There is partial pseudo-biblical support but virtually no biblical support (a handful of potential cases that are less than clear). The case for biblical hypercorrection is weakened by, among other things, the Book of Mormon’s high usage rate compared with that of the 18th-century pseudo-biblical texts and its non-biblical use of {-th} forms with plural pronouns, as occurred in earlier English.
  • Verbal complementation: Biblical hypercorrection cannot explain several features of the Book of Mormon’s extended cause syntax without recourse to analogy, and there is no biblical precedent for the ditransitive causative with a repeated it. In addition, there are quite a few grammatical features and patterns associated with the other four verbs that lack a direct biblical connection. Finally, the Book of Mormon’s finite complementation rates with four of these verbs are drastically different from biblical and pseudo biblical rates.
  • [Page 230]If one decides to view Book of Mormon grammar as a case of biblical hypercorrection, then one must have a liberal interpretation of hypercorrection in order to place so much extra-biblical Early Modern English usage under this umbrella. An analyst must be quite creative to argue that Joseph could have produced all the archaic grammar.

    The pseudo-biblical texts indicate that each of the following Book of Mormon features was unlikely to have been produced by Joseph Smith: robust agentive of, lest–shall syntax, heavy personal which, high rates of did–infinitive adjacency, indefinite and plural more-part phraseology, “had been spake” and “of which hath been spoken,” diverse {-th} plural usage, and syntactically rich verbal complementation. The multiplication of unlikely features is a textual scenario that was extremely unlikely for Joseph to produce. In every case listed above, and in many others not discussed here, he outperformed the pseudo-biblical authors in generating archaisms of earlier English, both biblical and non-biblical.

    Alternative LDS Views

    Some LDS commentators have assumed that a transmitted-words view of Book of Mormon translation involved a one-time translation of the text by a single English speaker who lived during the early modern period. This tends to make the position of revealed words or tight control appear untenable and naïve. If it was a one-time translation, then it could have been close in time to 1828 and 1829, but with multiple inputs that reflected varied English competence. It also could have been a series of translation events. We have no way of being sure of these things without further revelation. There are quite a few possibilities from our limited perspective, which might prevent us from coming close to a knowledge of how the translation of the Book of Mormon into English transpired.

    As mentioned toward the outset of this study, a number of LDS scholars believe that Joseph Smith’s mind was saturated with biblical language and that on that basis he could have produced the text of the Book of Mormon from a mixture of biblical language and his own dialect (see note 7). Opposed to this position is a growing body of descriptive linguistic evidence that there is a substantial amount of archaic vocabulary and syntax in the Book of Mormon that does not match King James idiom. The text is archaic and non-biblical in many structural ways. If we accept that Joseph’s mind was saturated with biblical language, then the earliest text’s overall form and structure argue that he did not produce it. Ultimately, the descriptive linguistic [Page 231]facts overturn views of Book of Mormon language that depend on his mind being imbued with biblical ways of expression.

    That being the case, Gardner 2011 and Barlow 2013 have effectively ended up arguing (unintentionally) against Joseph’s being the English-language translator or author of the Book of Mormon text. Had he produced the text from his own biblically saturated language, the form and structure of the Book of Mormon would be quite different and much more pseudo-biblical in its structure. Theoretically speaking, the profile of the person required for crafting much of the English language of the Book of Mormon was a first-rate, independent philologist — someone extremely knowledgeable in the linguistics and literature of earlier English, but not beholden to following King James patterns.


    This data-driven study has provided substantial linguistic evidence against the view that at least one pseudo-biblical writing — usually thought to be Gilbert J. Hunt’s The Late War — had a noticeable influence on the composition of the Book of Mormon. Ultimately, I find this position to be indefensible because of a large amount of contradictory descriptive linguistic data of the kind that has high probative value. Relevant (morpho)syntactic analysis tells us that the form and structure of the Book of Mormon could not have been produced from a knowledge of pseudo-biblical writings, or for that matter from a knowledge of only late modern English and biblical English. As a result, even if Joseph had grown up reading and re-reading The Late War, it would not have given him the ability to produce Book of Mormon grammar. That required extensive knowledge of a wide range of extra-biblical earlier English, mostly 16th- and 17th-century in character, but also including usage from before and after the early modern period.

    In a nutshell, the Book of Mormon text exhibits high levels of archaic (morpho)syntax; the pseudo-biblical texts exhibit much lower levels of archaic (morpho)syntax.

    A sufficient and accurate knowledge of the form and structure of the earliest text of the Book of Mormon reveals that The Late War pales in comparison with the Book of Mormon in terms of archaic usage. In fact, the other three pseudo-biblical texts are more archaic than Hunt’s text in many different linguistic domains. In view of these linguistic facts, had Joseph created literature like The Late War, or had this pseudo-biblical writing or another comparable text taught Joseph how to fashion older, biblical language (or influenced his dictation to scribes, etc.), the form of [Page 232]the earliest text of the Book of Mormon would be very different. It would be both more biblical and more modern in character, as we find is the case with the four pseudo-biblical writings considered in this study.

    Because the Book of Mormon has so much extra-biblical vocabulary and syntax, its usage cannot be classified as a biblical–dialectal mixture either. Furthermore, there is plenty of “bad grammar” not attributable to Joseph Smith. In addition, as shown in a recent paper, Joseph’s 1832 History is different syntactically from the earliest text in three important ways.71 Moreover, the suspect verb agreement and forms that have led LDS scholars to attribute the language to Joseph for so many years have turned out to be a good fit with some language of the early modern period. Newly available digital databases make this clear. Because we now have a critical text and searchable databases of earlier English, the Book of Mormon can be shown to be genuinely archaic. Although these facts may clash with favored ideologies, the view that the Book of Mormon is, in its form and structure, a “clumsy parody of the King James Bible” no longer holds up to scrutiny.72

    1. See, for example, Nick C. Ellis, “Implicit and Explicit SLA and Their Interface” in Implicit and Explicit Language Learning: Conditions, Processes, and Knowledge in SLA and Bilingualism, eds. Cristina Sanz and Ronald P. Leow (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011), 35, 36: “Children … automatically acquire complex knowledge of the structure of their language;” “language skill is very different from knowledge about language;” and Bill VanPatten, “Stubborn Syntax: How It Resists Explicit Teaching and Learning,” in Implicit and Explicit Language Learning, 9–21. See also “The brain’s implicit knowledge of grammar is important for understanding spoken language,” National Aphasia Association, accessed December 20, 2017,
    2. Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews (Poultney, VT: Smith & Shute, 1823) has not been included as part of this study. Although its connection with the question of Book of Mormon authorship is fairly well-known, and its language is biblically influenced, it is not a pseudo-biblical text in the style of the other four texts examined here, so it is properly excluded from this analysis. Its forms are no more archaic than the forms found in the above four pseudo-biblical writings, and in most cases its patterns of use are less archaic.
    3. The bibliographic information for the editions consulted is as follows:

    • John Leacock, The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times, 17741775, ed. Carla Mulford (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1987), 130 pages, 6 chapters, approximately 14,500 words.
    • Richard Snowden, The American Revolution (Baltimore: W. Pechin, [1802]), 360 pages, 60 chapters, approximately 49,300 words:
    • Michael Linning, The First Book of Napoleon, the Tyrant of the Earth (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme, 1809), 146 pages, 23 chapters, approximately 19,000 words,
    • Gilbert J. Hunt, The Late War, between the United States and Great Britain, from June, 1812, to February, 1815, 3rd edition (New York: Daniel D. Smith, 1819), 224 pages, 55 chapters, approximately 42,500 words:

    Despite the titles, Leacock and Linning did not produce any sequels.

    4. Those interested can download the application, load the texts, and search them. Look under the category History in the WordCruncher Bookstore. WordCruncher (website), Brigham Young University, last updated 2017,
    5. For further information on Leacock see “John Leacock Commonplace Book,” American Philosophical Society, last updated 2017,; for Snowden see “To George Washington from Richard Snowden, 13 November 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last updated 2018,; for Linning see “Michael Linning,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, last edited on 17 July 2016, at 15:21,; and for Hunt see “Gilbert J. Hunt to Thomas Jefferson, 30 January 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last updated 2018,
    6. See Eran Shalev, “‘Written in the Style of Antiquity’: Pseudo-Biblicism and the Early American Republic, 1770–1830,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 79, no. 4 (December 2010): 809, 813, 817.
    7. Author unknown, “Art. II,” British Critic 35 (January, February, March, April, May, June): 110.
    8. Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latterday Saints in American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 27, 220. On page 220 we read the following: “The Prophet’s mind was demonstrably saturated in biblical language, images, and themes.” Brant Gardner, The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011), 302, quotes and agrees with Lavina Fielding Anderson: “the Smith family’s oral culture was so thoroughly imbued with biblical language . . . that its use was fluent, easy, and familiar.” (Lavina Fielding Anderson, “Mother Tongue: KJV Language in Smith Family Discourse,” [Paper, Mormon History Association, 22 May 2009]. Copy in Gardner’s possession.) Gardner goes on to say that “King James version style appears in the Book of Mormon because Joseph could not escape it. I doubt that it was a conscious decision to imitate that style.” See also Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 274: “While saturated with Bible language, the Book of Mormon was an entirely new history . . . .”
    9. RT, “The Book of Mormon and the Late War: Direct Literary Dependence?,” Faith Promoting Rumor (blog), Patheos, October 30, 2013, See my comment posted on 16 November 2016, to be found after RT’s write-up.
    10. “A Comparison of The Book of Mormon and The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain,” WordTree Foundation, last edited March 9, 2014,
    11. Chris Johnson, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” Ask Reality (blog), WordPress, October 21, 2013, This webpage did not clearly indicate which texts the two Johnson brothers used in their comparisons. In late 2013, EEBO Phase 1 texts were not publicly available, so we may safely assume that they didn’t use those in their analyses. This is supported by their mention of OCR difficulties with the long s, since EEBO is mostly a manually transcribed database. They probably used the Google Books database, which doesn’t have many pre-1701 texts, relatively speaking. That would mean that they mainly examined texts of the late 1700s and early 1800s, and secondarily of the early 1700s, and comparatively few Early Modern English texts.
    12. Royal Skousen, ed., The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). The archived webpage didn’t indicate which edition of the Book of Mormon the n-gram researchers used in their analysis.
    13. See “Flaw 5: Textual Context” in Benjamin L. McGuire, “The Late War Against the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 7 (2013): 348–49,
    14. McGuire, “The Late War,” 325.
    15. See page 23 of Jeremy T. Runnells, “CES Letter: My Search for Answers to My Mormon Doubts,” CES Letter Foundation, updated October 2017,
    16. See pages 93 and 94 of Anonymous, “Letter for My Wife,” Letter for my Wife (blog), WordPress, 2017,
    17. Eran Shalev, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War, quoted in John Turner, “American Pseudobibles (and the Book of Mormon),” Anxious Beach (blog), Patheos, March 6, 2014,
    18. Shalev, “Pseudo-Biblicism,” 826.
    19. Gregory A. Bowen, “Sounding Sacred: The Adoption of Biblical Archaisms in the Book of Mormon and Other 19th Century Texts,” (2016) Open Access Dissertations,
    20. Of course, the constraints of academia virtually force the conclusion, while the constraints of LDS scholarship do not force one to declare that Joseph was or was not the English-language translator. Consequently, I consider Bowen’s conclusion on page 61 to be de rigueur and uninteresting.
    21. The entry for hypercorrect, adj. in the Oxford English Dictionary has the following: “Linguistics. Of a spelling, pronunciation, or construction: falsely modelled on an apparently analogous prestigeful form.”
    22. See Bowen, Sounding Sacred, 86.
    23. See the heading for definition 14 of the preposition of in the online, third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (definition 15 in the second edition). We are not concerned with Old English or even early Middle English, when the prepositions from and through were used to indicate the agent as well.
    24. Royal Skousen created a table with 82 verbs which will appear in his forthcoming book The Nature of the Original Language. I performed a standard correlation calculation for this agentive of / by table, finding it was only 0.102 (specifically, the Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient calculated by the Microsoft Excel correl formula). I also performed another correlation by excluding those cases where either text doesn’t have examples. This reduced the 82 verbs to only 38, and the correlation was even lower: 0.065. By either test, and even more so by the reduced test, which is arguably more rigorous, the agentive of / by usage of the King James Bible and of the Book of Mormon are uncorrelated.
    25. In terms of the historical record, the lestshall construction was used at its highest rate in the 16th century. This observation is based on isolating 90 EEBO Phase 1 examples of lest occurring within three words of some form of shall (including spelling variants). The highest usage rates are found in the 1530s and 1540s, and there are three instances in a 1549 translation of an Erasmus New Testament paraphrase. This book has the largest number of examples of lestshall syntax that I have encountered in the EEBO Phase 1 database. Hence it is possible that the Book of Mormon has more lestshall constructions than any other book.

    The EEBO Phase 1 database also shows that lestshall syntax occurred in the 17th century at one-quarter the 16th-century rate, dropping off noticeably in the 1680s and 1690s. Continuing robust should usage after the conjunction lest is found in the modern period, but what is not found is much shall usage. The Google Books Ngram Viewer currently indicates that on average shall was used after lest less than one-tenth of one percent of the time in the early 1800s. A recent Google Books search of “lest he/they shall,” limited to before 1830, yielded five examples, found in publications dated between 1720 and 1828. Therefore, the lestshall construction was most heavily represented in the 16th century, and can be said to be characteristic of that century. Several syntactic features of the Book of Mormon are a good fit with the 16th century; this appears to be one of them.
    26. The American Revolution 15:17 (twice), 35:23, 37:7, 55:5; The Late War 19:35.
    27. According to the Google Books Ngram Viewer, he that has persisted most robustly, currently occurring in texts nearly 20 percent of the time (as opposed to he who).
    28. Significant Early Modern English writings that employ personal which more than personal that after the antecedent people include Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations … of the English Nation (1589–1600, EEBO A02495, 57% “people which”) and Edward Grimeston’s translation titled The Estates, Empires, and Principalities of the World (1615, EEBO A23464, 54% “people which”). From these we find that dominant usage of people which is not unattested in the earlier textual record. The EEBO database also shows that the same is true of those which.
    29. One can see rather quickly that the King James Bible employs personal that more than personal which, and personal which more than personal who, by counting instances of “people that/which/who,” “men that/which/who,” and “a man that/which/who” in WordCruncher.
    30. See Royal Skousen, History of the Text of the Book of Mormon: The Grammatical Variation (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2016), 1188–1247.
    31. Skousen, Grammatical Variation, 37: “Overall, Joseph’s inconsistency in his editing argues that he had no systematic method in mind when he edited the text. Sometimes he neglected to make a change that he usually made; other times his decision to make a particular change was carried out only intermittently.”
    32. Bowen, Sounding Sacred, 145.
    33. Skousen, Grammatical Variation, 41, 1224–25.
    34. For example, on page 1217 of Grammatical Variation, Skousen points out an overcorrection of which to who that Joseph made at Alma 51:7. This error persists in the LDS text.
    35. For an overview, see Matti Rissanen, “Syntax” in Roger Lass, editor, The Cambridge History of the English Language, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 293–95 (§
    36. This is what Bowen indicates on page 155 of his thesis, consistent with his general view of Joseph Smith attempting to project a prophetic identity through archaism (see page xii).
    37. Bowen, Sounding Sacred, 155: “The BoM text initially followed the KJB lead in primarily using which for relative clauses with human antecedents”. Table 27 on page 145 of his dissertation gives us figures of five percent personal which in the 1840 Book of Mormon and 70 percent in the King James Bible. But the King James Bible’s primary personal relative pronoun is that. For example, in Genesis and Matthew, the books Bowen examined, there are four instances of “those which,” three of “those that,” and none of “those who(m);” there are also 49 instances of “he that,” three of “he which,” and one of “he who(m).” I have looked for a discussion and analysis of personal that in Bowen’s thesis but haven’t encountered any. If I am not mistaken, he may have neglected this important feature of the biblical personal relative-pronoun system. The exclusion of personal that clouds the true picture of usage.
    38. Alvar Ellegård, The Auxiliary Do: The Establishment and Regulation of Its Use in English (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1953).
    39. This observation is based on the detailed observations of Ellegård, The Auxiliary Do, 161 (Table 7), 162 (diagram), 182 (Table 9 and the accompanying diagram).
    40. Stanford Carmack, “The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 158–59, 169–72.
    41. Isaac Barrow, A Treatise of the Pope’s Supremacy (London: M. Flesher and J. Heptinstall, 1683). The periphrastic did usage of the book was anomalous for the 1670s. One later edition I consulted, published in the 18th century, had silently eliminated a lot of the original did-periphrasis. But an even later 1818 edition maintained it. Philemon Stewart’s A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book (Canterbury, NH: United Society), written in early 1842 and published in 1843, has a fairly high periphrastic did rate (currently estimated to be between six and seven percent). But that rate is about three-and-a-half times lower than the Book of Mormon’s rate, and periphrastic did non-adjacency occurs in the Sacred Roll close to 45 percent of the time, well above that of the Book of Mormon, and at a rate that is between the biblical and the modern.
    42. Ellegård, The Auxiliary Do, 169.
    43. Carmack, “Past-Tense Syntax,” 123 (Table 1), 143.
    44. See Stanford Carmack, “How Joseph Smith’s Grammar Differed from Book of Mormon Grammar: Evidence from the 1832 History,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25 (2017): 240–41.
    45. Carmack, “Past-Tense Syntax,” 185–86.
    46. A count of the three non-emphatic did–infinitive adjacency cases in Leacock’s text gives a rate of about 210 words per million. This is well below the biblical did–infinitive adjacency rate of approximately 700 wpm that I found for Genesis and Matthew, the two books Bowen used in his dissertation as a proxy for the King James Bible. If we break down usage of did and the infinitive according to adjacency and non-adjacency, we see that Leacock’s non-adjacency rate is 57 percent, well above the 24 percent rate of Genesis and Matthew. By way of comparison, the Book of Mormon’s did–infinitive adjacency textual rate is close to 6500 wpm, and its non-adjacency rate is less than 10 percent.
    47. The biblical text frequently avoided simple past-tense forms ending in {-e(d st}, and the Book of Mormon did so as well, but its periphrastic didst instances don’t make up a significant part of the overall periphrastic did usage as they do in the biblical text.
    48. Bowen also examined an 1843 Shaker text by Philemon Stewart (see note 37) with high did–infinitive adjacency. (My preliminary estimate is that its rate falls between six and seven percent; further work is required to verify this or obtain a more accurate estimate). The non-adjacency share of did and the infinitive, however, is more than 40 percent, which is a biblical–modern pattern.
    49. Legal books containing old statutory language with the wording do not have as many instances as the Book of Mormon has.
    50. The leveling does not occur in the present perfect.
    51. It does occur earlier, as shown by an early Oxford English Dictionary example and at least two late 16th-century instances, one from EEBO and one from Google Books. The second edition of the OED has the following example under speak, verb, at the end of section A4(ε), which contains forms of the past participle: “c[irca] 1500Three Kings’ Sons 61 That he had spake to hym”.
    52. This inflection usually occurred with the third-person plural, but not always. It could occur with we and ye or you as well. There is also attested usage of {-th} inflection with first-person and second-person singular subjects.
    53. For some discussion of this linguistic phenomenon, see Charles Barber, Early Modern English (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 169; Roger Lass, “Phonology and Morphology” quoted in Roger Lass, ed., The Cambridge History of the English Language, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 165–66.
    54. See Stanford Carmack, “The Case of the {-th} Plural in the Earliest Text,” Interpreter 18 (2016): 88; also see the more general discussion on pages 86–89.
    55. See Royal Skousen, Grammatical Variation (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2016), 465–74.
    56. See Carmack, “The Case of the {-th} Plural,” 103–4.
    57. Laura Wright, “Third Person Plural Present Tense Markers In London Prisoners’ Depositions, 1562–1623,” American Speech 77, no. 3 (2002): 242–45.
    58. Royal Skousen has independently counted examples of verbal complementation, and I have incorporated some of his work here.
    59. In the case of the desire, which is the verb with the weakest chi-square test of Book of Mormon and King James verbal complementation, the probability is still quite low, just not vanishingly small: p < 0.001. There isn’t enough data in the pseudo-biblical texts to make a valid comparison for this verb.
    60. Giovanni Battista Gelli, Circes of Iohn Baptista Gello, Florentine, trans. Henry Iden (London: 1558) (EEBO A68089). Royal Skousen independently counted 6 finite instances out of 44 possible cases. These two separate counts provide confidence that the actual number of cases of cause syntax with verbal complementation in this 1558 text is either 44 or 45 or very close to it.
    61. Specifically, the 3 Nephi 29:4 example could have been phrased as “he will cause it to soon overtake you.” In infinitival complementation the adverb soon would split to from the infinitive. In Early Modern English an adverbial constituent increased the likelihood of finite complementation after the verb command. This phenomenon would have had general applicability to other high-frequency complementation verbs like cause.
    62. However, the related auxiliary should is used twice after the verb cause, at John 11:37 and Revelation 13:15, and shall is used once after the closely related verb make at 2 Peter 1:8.
    63. Snowden’s case of mixed complementation could be analyzed either way, but a ditransitive reading for “that they should make all speed” is likely if we take the following complex infinitival “to sail … and help” to be governed by the verb command: “he commanded his sea-captains, to make ready a navy of ships; and take large store of the destroying engines, and other implements for war; and that they should make all speed, to sail for the land of Columbia, and help the people of the Provinces, against their mighty adversaries, the men of Britain.” (The American Revolution, 38:2).
    64. These observations are based on an analysis of more than 600 instances of command syntax that take verbal complements in Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577). The embedded second-person subject pattern is probably more significant than the passive pattern, which may be derivable by analogous usage in many other cases.
    65. There are no passive instances of the verb desire with verbal complements.
    66. This Snowden excerpt ends as follows: “and that he might be privately buried by his own servants.” The Book of Mormon also has two examples of this same, co-referential desire syntax with “that <subject> might.” In Snowden’s text it occurs after a case of finite complementation with a that-clause and a distinct subject. Snowden could have employed infinitival to instead of “that he might,” but he probably chose “that he might,” perhaps subconsciously, in order to parallel prior finite “that <subject> should.” In other words, Snowden probably chose to avoid mixed complementation in 33:14.
    67. Snowden’s three examples occur in an appended poem, The Columbiad, which has not been included in other analyses, and is not currently in the WordCruncher version. It can be found online at
    68. It is, of course, possible that a finite reflexive example of extended suffer syntax is somewhere in EEBO or elsewhere.
    69. Recueil of the histories of Troy [1473 or 1474, EEBO A05232] and Legenda aurea sanctorum [The Golden Legend] [1483, EEBO A14559].
    70. See Skousen, Grammatical Variation, 450.
    71. See Carmack, “Joseph Smith’s Grammar,” 240–46.
    72. Walter A. McDougall, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829–1877 (New York: Harper, 2008), 182.

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About Stanford Carmack

Stanford Carmack has a linguistics and a law degree from Stanford University, as well as a doctorate in Hispanic Languages and Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in historical syntax. In the past he has had articles published on Georgian verb morphology and object–participle agreement in Old Spanish and Old Catalan. He currently researches Book of Mormon syntax as it relates to Early Modern English and contributes, by means of textual analysis, to volume 3 of Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon critical text project.

16 thoughts on “Is the Book of Mormon a Pseudo-Archaic Text?

  1. Stan, Thanks for your article. As always, it took a lot of brain activity for me to wade through the information, but it was worth it. I am impressed by the “more part” analysis. It would be interesting to see a simplified ( a nicer way to say “dumbed-down”) version of this and the other articles that you have produced that would make your work more approachable by the general church population. Any possibility?

  2. Once again, another intriguing article. Thanks Stanford, for your careful and diligent research on this topic.

    I haven’t yet found anyone who has offered any sort of serious rebuttal or critique of your research on archaic syntax. Perhaps there is a trained linguist out there who is vigorously disputing your findings, but I have found one yet. Instead, the main reason for pushback, that I have encountered, is that people are prone to reject the conclusions of your analysis because they can’t think of a satisfactory reason (in their worldview) for why God would reveal an English text with systematic Early Modern syntax and lexical usage. In other words, the rejection doesn’t seem to be based on competing sets of data or alleged flaws in your research. It is almost entirely a response to having previous assumptions about the translation being upended by a more probative and exhaustive linguistic analysis.

    Maybe I’m wrong though. Is there some other reason that believing Latter-day Saints favor other translation theories even after they become aware of the Book of Mormon’s pervasive and systematic archaic syntax? And if so, how do they account for your data?

    Are they inclined to believe that ALL of these archaic syntactic features were present in Joseph Smith’s community and that somehow none of them made it in to the textual record? It seems its either that or else one has to assume that Joseph was reading extensively from a variety of Early Modern texts and that in hundreds of instances he was able to transcend his native syntactic patterns and intentionally implement a variety of archaic syntactic features that he had picked up on in his extensive research. Or perhaps there is some other proposal out there to account for this data and still maintain previous translation theories.

    • One of the previous translation theories is that Joseph Smith was given “impressions” of some sort that he put into words himself — in his uneducated English. The work of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack is laying this old theory to rest, although the theory did not make sense to begin with. What “impressions” could be given to Joseph Smith that would cause him to formulate something like:

      ” I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.”

      • Since I have written on the topic of translation and have had my ideas described in the terms you are suggesting, I’d like to clarify. I cannot speak for anyone else, but using the word “impressions” is not a good description of what I think happened. I am speaking about the nature of translation (and Carmack and Skousen are describing the English of the translation, but not the relationship of the original Nephite to the English). When any good translator creates a text in a target language, they don’t change each word from the source language to the target. When they read the original, they understand the text. Then they put that understanding into the target language. That process might be very close to word for word, but things like word order will always require certain changes. What happens more often is that the meaning is translated. This is particularly true with idioms, where the intent is more intelligible than a literal translation.

        What I suggest is that the essential first step of a translation, understanding what the original said, is what was given to Joseph. I am suggesting that it was Joseph who produced the English. What Carmack and Skousen are suggesting is that this same process of understanding the original and transforming into English was performed by a person or by persons other than Joseph. So the evidence they are looking at can lead to a discussion of who translated, but not the way the translation occurred. It certainly can’t say anything about whatever the impressions of translation were, because that could have been the mechanism of translation to whomever the not-Joseph was who created the English text.

        • “What Carmack and Skousen are suggesting is that this same process of understanding the original and transforming into English was performed by a person or by persons other than Joseph.”

          I’m not as familiar with the two viewpoints as you are, and I know Dr. Carmack will likely speak for himself, but I have read Skousen (and viewed his presentations) extensively. I’ve never heard him try to persuade people that some “not-Joseph” translated the Book of Mormon. In fact, Skousen goes out of his way not to speculate about it when he is asked. (I know that once, a long time ago, he speculated about a translation “committee”, but has since disavowed that speculation and won’t comment on it further).

          You describe two competing viewpoints, but the two viewpoints, in my opinion, are these: either the Book of Mormon is a translated text (in the way you describe above), or the Book of Mormon is a revealed text, word for word. One viewpoint does well describing the data in Dr. Carmack’s article, the other doesn’t.

          The thrust of the article above (and of the rest of the work of Skousen and Carmack) is to accurately describe the archaic features of the text. This favors the argument that the text was revealed to Joseph, not translated by him. But if I were to cherry-pick something of a hypothetical, Carmack said, (in somewhat of a challenge to the “committee” theory): “Theoretically speaking, the profile of the person required for crafting much of the English language of the Book of Mormon was a first-rate, independent philologist — someone extremely knowledgeable in the linguistics and literature of earlier English, but not beholden to following King James patterns.” Personally I think that this is a perfect description of the Lord himself. He is the ultimate “first-rate, independent philologist – someone extremely knowledgable” “but not beholden”, he is the “not-Joseph”. There is no need to speculate any further. The Lord gave Joseph the words in a version of English that was older than Joseph, but the Lord was also the filter, so that there were no archaic words that Joseph wouldn’t understand.

          I think a good analogy is the Liahona. Words appeared there, but we don’t waste anytime speculating which person or people from an older generation put those words there. Rather, we understand that the Lord put the words on the Liahona. Same goes for the text of the Book of Mormon. Sure it was originally written by mortal prophets, but it was translated by the Lord faithfully into a beautiful old English. Then it was miraculously given to Joseph word for word. He dictated it faithfully and the scribes recorded it as best they could and now we can all read it and be blessed. Certainly a marvelous work and a wonder.

          • I believe you are correct that Skousen tries to stay away from speculation about the translator. However, I must point out that your suggestion that one viewpoint is that “the Book of Mormon is a revealed text,” sounds better than it is. I think we can agree that there was an ancient text on the plates that Joseph received, and that they were not in English. Even is the English were revealed word for word–it is the result of some type of translation. Hence, there is a translator somewhere. There is some relationship between English and the plate language. The “revealed text” part of the equation works when describing the source of what Joseph saw–but it doesn’t alter the questions about translation.

            As for the language being archaic, that is only true for part of the text. More recently, Carmack has discussed aspects that are later than Early Modern English and closer to Joseph’s time, and including some syntax and vocabulary that cannot be found until after Joseph’s time. So the issue is not nearly as clean as you are stating it (though I believe you are accurately summarizing the way it was presented in Carmack’s earlier papers).

            What about the suggestion that the translator had to be “a first-rate, independent philologist”? That would be correct if Joseph were attempting to generate that language. However, if those forms were retained (and would have been ungrammatical when the Book of Mormon was printed regardless of who produced them), then he was using an ungrammatical language that was ungrammatical in the same way that had been statistically more common earlier. Carmack’s more recent examination of the early revelations and the Plot of Zion suggest to me that those aspects of language were native to Joseph. Carmack very adamantly disagrees, and sees their presence in the early revelations as evidence that the same not-Joseph person or committee supplied the language to Joseph.

            The important aspect of the data is that once the description has been made, Dr. Carmack has looked to see if he can find the syntactic elements (and vocabulary) in available sources. Some he hasn’t found. Some that he has found post-date Early Modern English. Some, according to the data, post-date the Book of Mormon. So we don’t have an Early Modern English text–we have a text that has elements that post-date Early Modern English, but retain some of the older features (which, by definition, would have been ungrammatical). The problem is in the nature of attempting to prove a negative. The absence could be due to extinction (as suggested) or by the chance composition of the database.

          • Exactly what I have been thinking. The “committee” or non-Joseph translator (other than God) is redundant. God can make words appear on a rock but he needs help to translate? Doesn’t make sense to me.

          • // God can make words appear on a rock but he needs help to translate? //

            Everyone agrees God could do it, but WOULD he have done the translating? Normally, God works through his mortal servants to bring about His works. For example, in the request to Nephi and others to record their history and in commissioning Mormon to abridge the records God is calling on others. Shall we ask why God needs such help when He could do it himself?

          • I don’t expect God to record the history on Nephi’s behalf, just like I don’t expect him to write my journal for me. But I don’t know of anyone who assumes that someone other than God and Joseph Smith was involved with the English text of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price for instance. So I don’t see the need for that when it comes to the BoM either

        • I recently had an experience that I think may help explain what I mean be understanding as being at a different level than words. My mission language is Spanish, and I was writing something in Spanish. I was thinking in Spanish. I was vocalizing Spanish as I was typing. I came to the place where I should type “pero.” Again, I thought “pero.” I vocalized “pero.” My fingers typed “but.” In this case, the words have the same meaning and same usage, but the unconscious part of my brain that types English much faster than Spanish typed the meaning in what my fingers found to be easier–even though I was consciously trying to use Spanish.

  3. Thank you brother Carmack… I just finished reading this article… and I have read your other nine articles… I can’t pretend to understand the full depth of the technical English grammar, syntax, sentence structure, etc.… But it still fascinates me to see the eme influence hiding in plain sight throughout the BoM. And I’m gaining an appreciation for the so-called “bad grammar.” I believe I learned from John Welch that “the quality of the (BoM) reading can never rise above the quality of the reader.” Hugh Nibley’s work (& many others) has helped me to take notice of old world & mesoamerican influence in the BoM… and after 40+ years of personal BoM study, reading hundreds of scholarly books and papers ( by the way, it saddens me to see the watered-down FARMS legacy) … I thought we were coming to the end of serious BoM study topics… Your work is showing that another sizable & exciting chapter is being opened… thanks also to Royal Skousen! The quality of all readers must now drammatically improve to keep up! Your work continues to show me why the BoM is an “unassailable” (GB Hinckley) cornerstone of our faith. Early modern english influence in the BoM pushes Jos. Smith Jr. way beyond “religious genius.” The BoM truly is a miraculous work & a miracle. I look for to your next 30 articles! Thank you

  4. Gardner: “As for the language being archaic, that is only true for part of the text. More recently, Carmack has discussed aspects that are later than Early Modern English and closer to Joseph’s time, and including some syntax and vocabulary that cannot be found until after Joseph’s time. So the issue is not nearly as clean as you are stating it (though I believe you are accurately summarizing the way it was presented in Carmack’s earlier papers).” [emphasis added]

    Readers should know that when Gardner writes that only “part of the text” is archaic, part should be read to mean ‘the vast majority’.

    When one writes something like “part of the world”, “part of the country”, etc., the default interpretation of “part of X”—where X is large, as the Book of Mormon text is, with its approximately 270,000 words—is some indefinite amount that is less than half. This is the impression Gardner conveys here: that less than half of the Book of Mormon text is archaic in formation. The informed are able to interpret “part” differently in this case, but others will tend to think in default terms. As an experienced author, Gardner is aware of this.

    He also suggests in the above paragraph that my recent characterization of Book of Mormon language differs materially from what I have expressed in earlier papers. From what I can tell, he means that in years past I have said that the Book of Mormon was solely an Early Modern English text, but that I have now changed my stance to admit modern elements. This is wrong, and Gardner probably knows this. I will briefly make the case.

    In my first Interpreter paper in 2014, I specifically mentioned one aspect of the verbal system—auxiliary selection with unaccusative past participles—that was systematically modern (see issue 11, pages 239–240). (Beyond that, however, virtually all of the Book of Mormon’s verbal system—the core of grammar—is either an exclusive or best fit with broad, extra-biblical Early Modern English patterns.) Moreover, the abstract of my plural “was” paper begins with the following: “Because it is primarily an Early Modern English text (in terms of its English language)” (emphasis added; see issue 18, page 109). We can probably encounter language where my specific position is hard to determine, but the above notion is common enough in my papers, including the title of one: The More Part of the Book of Mormon is Early Modern English. Case closed.

    Readers should be on their guard when they read things written by Gardner about Book of Mormon language and translation. For example, he writes about (un)grammaticality in the Book of Mormon, here and elsewhere, without a solid grasp of the subject. A discussion of the language of 1 Nephi 15:13 on pages 183–184 of Gardner 2011, and other similar discussions there, indicate inadequate linguistic understanding. In that particular case, he failed to take into account natural language variation in his interpretation. Furthermore, none of his writings show that he has studied the matter of grammaticality in the Book of Mormon seriously. There is plenty of “bad grammar” in the earliest text that wasn’t Joseph’s bad grammar. And there is plenty of archaism that has not been edited and which has not been deemed to be (fully) ungrammatical. In addition, sometimes patterns of use are archaic, not necessarily individual instances. Did he not read this paper? If he did, then he has ignored a number of strikingly archaic patterns discussed in it.

    • Thank you for the clarification.

      Actually, I don’t think that the distinction that a majority of the text is Early Modern English is much of a difference. The critical evidence is that there are post-Early Modern English forms (and some not attested until after the publication of the Book of Mormon).

      One conclusion from those data is that the dating hypotheses based upon those data are flawed. Te second is that if there is only one translator, then that translator combined forms that Joseph would have known (but were unavailable in Early Modern English) with retained forms from Early Modern English (which had disappeared elsewhere).

      There next interpretive possibility is that the text wasn’t translated by a single translator. That would leave the possibility that some parts were written at different times by someone with grammar from multiple time periods–and then combined before given to Joseph. It is a hypothetical suggestion that might salvage an ideological position that the data would otherwise undermine.

      • Brant,
        You said “One conclusion from those data is that the dating hypotheses based upon those data are flawed.”

        I am not sure what dating hypothesis you are referring to. I it is the date of the translation, I do not believe that Stanford is proposing a prior translation. His main thrust, as far as I can determine, is to show the extreme unlikelihood that Joseph was the author of the text of the Book of Mormon.

        You also added, “T(h)e second is that if there is only one translator, then that translator combined forms that Joseph would have known (but were unavailable in Early Modern English) with retained forms from Early Modern English (which had disappeared elsewhere).”

        That is almost blindingly obvious. And as another poster or two have pointed out, we should fully expect that the Lord, the Holy Ghost to be fully capable in that respect and to be able to see forward past the time of the production of the Book of Mormon to include some phrases and expressions that were to come afterwards.

        To me as a believer in the “gift and power of God” explanation for the production of the Book of Mormon, the argument (by another believer) that the EmodE found in the Doctrine and Covenants and the “Plot of Zion” are evidences that it was part of Joseph’s linguistic environment that only showed when Joseph was speaking with his “prophetic voice” to be compelling. Stanford has pointed out with references that such usage would be unconscious and would show up in Joseph’s other writings.


        • Readers should be aware of some of Gardner’s assumptions. In his 2011 book he somehow knew that a divine interpreter wouldn’t have carried out a creative, dynamic translation. Now he somehow knows that the Lord wouldn’t have used some modern language in a mostly archaic translation. These are of course indefensible.

          The dating hypothesis you’re wondering about, Glenn, comes from a discussion elsewhere in which Gardner proposed to place a single date on the text by dating it to “the latest information”. He himself isn’t sure of what the latest information is, since he doesn’t research such things, so I supplied him with some possible examples. His dating proposal is meant to show that Joseph worded the text out of his own language because of modern elements in the dictation. This all rests on his second assumption above.

          The things I brought up elsewhere with Gardner as post-dating the Book of Mormon are textual curiosities such as unwearyingness and ites. These two are currently first attested outside the Book of Mormon after the year 1850. I also brought up one syntactic item, singular–plural “are a descendant of”, which I won’t discuss here, but which Skousen first brought up in a March 2015 lecture at BYU. These are all treated in Skousen’s forthcoming critical text books (June? 2018). I mentioned these vocabulary items as modern and no more in the context of a discussion about Gardner’s trivial and rigid dating proposal, but both of them could have been produced in the 1600s or earlier.

          According to the OED, analogous, lexical usage of the suffix ism is attested by 1680, and both wearyingness (1655) and unwearying (1600 and later) appear in the 1600s as well (see the OED and EEBO). All relevant affixes were common and productive, so that the words could have been produced in an English-language translation that chiefly involved Early Modern English competence (implicit knowledge). These aren’t necessarily the best examples, but they do show creativity in the translation.

          There is actually hardly anything in the Book of Mormon that should be thought of as strictly post-1750 language. Again, Gardner doesn’t know what those things might be from his own research, but he will express an opinion about them, as he did here about Book of Mormon (un)grammaticality, even though he hasn’t studied any of it carefully.

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