The Late War Against the Book of Mormon

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Recently, the Exmormon Foundation held their annual conference in Salt Lake City.1 A presentation by Chris and Duane Johnson proposed a new statistical model for discussing authorship of the Book of Mormon.2 The study attempts to connect the Book of Mormon to a text published in 1816: The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain.3 The latter is a history of the war of 1812 deliberately written in a scriptural style. A traditional (non-statistical) comparison between this text and the Book of Mormon was apparently introduced by Rick Grunder in his 2008 bibliography Mormon Parallels. I will discuss only the statistical model presented by the Johnsons here.4

The history of author attribution is nearly as long as the history of reading and writing.5 Within the field of literary studies, author attribution has developed into a field of scholarship, complete with its own history, its discussions on methodology, and even its own tightly contested difficult questions. This development has resulted in large reference volumes like the Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature (based on a work first published in 1882-3, and expanded twice to the current publication’s 9 volumes, with the most recent volume added in 1962).6 Scholarly discussion of author attribution continues, but is largely unknown within Mormon Studies, whose participants rarely come from a field of literary and textual criticism. This has lent a novel feel to those engaged in statistical approaches to the authorship of the Book of Mormon, even though few of these techniques are really new. Most of the participants seem unaware of the body of scholarly work that already exists which often supports or points out critical flaws in current assumptions. These can be [Page 325]found in past and current searches for influence and author attribution. Scholars of literary studies have been engaged in this endeavor for over two centuries, critiquing and evaluating the success of various methods as they have moved along. I detail some of this history in my review essay on Grunder’s bibliography.7

This statistical modeling approach is in many ways simply an expansion of early attempts to investigate literary works using digital archives. However, after the first round of resulting scholarship it became apparent that electronic searches engaging in source attribution were plagued by many of the same flaws as non-electronic authorship attribution efforts. As an authority in the field, Harold Love, put it:

When Byrne wrote, the accumulation of parallels was a labour-intensive business which depended on incessant reading of the works concerned. Today a phrase can be pursued almost instantaneously through the magnificent on-line LION archive, which covers all fields of English and American drama and of authored volumes of poetry up to 1900, and in many cases beyond, and is rapidly expanding into prose…. Now that the capacity to multiply parallels — most of which will be misleading — is almost unlimited, intelligent selectivity has never been more important.8

Love’s point is that these digital archives create an almost unlimited supply of texts, in which searches can be performed easily for an almost unlimited number of phrases. When these searches are made, long lists of parallels are inevitably [Page 326]discovered. However, parallels found in this manner — stripped of context and extracted from their sources — are, for the most part, illusory. This situation is similar to the way that visual look-alikes eventually pop up — somewhere, sometime — for virtually every public figure. We marvel at the uncanny resemblance between the two people, sometimes even theorizing familial relationships, forgetting about the automatic massive-scale search for similarities that occurs whenever someone becomes a public figure. When literary parallels are the result of intensive searches of massive databases, they cannot help us identify an author (or even influences on an author), nor can they help us understand the relationships between texts. This doesn’t make these searches without value. Love points out where these electronic searches are most helpful:

Here LION, Gutenberg and similar electronic archives come into their own, since as well as providing illusory parallels they also assist mightily in shooting down those which arise from the common parlance of the time. Once we have encountered an unusual expression in the writings of three or four different authors it ceases to have any value for attribution. What we are looking for is occurrences restricted to two sources only: one the anonymous work and the other a signed one! Even that might not be final: if the two authorial corpora are both large enough, chance alone would dictate that they should contain a few exclusive parallels.9

This may seem counter-intuitive. Love is not arguing that parallels are only valid if they are unique. Rather, within the massive electronic search model, illusory parallels are inevitable and must be treated with caution. Hence, parallels are more likely to be valid indicators of influence if they are unique. [Page 327]Parallels can be identified with electronic searches – but must then be evaluated in more traditional ways to determine if there is evidence for borrowing or influence. I provided a tentative methodology that I use for this purpose in the second part of my review of Grunder. The Johnsons’ presentation seems to be based on the premise that numerical weighting of shared phrases between texts can overcome the weaknesses inherent in using an electronic search of a massive database to study the relationship between texts. I concur with Love in disagreeing with this premise. However, I believe there are additional problems with the Johnsons’ methodology and conclusions. On their website, they candidly list several potential weaknesses of their study. What follows is a discussion of the Johnsons’ approach, including additional problems with their database and algorithm.

Description of the Data and the Methodology

To introduce their methodology, Duane Johnson provided this “high level pseudocode” description of the score that he and his brother devised to measure similarity between two books:10

For each book, create n-gram frequency counts:

Clean the Text

1) remove non-alphabetic characters including newlines; keep spaces

2) normalize the case (e.g. lower case)

3) Slice the entire text into n-grams (i.e. “n” word sequences) e.g. in our study we chose 4-grams: “i nephi having been born of” becomes ["i nephi having been", "nephi having been born", "having been born of"] etc.

4) [Page 328]Sort the n-grams and count their frequencies

To Make a Baseline of n-gram Frequencies:

5) Randomly select a large sample of books (arbitrarily chosen number in our study: 5,000)

6) Add up all of the n-gram frequencies

7) Discard n-grams with frequency <= 4 (due to OCR errors, it’s common to get many, many erroneous n-grams. Incidentally, discarding 4-grams with freq < 4 is why our highest matches have a score of 0.25)

To Get a Score for Each Book:

8) Find common n-grams between the Book of Mormon and each book

9) Eliminate from the list of common n-grams any n-grams found in the KJV or Douay-Reihms bibles [sic]

10) Take the inverse baseline frequency (e.g. if the phrase “having been born of” shows up 6 times in all of the books sampled for the baseline, then the inverse baseline frequency would be 1/6 = 0.167.

11) Sum all inverse baseline frequencies for common n-grams to get a “score”

12) Finally, divide the score by the total word count of each book (since larger books will, by random chance, have more matches). The result is a score that can be used to rank books by similarity.

To Rank All Books:

13) Use the score / wordcount

14) exclude small books whose signal-to-noise ratio is low (“small” was arbitrarily defined as 15,000 words in our study).

The authors do recognize some problems in the data and methodology. The first identified problem involves dealing [Page 329]properly with variations in the lengths of the texts. The second is the problem of OCR errors. OCR stands for optical character recognition – the process by which a book page is captured as an image or a picture and converted into an electronic text for searching. Often, depending on the quality of the image (which in turn is affected by the condition of the book and other issues), the OCR process can create errors in the text. Sometimes the result is a recognizable (but different) word, but more often than not the resulting term is unrecognizable. The third issue is the confusion associated with the inclusion or exclusion of biblical texts. I will discuss this particular issue in greater detail below. To resolve the first, they excluded shorter texts. To resolve the second, they arbitrarily removed all of the word sequences that occurred fewer than four times. To resolve the third, all of the four-word sequences that could be constructed from the KJV or Douay-Rheims Bibles were excised from the data set. (This is not insubstantial as my own use of the KJV results in just under 680,000 different four-word phrases occurring in just that volume alone.)11

The data I am using for my analysis comes in part from Duane Johnson’s blog (see fn. 11). He does not recognize the historical problems associated with electronic searches for authorship attribution. But it is clear from statements in the blog that he believes that this study has uncovered a textual reliance of the Book of Mormon on the work by Hunt:

Using a “Uniform Match Score” (based on a size-independent matching scale), Hunt’s The Late War [Page 330]transmitted textual influence to The Book of Nullification is highest (0.37), followed by The Book of Mormon (0.24), and finally Chronicles of Eri (0.08).… all of which were significantly higher than the baseline scores, indicating textual transmission, or common influence.

According to this post, the textual reliance is either direct (from Hunt to the Book of Mormon) or based on a common source (i.e., a genetic connection of some sort is claimed to exist). However, Chris Johnson clarifies this in the comments:

After a few tests it was clear that the Book of Mormon was a product of its culture, and could not have been made before 1822 since it relied on too many phrases found only in an 1822 Koran. It also could not have been written prior to 1816 since it relies on Hunt’s The Late War.

Chris Johnson’s conclusion is much less ambiguous than Duane Johnson’s. In examining this claim, I will be providing my own analysis using a different set of tools.

My own work with texts and textual locutions began nearly a decade ago. I first wrote on this topic in an Internet forum, and my comments were eventually picked up and relocated.12 I have some limited abilities to compare larger sets – performing logical operations on these sets of locutions,13 but, in general, my tools are a bit simpler than those described above. I have an automated process – an algorithm – that takes a text, [Page 331]isolates the numbers, changes capitals to lower cases, and strips out all punctuation. This process is generally referred to as normalization and corresponds to the first stage of the text cleaning above.14 At this point, a text can be sorted in multiple ways. It can either be broken up into various-sized locutions (the n-grams used above) or sorted on frequency. Sorting on frequency provides details about the size of the vocabulary (in terms of unique words), and so on. Breaking up the text into locutions of a certain size creates a list of all of the phrases found in a text of a certain length.15 This new set of locutions can then be treated much like a normalized text. Its entries can also be sorted by frequency. With no repetition, a text can have almost as many unique phrases as it has words.16 The Book of Mormon is a good example of a text with a great deal of repetition (think: “and it came to pass”), and this can be seen in the larger gap between the number of total words in a text and the number of unique four-word phrases.

We can take this list of four-word phrases (along with their frequencies, if we choose) and compare them to similar lists from other books. The study in question proposed creating a baseline database – a combination of these frequency lists from a series of books chosen at random from a specific date range and matching criteria. This would create a very large list of phrases, along with total frequencies (the total number of times a phrase is used through the entire set of works). This overall frequency then became the basis for a weighting value for each phrase. My tools do not include this baseline database or the [Page 332]weighting it produces. My own analysis will not refer to a set of baseline data.

What follows, then, is a discussion of some of the inherent flaws in this basic methodology described by Johnson that are revealed through my own analysis and expectations.

Flaw 1. Preparation of the Texts

The first major issue occurs in the texts themselves. In preparing my notes, I used an existing digital copy of the Book of Mormon in my possession that I had cleaned up in a way similar to this method – by normalizing the text as well as removing material not strictly associated with the text or with its authorship. In the Johnsons’ video presentation, an awareness of this need is discussed. Hunt’s volume contained a lengthy appendix, which of necessity needed to be removed – it was described as creating noise.17 This appendix seems to have been an 18-page addition including the full text of three treaties made by the U.S. government.

In the blog post, we are provided with a list of the four-word locutions that they used to produce their weighted connection between the Book of Mormon and Hunt’s The Late War. The list is provided in ascending order of weights. While the earliest entries then have the least impact on the overall score of the connection, some of those entries are obviously problematic. For example, the text that was used to value the Book of Mormon included a copyright statement.

The copyright statement reads as follows (I have omitted the part in the middle that was written by Joseph Smith):18

[Page 333]Northern District of New York, to wit:

BE IT REMEMBERED, That on the eleventh day of June, in the fifty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America, A. D. 1829, JOSEPH SMITH, JUN. of the said District, hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof he claims as author in the words following, to wit: …

In conformity to the act of Congress of the United States, entitled, “An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned;” and also the act entitled, “An act supplementary to an act, entitled, ‘An act for the encouragement of learning, by the securing copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned,’ and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints.”

This is seen in the list of parallels provided. In fact, of the 549 distinct four-word locutions given in the blog and shared between the two texts, 75 of them (13.7%)19 come from this [Page 334]copyright statement. This may have simply been an oversight. Unlike much of the text (except for the appendix, that they had already excluded), the copyright statement was not authored as part of the Book of Mormon, and it has a recognizable history.

The copyright statement comes from the copyright application form, a preprinted document in which the applicant had to fill in the blanks. The original application is known.20 Only part of the copyright statement is original to Joseph Smith, and those parts were produced in 1829 when the application was filed. The statement in the Book of Mormon simply duplicates this application (as was generally required). This use of a form may explain why it duplicates in such great quantity the material from Hunt’s volume (which was also copyrighted in New York and used an apparently identical or nearly identical pre-printed copyright application form.) It also explains why parts appear in so many other volumes [Page 335](as indicated by the low weights)21 – the copyright application quotes statements from the U.S. Constitution (from Article I, Section 8, Clause 8) and the Copyright Act of 1790. These statements (or portions of them) would appear in most works printed in the United States between 1790 and 1831. (In 1831 we had the first major update to the Copyright Law.)

Removing this text wouldn’t impact the weight much (it only reduces it by a little more than a half of one percent) because of the frequency in other texts. But it does dramatically reduce the number of parallels presented.

Additionally, there is the problem of the texts as they are. Most of the archived material that is searchable is produced by scanning the books into an image format, after which OCR is used to convert the images into a searchable text format. Despite recent improvements in the technology, texts that have been produced retain significant problems. The text I used for Hunt’s The Late War22 had some of these issues. In various places, ‘Gilbert’ becomes ’6ilbert’, ‘With’ becomes ’7vith’, and ‘account’ becomes ‘accouut’. Since it is the OCR software that makes these mistakes and since the same combination of letters which may be confusing in one book can also be confusing in another (there were fewer typefaces back then), OCR software often makes the same kinds of mistakes in different texts. To deal with this, the proposal above excludes phrases found less than four times across the entire studied body of works. This [Page 336]helps ferret out many of these errors.23) The result runs right into Harold Love’s suggestion about searching for parallels: “Once we have encountered an unusual expression in the writings of three or four different authors it ceases to have any value for attribution.” In an effort to deal with bad data, has this collection effectively crippled their own weighting system by removing all of the instances that Love would find of real value? I believe that it has, although part of that explanation will also come up a little later. For this system to work in the long run, it would need texts that had been checked and found to be free of error. This has already been done with popular texts that are still in print, like the Book of Mormon or the KJV. However, it is not so easily done with archived scanned images of less interesting and less read works. (It is certainly not a chore that we would look forward to doing with the 130,000 volumes or even the 5,000 volumes randomly selected for the baseline data.)

The impact of removing these phrases is to create a hole in the text where the problematic word exists. By removing the four-word phrases that include the error (and there would generally be four phrases removed if there were an error),24 it is quite likely that there is little impact on the baseline data. If a phrase is popular, it will remain popular in other works. However, the risk isn’t in the removal of the errors, it’s in the removal of legitimate phrases that are relatively unique.25
[Page 337]

Flaw 2: Length of Texts

A second major issue comes up with regard to the length of source texts. While the word count is referenced in the final score (generally with respect to the text in question),26 this application seems to ignore much of what makes text length (or word count) interesting to us. Two useful features when dealing with locutions (or n-grams) are the size of the vocabulary (the number of unique words) and the overall length of the text in words. Both of these factors can influence the degree to which the texts are similar. And these are somewhat related figures. Shorter texts generally have a smaller vocabulary, while larger texts correspondingly have a larger vocabulary.27 My lengths are likely to be a little different from those given by the blog site – due in part to minor differences in the process of cleaning the texts for use, and because I potentially use different sources for both texts. Given the size of the two texts, this discrepancy probably has a small impact on the outcomes of my examination.

The Book of Mormon text used in my apparatus was 269,551 words long with a unique vocabulary of 5,638 words (compared with the text of 271,240 words used in the Johnson study). The Great War was 56,632 words long (compare this to 55,378 words in the blog study – a difference most likely due to the inclusion of the appendix material) with a unique vocabulary of 5749 words. Significantly, the Book of Mormon text, while being nearly five times longer, has a vocabulary of similar size. And the shared vocabulary amounts to roughly forty percent of the respective vocabularies (specifically, they have a shared vocabulary of 2,281 words). My experience is that [Page 338]the vocabulary size of The Late War is consistent with books of similar length, while the Book of Mormon has an unusually small vocabulary. When we calculate the number of unique four-word locutions for each text, we can see the difference in repetition. The Book of Mormon contains 202,830 unique four-word locutions compared with The Late War containing 51,221.28 Why is this interesting to us? If we follow the weighted matches used by the blog, there are 549 shared four word locutions common to both texts. This means that of all the possible phrases found in The Late War, only 1.07% of them make it into the Book of Mormon. And within the Book of Mormon, of the potential 200,000+ unique phrases, only 0.27% could be derived from The Late War. This is not a high number. This ratio drops substantially when we back out the 75 parallels taken from the copyright application (with 474 parallels it becomes 0.93% and 0.23% respectively).

This sort of ratio (the size of the footprint relative to the size of the text) doesn’t come out in the calculations used. One of their supporting examples was provided in the blog:

Surprisingly, the Uniform Match Score between The Book of Mormon and The Late War (scoring 0.24) was more significantly correlated than Pride and Prejudice (1813) and its most influential book The Officer’s Daughter (1810), scoring 0.20. This indicates that Jane Austen’s work was less influenced by her literary culture than The Book of Mormon.

I took copies of these two works (due to the better OCR, I used a version of The Officer’s Daughter published in its original four volumes and combined them). I used the much cleaner text [Page 339]of Pride and Prejudice from Project Gutenberg.29 The Officer’s Daughter had a total word count of 140,245 with a vocabulary of 11,308 (some of this is undoubtedly due to OCR errors), while Pride had a word count of 122,880 with a vocabulary of 6,323. When I compared these two texts in a non-weighted comparison, it resulted in 1,934 common four-word phrases (conservative, due to the OCR errors in The Officer’s Daughter). Having then backed out the parallels from the KJV we end up with 1,677 shared phrases. This results in a ratio in Pride and Prejudice of 1.4%.30 This result is more than five times the overlap between the Book of Mormon and The Late War. Of the 6,323 words used in Pride, 3,996 of them are also found in The Officer’s Daughter (63%).

In other words, the ‘Uniform Match Score’ (a term coined by the Johnsons) focuses very narrowly on one aspect of the data that is tightly controlled. It seems to have very little to do with the actual density of the overlap in the texts. Later in the comments to the blog entry, Duane Johnson offers this:

Certain baseline data such as the false positive rate of our tools are still lacking. For example it is difficult to answer: “How often will our algorithm turn up the wrong books?” We don’t know, so we wish to test our tools on as many books as possible, especially a) mystery texts where influence or authorship is unknown b) books with known influences, so that we can determine accuracy and c) books that are translated from another culture, time, language or place so that we can see how distantly connected a real Urantia or Koran text might look.

[Page 340]Here, with Pride and Prejudice, we have a text where they suggest there is a weight that is incongruous with the text that was “its most influential book.” Rather than seeing this as evidence for an obvious flaw in their ‘Uniform Match Score,’ we instead get the conclusion that Jane Austen was simply less influenced by her environment than was Joseph Smith.31 Given the suspect nature of the weighting system, I am unconvinced that there is actually any influence between these two books.

Without considering the size of the texts, any sense of relative proportion is lost. Harold Love pointed out that we are likely to find some degree of coincidental overlap between any two texts of sufficient size. This is a relatively small footprint (textually) – finding only 474 parallels in more than 200,000 opportunities. It is much smaller than the connection between Pride and Prejudice and The Officer’s Daughter.

Flaw 3: Issues with the Biblical Text

In the discussion on method above, there is an attempt to sort out the influence of the biblical text. This was done by removing the four-word locutions that paralleled both the KJV and the Douay-Rheims translations of the Bible. Given the date of the two texts being closely examined, I only included the KJV in my testing. I did not exclude additional four-word sets equivalent to those in the Douay-Rheims.32 For some background details, my text of the KJV is 791,539 words long. [Page 341]It contains a vocabulary of 12,574 words. And it has 679,612 unique four-word locutions.33

I generated a comparison between this text of the King James and both The Late War and the Book of Mormon. The results showed an overlap with The Late War of 2,341 common four word locutions. The overlap with the Book of Mormon was significantly larger, at 25,020 locutions. This means that roughly 4.57% of The Late War duplicates material from the KJV, contrasted with 12.33% of the Book of Mormon duplicating phrases from the KJV. In both cases, these statistics trivialize the less than one percent overlap between the two books in question presented on the blog.

There are many potential reasons for excluding the KJV and Douay-Rheims phrases from consideration. I expect that including those phrases certainly skewed the baseline data. If I compare The Late War and The Book of Mormon using my texts without excluding the KJV data (that is, if I include all of the four-word locutions in my results), I end up with 1,478 shared phrases.34 Of these shared phrases, a majority (57.3%) are also in common with the KJV. This leaves, at best, 631 shared four-word phrases between the Book of Mormon and The Late War independent of the KJV.

[Page 342]Removing this data also hides something that ought to have been obvious to us. The biblical text creates language in the environment (or represents that language) in an incredible density. When The Late War attempts to duplicate this language, we get an exact match 4% of the time. The Book of Mormon uses this language 12% of the time. It is only in removing these kinds of statistics that we get the sense of how the method is working: Without this comparison, what is otherwise a trivial overlap between two texts is magnified.

Flaw 4: Problems with the Weighting of the Phrases

There are several issues with the weighting system. The first, Chris Johnson describes remarkably well in his presentation. Here are the comments explaining this idea from the blog:

if you find the two-word phrase “Millennium Falcon” in a book, and another two-word phrase, “it is” in a book, the former should matter a lot more than the latter. Why? Because almost every book in the world contains the 2-gram (bigram) “it is” but only a select few have “Millennium Falcon”. So, what does a “weighted” value look like? It’s just the inverse of the baseline frequency, i.e. 1.0/baseline-frequency. Using the example above: if “it is” occurs 5,847,361 in a sample of 5,000 pre-1830 books (which it does in our baseline sample) then the “weighted value” of the match is 1.0/5,847,361 or 0.000000171. Let’s say “Millennium Falcon,” on the other hand, occurs only one time in all of our sampled pre-1830 literature. Then, it would have a score of 1.0/1.0 = 1.0. So finding a “Millennium Falcon” match between the Book of Mormon and another book would be more than 5 million times more important.

Consider this challenge with respect to the biblical text. We know that the text of the KJV played a large role in the text of the [Page 343]Book of Mormon. (This is seen by the large language footprint we find using these four word locutions.) However, the sheer frequency of the phrases from the Bible in the environment make this weighting approach problematic. A large number of collectively common phrases – all coming from the same ultimate source – might have virtually no impact on the weighted score if their frequencies in the baseline data were high enough.

Clearly this occurs in the case of the copyright statement. There we have a portion of the text that is not original to the Book of Mormon. Once we see it for what it is, we can track it – both to its immediate source (the copyright application) and then to its more distant sources (the pre-printed form, the legislative acts of the federal government that serve as its sources, and so on). What is interesting is how this interacts with the electronic search. This is one part of the Book of Mormon for which we can produce a genealogy for the text. It’s also a part of the text that, because of its existence in the environment, doesn’t trigger significant movement on the weighted scale. The collective initial weight35 of these 75 phrases was roughly 0.33. The weight of a single phrase with a frequency of four across the entire baseline data was 0.25. All 75 of these phrases had less weight than two examples from the other end of the spectrum. So, on the one side, influence — if it is widespread, even if it comes from an identifiable source is considered negligible by this method. This is true of the copyright statement. It would also be true for the most part of the biblical text.

This fits right in line with Harold Love’s assessment. Finding the phrase in more than a couple of sources (in our electronic search) means that each individual source is unlikely to be the cause of the influence. That connection becomes illusionary. Likewise, there is zero possibility that the copyright statement [Page 344]in Hunt’s work could have been the cause of the copyright statement in the Book of Mormon.36

There is another corollary: Love’s assessment of electronic sources didn’t talk about frequencies of the phrases themselves across a corpus of work, but rather the number of sources in which a phrase occurred. The Book of Mormon uses the phrase “it came to pass” 1,353 times. If it were the only text to use this phrase, the baseline value for it would still be .000739. If that phrase occurred in only one other work, instead of being potentially highly significant (as Love suggests) it would be completely trivial in this weighting system. While this method tracks an overall frequency of a phrase within the collective pool of phrases used across an entire body of literature, it does not provide us with one very important detail, namely, how many works (or authors) use that phrase (independent of the frequency).

The next problem we have is with the sense of actual rarity. If, as Love argues, multiple instances are truly problematic, then our goal isn’t to try to create a random sampling that is uniform when compared to the larger body of literature; we want to find a sampling that is most likely to give up the bad parallels in a frequency large enough to control mis-valuing the phrases. In creating a range of texts that extends from 1500 to 1830, with no geographical limitations, we tend to dilute the texts significantly. That is, even with 5,000 texts, if we had an even distribution (and I recognize that we don’t), we would see a rather limited number of texts coming from an appropriate place and time. The distribution would have been far better had it been limited to a period around (both before and after) the publication of the Book of Mormon and from a much closer geographic perspective. It may not be that coincidental that [Page 345]the closer matches occurred in those texts written closer to the publication of the Book of Mormon than those farthest away.37 The dilution of the baseline data may enhance the value of these texts. How can we demonstrate this?

We can, as Harold Love suggested, use an existing database to function as a negative check. To do this, I selected a few of the highest scoring examples (those that have the minimal four occurrences across the selected set of texts). The texts were selected over the interval of 1500 to 1830. To duplicate this, I will use Google Books and perform a string search for identical text across that same interval. This won’t give me a frequency of occurrences within an individual source text, but it will indicate (through the number of hits) how many sources the phrase occurs in – and in doing this there is a minimal boundary for a frequency.38 Because the list is in ascending order based on score, I start from the bottom and work my way toward the top and search for the last ten items in the list.

  1. your-women-and-your: 1 hit39
  2. year-that-the-people: 2 hits
  3. year-on-the-tenth: 14 hits
  4. women-and-your-children: 1 hit
  5. with-his-army-against: 29 hits
  6. will-hearken-unto-him: 1 hit
  7. [Page 346]will-give-unto-you: 3 hits
  8. wickedness-which-had-been: 1 hit
  9. which-he-gave-unto: 13 hits
  10. were-upon-the-waters: 1 hit

These may be typical — or not. But, looking at these, three of them see a marked reduction in value. And while this may not be typical of the entire set, if it is, the impact would likely move Hunt’s source down the value list. There are clearly some phrases which are rarer than others, and they may be useful. However, the selection of texts seems problematic in this regard. If this selection process takes a phrase where we can find dozens of examples elsewhere and produces only four occurrences (just enough to keep it from being eliminated but not so many that the parallel isn’t simply removed), then there is clearly a problem with the process. And this valuation process could create a cumulative impact on the data. Either the number of texts in the base data is insufficient or the selection criterion needs to be re-tuned.

Part of this issue is in the assumptions that seem to be brought to the question. The desire is to identify a text which may have most influenced the text of the Book of Mormon, but to create the baseline of language you don’t simply stop with the publication date of the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon is a piece of nineteenth-century literature, it is both a product of, and a contributor to that language of its environment. We might opt to test the significance of earlier books against this baseline data, but unfortunately the data itself is not robust.

When we create a random sampling for statistical use, we do so on the assumption that our random sample will correlate well with the larger population. However, the sample size of 5,000 is far too small (and no work was done to verify that this random sampling was in line with the larger population). Given the nature of the problem, though, and the desire to reduce the [Page 347]impact of phrases common in the environment, there doesn’t seem to be a need for a truly random sample. Instead we should hand pick those texts that are most likely to share the same language – those texts that come from a closer geographic location and a closer time frame. We should try to reduce the impact of common phrases as much as possible so that those that are really unusual can stand out appropriately. We can do this by providing books with a content of history and war (and even theology) and by using travelogues.

There is another aspect to this, however. The copyright parallels (all 75 of them) are clearly the only part of the Book of Mormon for which we can point to an exact genealogy of texts. We know the textual history of this bit. We know it isn’t original to the Book of Mormon, we know which sources were used, and so on. And yet if this was all that came up in the comparison, this weighting would immediately disqualify these parallels as irrelevant. There would be no reason to take a second look and discover what any one of us can see quite easily. In this regard the weighting system fails on both ends. It inappropriately overvalues some elements, and it inappropriately undervalues others. While I can suggest ways in which to accommodate for overvaluing some elements, I am not sure such an easy corrective measure can be taken to adjust for undervaluing other elements.

Finally, when we look at the list of weighted elements, we notice that many of them have little weight or value. The first 111 entries have the same value as a single later entry with a frequency of four occurrences. We can be fairly confident in these cases that the parallel is likely more environmental than direct. If we toss out all of the phrases where there are more than fifty occurrences in the baseline data, it would mean losing 225 (including the 75 from the copyright statement). This brings the overall footprint of Hunt’s text in the Book of Mormon down to an underwhelming 0.16%. The real reason [Page 348]for keeping them in the long list doesn’t seem to be much about the mathematical impact of these common phrases (which is virtually non-existent) but rather the psychological impact of having a large list of parallels.

Flaw 5: Textual Context

The final issue is over the challenge of context. When we take texts and reduce them to these strings, we eliminate context. We rip out punctuation. Our four-word phrases cross natural textual lines. Without a more nuanced parsing, this is the only possible outcome. But it doesn’t help us understand the relationship between texts. Because I quoted it verbatim earlier, the copyright statement makes a terrific example. Here are a few lines from it:

In conformity to the act of Congress of the United States, entitled, “An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned;” and also the act entitled, “An act supplementary to an act, entitled, ‘An act for the encouragement of learning

The blog identified a couple of noteworthy parallels in this short text:

entitled-an-act-for : time-therein-mentioned-and : therein-mentioned-and-also : act-entitled-an-act : entitled-an-act-supplementary : act-entitled-an-act : entitled-an-act-for …

Each of these four-word phrases crosses a textual boundary. They move from the immediate statement to a quotation of another text. This movement is lost. These phrases cross sentences and paragraphs. They string words together that don’t belong together except in the sense of an n-gram – a [Page 349]computational model based on removing the markers of these divisions from the text. The relationships that can sometimes be seen in these parallels don’t exist for us as readers (or as writers). These aren’t phrases that occur for us (or in our environment) because they don’t actually exist as phrases (as locutionary acts). These are naturally rarer – because they are created entirely by coincidental circumstance and not by design of any author. And, in using them in a way that weights rarity more heavily, we tend to emphasize a feature of the language that doesn’t exist except in the computational representation of word strings that no longer correlate to real writing or to real speech. These fragments, strung together, cannot provide us indicators to the language usage in comparison because they don’t represent language usage at all.

Some Additional Observations

I had some additional concerns. Duane and Chris Johnson tend to use very ambiguous language to describe the relationships between texts. Some of it is incorrect, some of it is contradictory. Consider the following statements from the blog post:

Our results point to The First Book ofS (1809) influencing the creation of The Late War… Our preliminary analysis is showing that The Late War likely inspired the creation of quite a few books between 1820-1830, …

Using a “Uniform Match Score” (based on a size-independent matching scale), Hunt’s The Late War transmitted textual influence to The Book of Nullification highest (0.37), followed by The Book of Mormon (0.24), and to a lesser extent Chronicles of Eri (0.08). The influence from The First Book of Napoleon on Hunt’s The Late War was 0.06, all of which were [Page 350]significantly higher than the baseline scores, indicating textual transmission, or common influence.

We were interested in uncovering any books besides the Bible that may have played an influential role on the 1830 Book of Mormon.

This indicates that Jane Austen’s work was less influenced by her literary culture than The Book of Mormon.

After a few tests it was clear that the Book of Mormon was a product of its culture, and could not have been made before 1822 since it relied on too many phrases found only in an 1822 Koran. It also could not have been written prior to 1816 since it relies on Hunt’s The Late War. Also the Chronicles of Eri was more distant than the Book of Mormon to its most common ancestor, while The Book of Nullification was more connected to its ancestors than the Book of Mormon. I also tried tracing Solomon Spalding’s Manuscript Found, and The First Book of Napoleon, but couldn’t find a close source of textual transmission, meaning they were more out of place, and less explainable than the Book of Mormon.

These paragraphs present a confusing image. What does “influence” actually mean? Is it synonymous with reliance? By influence do the Johnsons mean that the Book of Mormon would not exist in the form it is today without the earlier book having been published? One thing that stands out to me is the statement about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. On the basis of their weighting system they connect this book to a relatively unknown work from 1810: The Officer’s Daughter. Jane Austen [Page 351]is considered one of the most influential novelists of the modern era. This would be the first time that this connection has been offered, and it’s being offered on the basis of an electronic search engine!

There is no evidence that this work was ever read by Jane Austen. In fact, just this year, Cambridge University Press released The Cambridge Companion to ‘Pride and Prejudice‘, in which we get details about the text, its narrative and characters, its philosophy, its composition and publication, even its historical background and literary context. Nowhere in that volume will we find a reference to Miss Walsh’s The Officer’s Daughter. For an author who wasn’t very “influenced by her literary culture,” an awful lot has been written about that culture and its influence. We actually know a great deal about Jane Austen and her literary influences. Part of this is due to the fact that literary scholars and historians have been discussing and detailing her achievements in terms of the relationship she had with prior literature since the mid-twentieth century (really beginning with the work of F. W. Bradbrook and Jocelyn Harris). For Austen, this interaction was often very deliberate – we know this not just from her books, but from the many letters that she wrote which detailed her own reading and re-reading. She tells us who her favorite authors were and why. And this is why we might be a bit startled to find out how this book, which she apparently never read, was in fact the most significant influence on her own writing.

Clearly something is off in this analysis. Yes, it’s possible, that through any of a number of ways, this text was the most influential to her writing. Perhaps her best friend read it and shared the details over and over with her until it became ingrained in her subconscious. It’s possible. It’s just not very likely. Similarly, when we get to Hunt’s book, there is this emphasis on the nature of the book as a school text. Actually, [Page 352]we don’t have any record of it being used in schools. There were, Rick Grunder points out:

at least sixteen editions or imprints 1816-19, all but two in 1819. All were published in New York City, under a total of ten different publishers’ names.… There was no edition in 1818, but in 1819 there appeared no fewer than six separate editions or imprints under the original title and eight more editions or imprints as The Historical Reader. All fourteen of these 1819 publications called themselves the third edition. In five instances that year, both of the titles were published by the same parties, including the author himself. Furthermore, most of the 1819 editions (irrespective of title) seem to have had the same pagination (233 pp., with possible differences in plates and ads).… A comparison of the Daniel D. Smith 1819 edition of The Late War (considered in this entry) and another in my possession under the same title, “Printed & Published by G. J. Hunt. Corner of Varick and Vandam streets,” 1819, reveals what appears to be the identical typesetting (including page 41 mis-numbered, “31″) except for the different publishers’ names on the title pages, and their own ads filling their respective final page of the book. G[ilbert]. J. Hunt’s ads at the end of his edition… provide some suggestion of his business and personality. Since the author appears to have been affiliated with both printing and a bookstore, I wonder if he printed these books himself (or had them printed), but then went around town soliciting orders from other booksellers or publishers, promising their own names on the title pages as publishers (as opposed to their appearing merely as distributors). In such a possible situation, we might be less surprised when we [Page 353]notice that after 1819, no further editions of this wildly published textbook appeared.40

The author appears to have marketed the book to book-sellers (and not to schools) in an attempt to get this volume into the public view. There is no indication that it was ever actually used in a school as a school text. This is further suggested by the fact that after his wild marketing scheme ended in 1819, the book was never re-published (or even reprinted). A great deal of inappropriate emphasis is placed on the book’s own description of its purpose as a way of suggesting that it be used and this potential connection to Joseph – that he likely encountered it in school as a “textbook used in the 1820s.”

Finally, on the blog we notice the collection of works to which this is being compared (for which we have the composite score presented). It is obvious that these works could not have been included within the baseline data. There are at least eight different copies of Hunt’s book, ranging from the highest (with an adjusted score of 4.2 to the twenty-third spot with an adjusted score of 2.3. That’s a significant range. Given the shift, we have to ask: exactly which version was Joseph supposed to have come into contact with? The first edition (assigned the highest score) was not (apparently) marketed for school children. That comes with the second edition in 1817, and in the many different copies published in 1819. Yet, from the list of scored texts provided by Johnson, it is the 1816 edition which has the highest score. Of the other seven copies scored by Johnson, the second highest (a copy of the 1819 third edition) comes in with a weighted score reduced by 25%. Is this gap caused by OCR errors or is it due to textual differences?

From the same list we also have several versions of the Koran, ranking from number eight to number two hundred [Page 354]and thirty. An explanation for the significance of the one version of the Koran was hinted at in this statement:

since it [the Book of Mormon] relied on too many phrases found only in an 1822 Koran.

This isn’t a claim of some sort of influence, or shared language caused by the environment. This is the claim that Joseph must have read this particular edition of the Koran (and not some other edition), and used it by incorporating it into his text of the Book of Mormon (along with the other imagined sources). This stretches credulity (although perhaps not as much as the claims about Jane Austen).

Conclusions

It isn’t a particularly difficult feat to reconstruct the Book of Mormon using phrases found from many different sources. In the 1960s, Julia Kristeva coined the term intertextuality to describe this feature of all texts. They were, as she described them, a ‘mosaic of quotations’ all coming from other sources. Some of this is certainly due to textual influence and reliance. There is no doubt that the Book of Mormon owes a great deal of its contents to the King James text. But, as Harold Love points out, given a large enough body of literature, you can also find these phrases caused by coincidence. In the long run we note that there are some real similarities that can be found in the texts of these two books. But, most of these similarities are not discovered by creating a list of these four-word phrases – because these phrases are not themselves meaningful. Does this process attempt to reduce the significance of the Book of Mormon to a few hundred four-word phrases, stripped of punctuation and context? That seems to be the outcome. Hunt wanted to create a text that read like scripture as a marketing tool. In this way we get a lot of biblical sounding text. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, doesn’t just use biblical [Page 355]language, it engages biblical issues – it asks questions about morality, about agency, about creation. It ponders the meaning of writing and reading. It describes religious experience.

At this point, this preliminary work of statistically mining electronic databases does not deal with Love’s concerns or rehabilitate the practice. Perhaps future refinements will help. I do see uses for these kinds of approaches to the text. They can help us see where to start looking for real potential overlap. Substantial phrasing that does not occur commonly will encourage us to return to the text and evaluate it in a more traditional fashion. Once we do this, we may find a copyright statement with an identifiable textual history, Or we may discover that the parallels tell us absolutely nothing because they are most likely due to coincidence.

Special thanks to Bruce Schaalje for his criticism and suggestions.


  1. The conference occurred between October 18th and October 20th, 2013. 

  2. The presentation was titled “How the Book of Mormon Destroyed Mormonism.” It was presented on Saturday, October 19th, by Chris Johnson. The study was co-authored by Chris and Duane Johnson. The presentation can be viewed here: http://buggingmos.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/chris-johnson-how-the-book-of-mormon-destroyed-mormonism. 

  3. The full title of the work is given as: The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain From June, 1812, to February 1815 (G.J. Hunt: New York, 1816). Rick Grunder provides this description of the various publications of this text: “This work went through at least sixteen editions or imprints 1816-19, all but two in 1819. All were published in New York City, under a total of ten different publishers’ names. First “Published and sold for the author, by David Longworth,” 1816… the book was then issued as The Historical Reader, Containing “The Late War… Altered and Adapted for the Use of Schools… ,” etc., promoted particularly as a textbook (Samuel A. Burtus, 1817). There was no edition in 1818, but in 1819 there appeared no fewer than six separate editions or imprints under the original title and eight more editions or imprints as The Historical Reader. All fourteen of these 1819 publications called themselves the third edition. In five instances that year, both of the titles were published by the same parties, including the author himself. Furthermore, most of the 1819 editions (irrespective of title) seem to have had the same pagination (233 pp., with possible differences in plates and ads).” (Rick Grunder. Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source. [Lafayette, New York: Rick Grunder—Books, 2008], p. 724.)  

  4. I may at some future point deal in a more detailed fashion with the thematic parallels presented by Grunder, along with his discussion of potential Hebraisms in the text. 

  5. “The scholarly study of attributions made its appearance at a period when literacy had ceased to be the monopoly of small cadres of specialist scribes and reading was for the first time practiced by a substantial public, ministered to by booksellers, stationers, scribal publishers, schoolmasters and grammarians. In the Western tradition such a public seems first to have consolidated itself in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE in Athens,… One important project was to distinguish the genuine works of Homer from other works that still at that time went under his name.” (Harold Love, Attributing Authorship: An Introduction [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002], 14-15. 

  6. For further references and discussion see Love, Attributing Authorship, pp. 14-31. 

  7. I responded more generally to Grunder’s entire work in a two part essay found here: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/finding-parallels-some-cautions-and-criticisms-part-one/ and http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/finding-parallels-some-cautions-and-criticisms-part-two. 

  8. Love, Attributing Authorship:, 90. 

  9. Love, 91. 

  10. See http://askreality.com/hidden-in-plain-sight/#phrases downloaded on 10/26/13. I have adjusted the formatting, replacing the bullets with numerical references. 

  11. My own work, which I will explain later, gathers just under 680,000 four-word phrases from the King James Version. All of these phrases were simply eliminated from the data set. I have not yet parsed the Douay-Rheims Bible at this time, and given the greater significance of the KJV for this discussion, it did not seem necessary. The primary necessity of excluding it seems to stem from the early date of included sources, starting in 1500, since it was published prior to the KJV. It seems reasonable though, that between the two editions of the Bible, close to a million four-word phrases were eliminated from consideration. 

  12. http://solomonspalding.com/SRP/parallels.htm. 

  13. My tools allow me to combine sets, to extract only elements common to two sets, and to subtract one set from another (removing all of the common sets). Using these tools, I could in theory build up a baseline data set similar to that used by Chris Johnson, although it would potentially take several weeks of constant computation, as they note, and a huge data repository. My tools were not designed with this functionality in mind. 

  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_normalization. 

  15. Often a marker is reinserted into the text (a punctuation mark) so that the new phrase can be seen as a single word for comparison purposes. So the phrase: “I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents becomes “I-Nephi-having-been” : “Nephi-having-been-born” : “having-been-born-of” : “been-born-of-goodly”, and so on. Johnson’s blog post displays this feature in his data. 

  16. When broken into four-word phrases, it would in fact have three phrases fewer than the total number of words in the text. 

  17. The noise can come from additional instances of phrases used in the text itself. But it also creates new phrases when truncated elements are mashed together. I did not remove these pages. 

  18. The part written by Joseph Smith is a description of the text made at the time the application was made in June of 1829. This was hand copied from a proof-sheet of the title page of the Book of Mormon. While this text is closely associated with the Book of Mormon, it was never claimed to be a part of the translation of the text, and so its potential value in ascertaining authorship is likely to be limited. Further, it is likely that the similarities between the summary on the title page and the text itself are derivative of the text of the Book of Mormon. For these reasons, I have generally excluded the entire title page with its summary from my past assessments. 

  19. Listed alphabetically by the first word of each four word set: act-entitled-an-act, act-for-the-encouragement, act-supplementary-to-an, an-act-entitled-an, an-act-for-the, an-act-supplementary-to, and-books-to-the, and-etching-historical-and, and-extending-the-benefits, and-proprietors-of-such, arts-of-designing-engraving, authors-and-proprietors-of, be-it-remembered-that, benefits-thereof-to-the, books-to-the-authors, by-securing-the-copies, charts-and-books-to, conformity-to-the-act, copies-during-the-times, copies-of-maps-charts, deposited-in-this-office, designing-engraving-and-etching, during-the-times-therein, encouragement-of-learning-by, engraving-and-etching-historical, entitled-an-act-for, entitled-an-act-supplementary, etching-historical-and-other, extending-the-benefits-thereof, for-the-encouragement-of, he-claims-as-author, historical-and-other-prints, in-conformity-to-the, in-the-words-following, in-this-office-the, independence-of-the-united, it-remembered-that-on, language-of-the-people, learning-by-securing-the, maps-charts-and-books, mentioned-and-extending-the, of-designing-engraving-and, of-learning-by-securing, of-maps-charts-and, of-such-copies-during, of-the-independence-of, office-the-title-of, proprietors-of-such-copies, remembered-that-on-the, right-whereof-he-claims, securing-the-copies-of, such-copies-during-the, supplementary-to-an-act, the-arts-of-designing, the-authors-and-proprietors, the-benefits-thereof-to, the-copies-of-maps, the-encouragement-of-learning, the-independence-of-the, the-times-therein-mentioned, the-united-states-of, the-words, following-to, therein-mentioned-and-also, therein-mentioned-and-extending, thereof-to-the-arts, this-office-the-title, times-therein-mentioned-and, to-an-act-entitled, to-the-act-of, to-the-arts-of, to-the-authors-and, united-states-of-america, whereof-he-claims-as, words-following-to-wit, year-of-the-independenc. 

  20. For the full text of the original copyright application, see Nathaniel Hinckley Wadsworth, “Copyright Laws and the 1830 Book of Mormon.” BYU Studies 45/3 (2006), p. 97. 

  21. From the chart on the blog, simple math can be performed to discover the frequency of occurrences in the baseline data set. The formula is 1/[the listed value]. So, for example, from my list in fn. 19, if we make this calculation for the first five items in that alphabetical list, we get these frequencies: act-entitled-an-act – 3,350, act-for-the-encouragement – 360, act-supplementary-to-an – 241, an-act-entitled-an – 2,279, and an-act-for-the – 3,608. It is safe to suggest that a copyright statement with some degree of similarity occurs in a significant number of these texts. 

  22. For my analysis, I downloaded the text file at this address: http://www.archive.org/stream/latewarbetween_00hunt/latewarbetween_00hunt_djvu.txt. 

  23. It also reduces the size of the data accumulated and the times required to process and search the data compilations. (I am fairly confident that this wasn’t the intention, it was just a beneficial side effect. 

  24. The phrases will be the phrases with the error in each of the positions X-2-3-4, 1-X-3-4, 1-2-X-4, and 1-2-3-X. 

  25. There are several potential ways to correct this that would not be too computationally intensive. A separate database could be maintained of all of the phrases removed for a lack of frequency, and this separate database could be matched up against the text in question. The matches (which would in theory be a relatively small number if most of the removed examples are errors) could then be examined individually for significance). 

  26. In the comments, Duane Johnson points out: “When we say ‘Score / WC’ in the table, we mean ‘Score divided by wordcount’ which is the same slope you see in the graph.” 

  27. One of the reasons why word count studies can work with shorter texts is that they are far more interested in the common words rather than the unusual words that make up the rare phrases that the Johnsons are looking for. 

  28. For those interested, that means that the Book of Mormon has about 25% repetition at the level of four word phrases, while The Late War has only about 10%. 

  29. You can see these texts here https://archive.org/search.php?query=officer%27s%20daughter%20AND%20mediatype%3Atexts and here http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1342. 

  30. Pride and Prejudice contains 119,224 unique four-word phrases. 

  31. There is some irony here in the degree to which Jane Austen was entirely separate from her environment. Those four-word phrases which might be entirely unique to Austen (the phrases that could hint at the degree to which Austen was independent of the literary culture in which she wrote) would be excluded by this study – both as a potential source (in that the frequency might not be high enough to include) and in the results (with no overlap at all, it would never come up in comparison). We get a conclusion that really cannot be supported by the data collected. 

  32. With its earlier publication date, the Douay-Rheims Bible would have a greater impact on earlier texts used in the baseline data. Hunt’s volume was patterned on the KJV, and the Book of Mormon much more closely resembles the language of the KJV than it does the Douay-Rheims. For these reasons — and to keep the discussion as simple as possible — I only worked with the KJV. 

  33. Like my text of the Book of Mormon, this text is relatively free of OCR errors. I note that the repetition in the KJV is between the other two texts, at 15%. 

  34. This figure includes all of the four-word phrases used in both the Book of Mormon and The Late War. This figure is significantly different from the 549 weighted phrases used by the Johnsons to score the relationship. My figure includes low frequency phrases (including potentially OCR errors). Due to differences in the cleaning process, there are some additional variations. I did not include the copyright statement in the Book of Mormon (so the phrases exclusive to the copyright statement are not in this list) and I did not strip out an end material from Hunt’s volume. The larger collection of phrases is useful because it provides a picture of the total ratio of textual material in common between the two books. 

  35. Calculated by the sum of the inverse of the frequencies. 

  36. It’s also true that part of that statement was caused (with absolutely certainty) by the existence of the federal copyright act of 1790. This method could not point us to that connection. 

  37. I note in passing here that the KJV comes from a much earlier period of time. We don’t suppose that the extreme overlap between the two is due simply to common language in the environment. Part of this is that the KJV was the most published work in the time period leading up to (and following) the publishing of the Book of Mormon. 

  38. There may be some duplication in the hits due to multiple editions of a single work. 

  39. The general search looks like this: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22your+women+and+your%22&biw=1467&bih=608&sa=X&ei=MgtoUvSgFsHyyAGR_YCABA&ved=0CCMQpwUoBA&source=lnt&tbs=cdr%3A1%2Ccd_min%3A1%2F1%2F1500%2Ccd_max%3A1%2F1%2F1830&tbm=bks . It is created by using quotes to designate an exact phrase, then using the search tools feature to indicate a custom date range between 1/1/1500 and 1/1/1830. 

  40. Rick Grunder, Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source, pp. 724-5. 

66 thoughts on “The Late War Against the Book of Mormon

  1. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion Ben. Your thoughts here express some of the same concerns that I have felt about the Johnson’s methodology and I fully concur with you that “within the massive electronic search model, illusory parallels are inevitable and must be treated with caution.”

    However, even if their specific claim for word for word influence turns out to be mistaken or at least based on many false positives, however it happened, I think they have identified a text that had a strong organic influence on the narrative of the Book of Mormon. Because my training is in literary study and not statistical analysis, I examined the Late War and the BoM for parallels in language and content and concluded that the author of the BoM must have read and been familiar with the Late War and that a significant amount of the former’s narrative was reliant upon the latter. Only that the dependence did not occur directly at the time the BoM was composed.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2013/10/the-book-of-mormon-and-the-late-war-direct-literary-dependence/

    • RT,

      I have read through your blog entry. I have just a couple of observations. The first is this – when I came to the Johnsons presentation, the first I noticed was a revolutionary claim that had absolutely nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. It was the conclusion that the text that had most influenced Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was a previously unnoticed novel titled The Officer’s Daughter. This would have been a major accomplishment. To discover what the last century and a half of literary scholarship into Austen’s work (who is a candidate for the most significant novelist of the 19th century) could not discover using this novel technique. Rather, it should have been the first clue that something was very wrong with the process. The small but important detail remained hidden because they likely had little (if any) exposure to 19th century literature.

      There was another recent publication that deals with some of this. It is Eran Shalev’s American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War. Shalev details a number of features of this body of literature that he dubs pseudobiblicsm. A couple of them are really quite important to this discussion:
      “P. 95

      “According to the genre’s [pseudoblicism] conventions, throughout the history’s volumes Snoweden used relatively short and numbered verses. As in the other texts belonging to this tradition, the versed staccato was hardly the entire antique array. (p. 95)”

      “The fact that the language of the King James Bible was applied abundantly and consistently in texts narrating American accounts and histories, a genre which I have dubbed pseudobiblicism, further demonstrates not merely the extent o which American culture was biblically oriented, but that the biblicism was profoundly focused on the Old Testament. This strong predilection for the Old rather than the New Testament is evident when one surveys extant pseudobiblical texts, a sizable corpus written during more than a century (circa 1740-1850); while each of those texts echoes and resonates with Old Testament narratives and protagonists, it is hard to find even a single reference to Christ, not to mention other New Testament characters or episodes. (101)”

      We have this challenge in that when you present parallels they tend to describe a Book of Mormon that isn’t really the Book of Mormon that we read. We have this suggestion that the versification of Hunt is important (until we realize that the Book of Mormon had no verses – those were added to make it conform to this body of literature later). We look for the Old Testament, and we find some, but we also see that the Book of Mormon is concerned with many themes that have no parallels within this literature – and it is those parts that people tend to remember – discussions on creation, the fall of man, sin an atonement. This is a different Book of Mormon than we find in your parallels.

      Seeing your pattern of parallel entrees, I recommend you read my review of Grunder’s Bibliography at:

      http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/finding-parallels-some-cautions-and-criticisms-part-one/
      and
      http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/finding-parallels-some-cautions-and-criticisms-part-two/
      And then if you are willing to put something up that explains how your comparison is something other than what I describe, I would be happy to engage you in discussion over the issue. My experience though is that this isn’t a terribly significant overlap. And we can see this by comparing many books to each other. The fact that we only seem to want to do so when engaging in polemical debates hides from us an underlying reality that language and genre and theme create similarities on much larger scales than we simply assume could ever be coincidence.

      • “We have this challenge in that when you present parallels they tend to describe a Book of Mormon that isn’t really the Book of Mormon that we read.”

        Not really sure what you mean by this. Narrative elements can be identified and isolated totally independent of theology or other ideological elements.

        And I attach no importance to the versification in the LW at all. I focus on context and the clustering of elements in the same narrative context and the broader text.

        • One point of concern that I had is that a very large portion of your parallels are from propagandist descriptions of pre-industrialized warfare. Was any effort made to compare both to accounts of the French-Indian Wars (or something similar)?

    • “Because my training is in literary study and not statistical analysis, I examined the Late War and the BoM for parallels in language and content and concluded that the author of the BoM must have read and been familiar with the Late War and that a significant amount of the former’s narrative was reliant upon the latter.”

      Oh? Based upon what, exactly? It would be pretty easy to find someone else with “literary training” who examined the two books and concluded that the author of Book of Mormon was not aware of the former book.
      This is why appeals to personal authority are suspect (especially in the humanities). One must make an argument based upon reason and data.

    • “I examined the Late War and the BoM for parallels in language and content and concluded that the author of the BoM must have read and been familiar with the Late War and that a significant amount of the former’s narrative was reliant upon the latter.”

      Leaving aside the pesky fact that there is no historical evidence to support your argument that “the author of the BoM must have read and been familiar with the Late War,” which is begging the question, I have to commend you, RT, for your clever argument. The similarities between the BoM and the LW are due to Joseph Smith pilfering from the LW, “perhaps even semi-consciously.” However, any dissimilarities between the two books that could potentially call into question this argument are there simply because Joseph Smith “adapted” these “elements” when “circumstances necessitated.”

      Heads, I win; tales, you lose.

      Of course, your argument would be more persuasive if you could actually give any historical evidence that Joseph Smith was even familiar with the LW, let alone read and synthesized it into the narratives in the BoM. Otherwise, you’re left with a circular argument: The similarities between the LW and the BoM are there because Joseph Smith read the LW and adapted parts of it to the narrative of the BoM; and we know he read the LW and adapted parts of it to the narrative of the BoM because of the similarities between the two books.

      (BTW, I find it amazing, really, how many obscure books or manuscripts floating around 19th century upstate New York the unlearned Joseph Smith, who, according to Emma, “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon,” is supposed to have had intimate knowledge of as he wrote the text of the Book of Mormon.)

      • “Leaving aside the pesky fact that there is no historical evidence to support your argument that ‘the author of the BoM must have read and been familiar with the Late War,’”

        That’s quite a statement when I’ve compiled a list of dozens of substantive parallels that suggest organic reliance of some kind. You’re speaking in hyperbole rather than trying to advance the discussion by actually dealing with the arguments.

        And by the way, I never used the word “pilfer” and think that would be an inaccurate and unnecessarily pejorative way of describing the nature of this literary dependence.

        “However, any dissimilarities between the two books that could potentially call into question this argument”

        I think dissimilarities are important to recognize; the LW and the BoM are totally different texts with different agendas and created through different processes. But the clustering of parallels (some of them very significant) that I cite need to be explained, and as I see it, some kind of literary dependence is the most reasonable and probable theory.

        BTW, please don’t try to conflate me or my argument with others who have argued for JS having read a vast library of manuscripts. My argument is a literary analysis alone of the considerable evidence that whoever wrote the BoM had read and been influenced by the LW.

        • “That’s quite a statement when I’ve compiled a list of dozens of substantive parallels that suggest organic reliance of some kind.”

          This idea of “substantive parallels” is too subjective to inspired confidence. Sorry, but I see nothing “substantive” in the fact that, for example, both books use the word “stripling,” a common English word right out of Webster’s 1828 dictionary, as well as the KJV, for example. (To your credit, at least you didn’t claim the LW talks about “2000 stripling warriors” like other people have claimed.)

          The rest of your alleged “substantive parallels” are likewise not all equally impressive. Many of them, for example, one could easily chalk up to shared language, something nobody has denied, since the language of both are derived from the KJV.

          Frankly, the word “parallelomania” comes to mind.

          “And by the way, I never used the word “pilfer” and think that would be an inaccurate and unnecessarily pejorative way of describing the nature of this literary dependence.”

          Maybe “pilfer” was too strong of a word, but that’s essentially what you’re arguing. You’re essentially arguing that Joseph Smith, whom I would assume you consider the author of a non-historical BoM, first read the LW at some point in his life (you can’t say when exactly because there’s no evidence he ever did) and then took narrative elements from it, mulled it over a bit, then spliced a re-vamped version of them into his fictional “myth of Indian origins” that he wrote sometime later. Conclusion: instead of being an original composition, the “narrative elements of the BoM are probably descended, at least in part, from Gilbert Hunt’s pseudo-biblical account of the War of 1812.”

          “BTW, please don’t try to conflate me or my argument with others who have argued for JS having read a vast library of manuscripts.”

          I wasn’t. It was just an aside I threw in at the end because I see this all the time. (“Joseph Smith must have X, Y, or Z book or manuscript. Look at all the parallels!”) I see the list of books Joseph Smith is supposed to have read growing bigger every year.

          • “I wasn’t. It was just an aside I threw in at the end because I see this all the time. (“Joseph Smith must have X, Y, or Z book or manuscript. Look at all the parallels!”) I see the list of books Joseph Smith is supposed to have read growing bigger every year.”

            This observation doesn’t really help the discussion. It’s an appeal to ridicule that is itself fallacious, since each theory only needs to account for its own claims, not the claims of other theories.

          • I’m sorry, Steven, but its your hasty and flippant dismissal of a complex and fairly comprehensive argument for BoM dependence on LW that doesn’t inspire confidence. I have used criteria well established in the field of literary and historical criticism for determining textual influence, including density, sequencing, and distinctiveness. To point to one rather weak example such as “stripling” and then to simply claim the other parallels are “unimpressive” does a disservice to the amount of work I did. I went through the LW very carefully (multiple times) and evaluated parallels for their strength, trying to be open to the possibility of alternative ways of explaining the similarities to the BoM. Ultimately, I came to the reasoned and cautious conclusion that the author of the BoM was likely dependent on the LW for narrative content.

            Your comments to me and casual treatment of a dense ten page study suggest that you are not interested in opening yourself up to the possibility that the BoM is dependent on thematic material that was available in Joseph Smith’s time period. Which is another way of saying, you are blinded by your own ideology.

            “Maybe “pilfer” was too strong of a word, but that’s essentially what you’re arguing.”

            No, it’s not. Try reading to understand before you assume that one argument is just the same stuff that you think you’ve always encountered before. I believe the BoM IS an original composition, a unique piece of imaginative religious literature with significant value. All authors borrow from other texts, discourse, and ideas; that cannot really be avoided. The more creative authors, however, combine and synthesize those discourses and ideas in unique and memorable ways.

        • Given:

          “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”(1)

          And, given:

          “…you don’t get books from angels and translate them by miracles; it is just that simple.”(2)

          It follows: any explanation of the origins and authorship of the Book of Mormon is more factual than the one provided by Joseph Smith, so long as it excludes the divine.

          Nothing can be mustered in Joseph’s favor. No testimony of any number of eyewitnesses, no confirmed hebraisms, no altar inscribed “NHM”, no parallel with an ancient source unknown to Joseph, indeed no archaelogical, linguistic, theological, historical, psychological, nor any other evidence, can tip the scale in his favor by even one degree. Given these 2 premises, Joseph’s account is doomed.

          Conversely, any other explanation of the existence of the Book of Mormon is more probable than the documented historical accounts, which notably fail to exclude the divine. Thus, Dr. Quinn’s argument that Joseph Smith composed the Book of Mormon from rare, expensive, unavailable manuscripts, stored in Europe and written in languages he did not read, is more probable than that reported by “The Testimony of the Three Witnesses”, “The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses”, or even a hypothetical “The Testimony of the 6.022×10^23 Witnesses” (or The Testimony of the Mole, for short).

          Given the 2 assumptions, the hypothesis this article engages (hereafter referred to as the Johnson-RT hypothesis) must be closer to fact than Joseph’s claims, no matter how much better his are documented.

          That said, the Johnson-RT hypothesis is a distinct improvement over Dr. Quinn’s theory, the silly Solomon Spaulding story, the “automatic writing” tautology, or the “Book of Mormon delivered to Joseph Smith from a Reptilian-piloted UFO from the Planet Zzzdrglvad, via Walters the Magician as an Intermediary, Theory” (also known as the “Tin-Foil Hat Reinforced with a Double-Layered, 2 Acre-Square Faraday Cage Theory”), though — given our assumptions — all of these are more likely than what Joseph Smith said he saw and did.

          You might suspect this would leave the diligent historian (or statistician, or well-trained literary theorist, etc.) in a bit of a quandary. You would be wrong. Any hypothesis, regardless of evidence for or against, can stand in until something better is found. Thus, Spaulding yesterday, Quinn today, perhaps Johnson-RT tomorrow. They can even be mutually exclusive. As long as the divine is safely excluded, we stand on firm ground.

          Personally, I reject assumption #2. This allows me to believe Joseph Smith’s account. “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”(3)

          1-”The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes” (1927), p. 1011.

          2- “An Interview with Sterling McMurrin. https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V17N01_20.pdf

          3- Franz Werfel. As quoted in “Philippine Studies” (1953) by Ateneo de Manila, p. 269; also in “Everest : The Mountaineering History” (2000) by Walt Unsworth, p. 100

      • “(BTW, I find it amazing, really, how many obscure books or manuscripts floating around 19th century upstate New York the unlearned Joseph Smith, who, according to Emma, “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon,” is supposed to have had intimate knowledge of as he wrote the text of the Book of Mormon.)”

        I’m not taking a side in this debate. I agree that the Johnsons’ analysis has a number of weaknesses. But I just want to say that we have clear evidence that Joseph was intimately acquainted with the Bible and therefore that he did spend a significant amount of time reading. Despite this, his writing ability was still weak. Just because someone reads a lot doesn’t automatically mean they will be a good writer.

        I also think most of us agree that Joseph, while not having had much formal education, was still a very intelligent and talented man. I think it can’t be reasonably argued that Joseph couldn’t possibly have been influenced by other written works based on his writing ability. One can be a very skilled author and orator without having the ability to write, and Joseph had scribes.

        • “But I just want to say that we have clear evidence that Joseph was intimately acquainted with the Bible and therefore that he did spend a significant amount of time reading.”

          I don’t know if I’d say “intimately” acquainted (if we’re to believe Emma, then Joseph missed all those references to Jerusalem having walls, for example) but I agree that Joseph and his family, as part of their culture, would’ve known the Bible, or at least have been influenced by its language.

          But being familiar with the Bible, Carl, is not the same as also being familiar with Ethan Smith, and Solomon Spaulding, and Josiah Priest, and Alexander von Humboldt, and Shakespeare, and now the author of the “Late War,” etc., etc. The list just keeps growing.

          Also, keep in mind that Emma insisted that Joseph could neither “writer” nor “dictate” a coherent letter, “let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.” Since Emma was one of Joseph’s scribes, albeit briefly, during the translation of the BoM, I think her comments are important. (Of course, she could have just been lying through her teeth, as the good folks at MormonThink claim.)

          • I still can’t dictate a letter even though I feel like I can write decently. But I agree that Emma’s testimony about the dictation of the BoM describes a very singular process. If deception was taking place, I don’t see how it could have been done without JS reading from some prepared manuscript, because to dictate that from memory would have been superhuman, regardless of his writing ability.

            About the “growing list,” keep in mind that referring the list in the aggregate is, of course, fallacious. The alternative theories do not require JS to have had access to EVERY work referenced by every other theory, just the work that is relevant to their own theory. Each theory does not need to answer the claims of other theories. So your reference to the “growing list” as if it is becoming increasingly ridiculous is itself ridiculous.

          • The person who contends that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon, based upon whatever reason, influence of some other work for example, takes on the burden of showing how Joseph got the scores of mesoamericanisms in the Book right, the scores of Near East reference points in the Book right, even the Greek Septuagint in the Book right. That takes a pretty impressive library, one that has more than the Last War in it, to get the geography and language and culture down right in this Book he allegedly authored. Similarly, the proponent of such a theory also has the burden to show why the book he thinks Joseph used to write the Book of Mormon is THE book and not the other clamor in for the same title. They can’t all be right.

          • “About the “growing list,” keep in mind that referring the list in the aggregate is, of course, fallacious.”

            Well, except many people, realizing that their list of parallels for each work can ultimately only account for a small percentage of the actual Book of Mormon, have adopted the stance that each played a part. MormonThink, for instance, has a piece comparing several of “sources” with the Book of Mormon, and seems to be proposing a genetic relationship (i.e., Joseph Smith directly borrowed from said source).

            Certainly this is not the claim being made by the Johnson’s or RT, so far as I can tell, are making such claims. But it is made, and there is no doubt folks on message boards who, as we speak, are not discarding the other sources, but simply adding the “Late War” to the list, so to speak.

          • “Certainly this is not the claim being made by the Johnson’s or RT, so far as I can tell, are making such claims. But it is made, and there is no doubt folks on message boards who, as we speak, are not discarding the other sources, but simply adding the ‘Late War’ to the list, so to speak.”

            Neal, the fact that some people who oppose orthodox theories employ fallacious arguments to do so does not justify the defenders of orthodoxy in employing their own fallacious arguments. Therefore, your comment does nothing to counteract the fallaciousness of Stephen’s “growing list” dismissal.

          • “Neal, the fact that some people who oppose orthodox theories employ fallacious arguments to do so does not justify the defenders of orthodoxy in employing their own fallacious arguments. Therefore, your comment does nothing to counteract the fallaciousness of Stephen’s “growing list” dismissal.”

            I’m sorry, but I fail to see how it is fallacious to speak of a “growing list” when, in fact, some critics are in fact employing a “growing list.” Is it now fallacious to respond or critically allude to fallacious arguments (which are actually being made)? I must not have gotten that memo.

          • Daniel, I’m mostly basing this from Joseph’s sermons, in which he would frequently use the language of Paul and other gospels from memory.

          • “I’m mostly basing this from Joseph’s sermons, in which he would frequently use the language of Paul and other gospels from memory.”

            So, Carl, you are using evidence that primarily comes from decades later, correct? Dan asked for evidence that Joseph Smith in 1828-1829 was intimately familiar with the bible.

            Evidence from many years later is the same as saying I was well acquainted with LDS apologetics in 2006-08 (while on my mission) because I am demonstrably so now. The fact is I wasn’t, and no amount of evidence from 2010 (when I started blogging on the subject) til now can change that fact.

          • Carl, Joseph began sermonizing after the Book of Mormon was published and the Church was founded (1830). There is, of course, good evidence he studied the Bible after dictating the Book of Mormon, but much less evidence of study prior to that.

          • From Wikipedia: Between 1817 and 1825 there were several camp meetings and revivals in the Palmyra area.[8] Although the Smith family disagreed about religion, they were caught up in this excitement.[9] Smith became interested in religion at about the age of twelve, and he participated in church classes, read the Bible, and reportedly showed an interest in Methodism.[10]

            Here is the citation: 10. Vogel (2004, pp. 26–7) (that around 1817 Smith was beginning to feel his own religious stirrings); D. Michael Quinn (December 20, 2006). “Joseph Smith’s Experience of a Methodist “Camp-Meeting” in 1820″. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. p. 3. (arguing that a Methodist camp meeting in June 1818 provided a local context for the statement from Smith’s “earliest autobiography” and that revivals and camp meetings occurred in and around Palmyra during 1819–20).

            Seems like plenty of time to get acquainted with the bible between 1817 and 1830 before the publication of the Book of Mormon.

          • Neal and Thad, we can’t be absolutely certain how acquainted with the Bible JS was during the time the BoM was being worked on, but we do have the evidence from his sermons that he had many biblical passages memorized. All that can be said is that these passages had become a part of his long-term memory some time inbetween his birth and the time he gave the sermons. We also have the evidence that Aaron Young has posted here. I think the evidence is not sufficient to take a definitive stance on the position of whether or not JS was intimately acquainted with the Bible during the time he worked on the BoM. I think either stance is a reasonable one.

    • Which author of the Book of Mormon was influenced by reading this book? Mormon? Nephi? Moroni? Facetious for me to ask, I know, but you are aware of the research which argues that there are multiple authors of the Book of Mormon, yes? I can’t tell from your blog post. You can only hope to make sense with your argument if one assumes that Joseph Smith read this book and years later was so moved by it that it overshadowed all else in authoring the Book of Mormon. This strikes me as incredulous in its own right. In any event as more of these arguments arise relating to Joseph being the Book of Mormon’s author, one has to be ever more impressed with the breadth and depth of the Palmyra City library.

    • The characterisation of some of those parallels seems frankly deficient. To take the very first example:

      “A battle at a fort where righteous white protagonists are attacked by an army made up of dark-skinned natives driven by a white military leader. The white protagonists are prepared for battle and slaughter their opponents to such an extent that they fill the trenches surrounding the fort with dead bodies. The surviving elements flee into the wilderness/forest (pp. 102-4, 29:1-23) Alma 49:10-25″

      Somehow seems to miss the key points of the narratives in both Late War and in Alma 49. The description of ‘righteous white protagonists’ and ‘dark-skinned natives’ has to be added (it plays little part in Alma 49 itself, which in any case would not see one side as more native than the other). Amalickiah is in fact specified as not being on the scene, his place taken by assorted captains, a good chunk of the Late War narrative is devoted to messages between the commanders, while Alma simply has the captains make an oath (have failed in the earlier part of the narrative at Ammonihah), and spends most of the description on the Nephite preparations, which do not match the description in Late War save in one detail, the ditch. The parallel is thin and pale, as do the others I’ve looked at (to claim that there is ‘little doubt’ that the narrative on p.70 is connected to the Nephite destruction definitely overstates the argument, when one is left with little but black smoke).

      In contrast, the Biblical connections are often so deep and prolonged, and so unexplored, that these sorts of superficial connections seem such an utter distraction.

  2. “It isn’t a particularly difficult feat to reconstruct the Book of Mormon using phrases found from many different sources. In the 1960s, Julia Kristeva coined the term intertextuality to describe this feature of all texts. They were, as she described them, a ‘mosaic of quotations’ all coming from other sources.”

    If the claims of the origins of the Book of Mormon are to be believed (written between 600 BC to 400 AD [excluding Ether] in an otherwise unknown language [Reformed Egyptian], then translated to English), then it seems unlikely that such an enigmatic and unique work (in that there is no other book known to us that was created in a similar manner) would fit so nicely into the “‘mosaic of quotations’ coming from other sources”. Rather, being enigmatic and unique it might be expected that it hold an equally enigmatic and unique spot. Yet, both the Johnsons’ work as well as this well-reasoned critique of it reinforce that the Book of Mormon is just a product of its time.

    • Aaron,

      You wrote:

      “If the claims of the origins of the Book of Mormon are to be believed (written between 600 BC to 400 AD [excluding Ether] in an otherwise unknown language [Reformed Egyptian], then translated to English), then it seems unlikely that such an enigmatic and unique work (in that there is no other book known to us that was created in a similar manner) would fit so nicely into the ‘mosaic of quotations coming from other sources’. Rather, being enigmatic and unique it might be expected that it hold an equally enigmatic and unique spot.”

      That’s an interesting assumption; but I think it fails upon examination.

      Every English word in the Book of Mormon can be located in pre- 1830 dictionaries. But the vocabulary of a language doesn’t consist only in words, but also in phrases, all of which are conventional ways of saying things. The Book of Mormon is unique not in how it says things, but in what it says. Its vocabulary of English words and phrases properly belongs in the time and place it was translated, as with any translated work.

      The notion that some four-word phrases can be used to prove “literary dependence,” not only of a choice of words but of actual content, is ultimately rather silly. It represents only a slightly more sophisticated form of the notorious “adieu” argument.

      • Russell,

        “Every English word in the Book of Mormon can be located in pre- 1830 dictionaries.”

        Of course, this omits “cumoms and cureloms” as well as the some of the monetary designations of the Nephites. But your point stands.

        “The Book of Mormon is unique not in how it says things, but in what it says.”

        I’m not sure what you are getting at here? Do you mean to say the Book of Mormon is unique in that it puts forth doctrines that were not considered or known prior to its publication (if so, is there evidence for this)? I don’t think there are doctrines that are truly unique to the Book of Mormon. In many ways it clarifies teachings of the Bible, for example, infant baptism. However, opposition to infant baptism preceded the Book of Mormon so this could not be considered unique. I would think the only thing truly unique would be Christ’s ministry to the people of the America’s, but even then Christ mentioned “other sheep” in the New Testament.

        On the other hand, if you are suggesting the Book of Mormon is unique because it claims among others the existence of the anachronisms of steel, chariots, and pre-Columbian horses, etc. then I would have to agree that it is unique indeed.

          • Fernando,

            Thank you for the links. I read them all and it was a good review as I’ve researched this online in the past. Overall, I was disappointed by the weak logic used in the arguments. But what really bothers me is the lack of academic integrity. These authors do not seem interested in finding out what is most likely the truth, but rather in constructing arguments that will support their belief of a historical Book of Mormon no matter how tenuous and poorly supported. Many times they make statements based on conjecture that something might have happened. It seems their only goal is to come up with an argument – any argument.

            The details to support my statements I’ve made are too numerous and beyond the scope of the discussion we are having here, but I will show just one example:

            In the first linked article, Steel in the Book of Mormon, Hamblin suggests that the word “steel” in 1829 might not mean what 20th and now 21st century folks imagine it to be. He says:

            “Likewise steel did not necessarily mean an iron-making process in Joseph Smith’s day; its base meaning is hard or strong. Among the meanings of “steel” in Webster’s 1828 dictionary is “extreme hardness.”

            While its true that “among” the meanings of “steel” in the 1828 dictionary the definition he chose is listed, it is the final entry, which is often one of the least common understandings or usages of a word. If you take the view that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into language commonly used in his time, then it seems the most correct understanding of the word “steel” would be the first-listed definition in the dictionary; that is:

            “1. Iron combined with a small portion of carbon; iron refined and hardened, used in making instruments, and particularly useful as the material of edged tools. It is called in chemistry, carburet of iron; but this is more usually the denomination of plumbago.”

            And also the second definition:

            “2. Figuratively, weapons; particularly, offensive weapons, swords, spears and the like.”

            http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/steel

            Further, the definition Hamblin chose to use is more of a symbolic usage (“hearts of steel” is the example used Webster’s), yet Nephi is clearly speaking in concrete terms when he mentions Laban’s sword of fine steel. His terms are so concrete that Nephi then goes on to decapitate Laban with the “steel”. I think a symbolic or metaphoric usage of the word “steel” is obviously not what is meant in the Book of Mormon as it is impossible to chop off a man’s head with a metaphor. For Hamblin to suggest this as a solution to this anachronism is academically dishonest, and rather embarrassing if I may add my own opinion.

            A quick second example (I know I promised only one): in the article on Chariots it says:

            “‘Conduct him’ does not necessarily mean that Lamoni was conducted in the horse/chariot. Indeed, verse 9 mentions horses and chariots, but only the king is ‘conducted.’ It is possible that we are dealing with several ritual objects rather than a conveyance.”

            Again, the 1828 Webster’s dictionary in the entry for “chariot” sheds light on what Joseph Smith likely meant by the phrase “conduct him”:

            1. A half coach; a carriage with four wheels and one seat behind, used for convenience and pleasure.
            2. A car or vehicle used formerly in war, drawn by two or more horses, and conveying two men each. These vehicles were sometimes armed with hooks or sythes.
            CHARIOT, v.t. To convey in a chariot.

            In 1828 a chariot was obviously a vehicle and likely had wheels as is mentioned in the definition. the verb use is also illustrative in that it is very clear that to one is conveyed in a chariot and it is less likely it was meant in a ritualistic sense. This is based solely on the Webster’s dictionary, however.

            The overall problem with the Book of Mormon is that when all of the anachronisms, the doctrinal themes, the historical suppositions (native american origins), and are taken together it is easy to see that the Book of Mormon just could not have been created by the ancient people as it claims. There are too many inaccuracies coupled with too little archeological evidence to support its story. Further, the doctrines are all those which were common to Christianity of Joseph Smith’s time. The book did not come to us from antiquity via the power of God. It came from a 19th century author. If you can put aside your beliefs for a moment and evaluate the evidence we actually have, and then honestly ask yourself what is the most likely and simplest conclusion we can make, then I guarantee it won’t involve angels or magical seer stones as there is absolutely no evidence at all of either. Invoking either into an explanation of the Book of Mormon only then gives you the responsibility of providing evidence for angels and magic rocks to support your claim. I would be happy to learn that both angels and magic rocks exist, but as Marcello Truzzi said, “An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof”. Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon is dripping with the former, but barren when it comes to the latter.

          • This is in response to Aaron Young, not Fernando, but for some reason it won’t let me reply to Aaron directly.

            Aaron thinks “steel” in the Book of Mormon is an anachronism. Well, I believe there is still a legitimate discussion surrounding whether metallurgy in the New World and the Book of Mormon is an anachronism. However, Nephi’s mention of steel is not an anachronism.

            This comes from Philip J. King and Lawerence E. Stager:

            “Wrought iron heated in contact with charcoal (carbon) at high temperature produces carbonized iron or steel, which is more malleable than cast iron. Steel can be hardened by quenching (practiced as early as the tenth century B.C.E.), that is, cooling off the red-hot steel by sudden immersion into a vat of cold liquid. . . . At Har Adir in Upper Galilee, a remarkably well-preserved “steel pick” with an oak handle within the socket was found in an eleventh-century B.C.E. fortress. It was made of carburized iron (steel) that had been quenched and then tempered. This extraordinary artifact, one of the earliest known examples of steel tools, is a tribute to the skill (or luck) of the artisans of ancient Palestine.”

            Life in Biblical Israel (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 169.

            I would also strongly object to Aaron’s dogmatic insistence that there is no evidence for the Book of Mormon’s antiquity, and that any dope with half a brain could see how the Book of Mormon is obviously a product of the 19th century, etc. Frankly, his comments are little more than the same brand of dogmatism of ideologues like Sterling “you just don’t get books from angels, period” McMurrin, and must ignore a substantial body of scholarly work.

            If Aaron disagrees with this scholarship, then fine. But he hasn’t even shown any real familiarity with it. For example, he insists that the religious teachings of the Book of Mormon are just typical, run-of-the-mill 19th century Christian teachings, but neglects to account for the work of non-Mormon scholar Margaret Barker, who is convinced that 1 Nephi contains authentic pre-exilic Israelite concepts of the tree of life and Messiah, etc.

            But I digress. I really just wanted to point out that Aaron is wrong to think “steel” in 1 Nephi is an anachronism.

  3. I received the following reaction from a Canadian friend who prefers to remain unidentified:

    “The irony of the whole Late History incident (‘hidden in plain sight’) is that you have all missed the obvious conclusion, eh. The skip has just curled his stone into the centre of your house and left you laying zero. Duane and Chris Johnson are Canadians (and very likely Vancouver Canucks fans. too). The War of 1812, the war highlighted in the Johnsons’ ‘discovery,’ is the ONLY WAR IN HISTORY in which Canada has won a battle over its neighbour to the south (you can google the famous Battle of Beaver Dams, which the Canadians won after being warned that the ‘Americans are coming’ by their own FEMALE Paul Revere, Laura Secord). The galling part for Canadians like the Johnsons is that most Americans assume they won the war, the battle, everything. The thought makes a loyal Canadian’s maple syrup boil as she sits on her chesterfield watching CFL on CBC. Hence the Johnsons want to promote the “Late War” as the first sinister strike by an ignored but proud race against Americans on MDB. This is the opening volley of a new COLD war, so to speak. Yes, the Blue Jays won the World Series twice, but not even that can soothe centuries of resentment by MacIntosh-toffey loving militant Canadians like Duane and Chris Johnson, and probably Greg Smith too. Don’t be had, eh. See this for what it is.”

    I thought it might lighten the mood a bit.

  4. Hi Benjamin,

    It’s Chris Johnson here, one of the researchers conducting this study. Thank you for the critique, it is welcomed and encouraged. I am definitely not married to our results, so if we’re wrong then we’re wrong, but so far it does seem at least plausible to me that Joseph was influenced by “The late war”, prophet or not. The language is statistically similar, with relatively rare phrases shared between the two books. It is also in the right place (New York) and time (1816-1819) to have a possible influence on the language of any New York writers during that period. If it is true that Joseph never read the Bible through before 1829, then perhaps more attention should be paid to this book to trace the origins of the style used in The Book of Mormon.

    Benjamin, I applaud your research efforts, and appreciate the insights you’ve given us to further the analysis. In response to your article, I offer some ideas, critique and suggestions:

    “When I compared these two texts in a non-weighted comparison, it resulted in 1,934 common four-word phrases (conservative, due to the OCR errors in The Officer’s Daughter). Having then backed out the parallels from the KJV we end up with 1,677 shared phrases. This results in a ratio in Pride and Prejudice of 1.4%. This result is more than five times the overlap between the Book of Mormon and The Late War. Of the 6,323 words used in Pride, 3,996 of them are also found in The Officer’s Daughter (63%).”

    1. You compared 2 books (Pride and Prejudice/Officer’s Daughter) with 2 books (The late war/Book of Mormon) and removed the Book of Mormon’s heaviest influence (The KJV), but didn’t remove Pride and Prejudice’s biggest influence, but instead removed the KJV assuming that you were comparing apples to apples. You were not, because this was a different comparison that was unrelated to the KJV. You could subtract the top influencers of each book in the comparison, or leave the KJV out of both, either way would give you more accurate results. This may affect your conclusion: “This result is more than five times the overlap between the Book of Mormon and The Late War.”
    2. You went to great lengths to explain how much rarity matters when making a comparison, but in the above Pride and Prejudice comparison you didn’t even score the phrases by rarity. In other words “and so they were” would have been given equal weight to a rare phrase like “enraged Gondor’s righteous heart”, which means you ignored everything you were trying to say about rarity and significance, and doesn’t help find influence at all. This may also affect your conclusion: “This result is more than five times the overlap between the Book of Mormon and The Late War.”
    3. You also used books of different lengths and did not take into consideration how the length affects the comparison, and by that I mean with mere random chance a longer book like Pride and Prejudice will have more matches in a comparison. Why? Because the longer the book, the more unique phrases show up by chance, and the more unique phrases, the higher the chance of overlap. This is not properly accounted for since the unique n-grams don’t indicate length. This needs to be included in the calculation.
    4. When you tried to disprove the rarity of the parallels between The late war and The Book of Mormon, based on our “small” 5000 book sample, you took 10 shared 4-grams (at random?) and went to Google Books and found that in a much larger sample the scores were still showing up extremely rare, for example the phrase “wickedness which had been” showed up once, along with many others, but even the ones which were above 10 hits can still be considered quite rare given the size of Google’s dataset. However, I find it surprising that you then focused on the 4-grams that were less rare, and mention it as if this is a problem in our analysis. We are also improving the clarity in our forthcoming analysis, and is this sort of detail should be expected when looking for parallels on larger samples of books. However, more significantly, the extreme rarity of those 4-grams (as indicated by Google Books) combined with the large number of rare 4-grams strengthens the case that there is some sort of influence between the two books. The results are made even more valid when compared to baseline data which is necessary for understanding the relative significance of the results. But we have gone much further than what you have reviewed here in this article, and the results can be seen at the askreality site. So far, the more detailed the analysis gets, the more striking the evidence.

    I think there are much bigger flaws in our analysis than you went into. For example what’s the false positive rate? What’s the success/failure rate at tracing influence? We will know in time, we just have to conduct enough experiments.

    Also what if our algorithm is only picking up texts that were written in similar style, but the content is different? How can we objectively compare content?

    Some of the “genre” and “style” concerns have been addressed with the new ISS algorithm, which can detect distinct influences relative to the baseline of other books, rather than similarity. However, we are not stopping there, because we think there is a lot more clarity that can be brought to the table with better tools, faster CPUs, and better algorithms.

    Duane and I believe that creativity is basically a remix of influences. In this case The Book of Mormon was written by a man who had very little education, so his literary influences are easier to trace than a well educated person who has read hundreds of books. I believe that’s why our ISS algorithm is showing only a very small handful of books read by the author of The Book of Mormon.

    Authors are influenced by their culture, and technology is progressing to the point where we can all have access to the tools we need, to see with our eyes and know for ourselves where the most likely influences are coming from.

    • Chris, I am glad that you recognize some of the issues that remain to be addressed. I want to make a couple of comments in response to what you have written.

      1: Your baseline data is of little value. The date range and the lack of controls on the texts creates problems. A random selection might make a good control set if it represents accurately the larger body of data. In this case, 5,000 is simply too small a sample set – particularly when your weighting system gives such a huge boost to those phrases that coincidentally meet specific requirements. This could be managed by adjusting the scale perhaps (to something more linear). But, the point of your random selection for the baseline seems more intended at creating an impression of objectivity than it does at trying to be accurate. Further, the baseline data isn’t connected to the texts actually being tested. Yes, we have a problem of potential books influenced by the Book of Mormon. More on this in a moment. Without improvements to the baseline data – through modifying the weighting, through a better selection of texts, and so on, the weighting system you use isn’t worth much. Further, we have the problem that relative rarity has little value in electronic searches without a corresponding intelligent check (which does not occur within your algorithm).

      2: You asked me: “Also what if our algorithm is only picking up texts that were written in similar style, but the content is different? How can we objectively compare content?”

      I wrote about this issue earlier this year in my review of Grunder’s Bibliography here on the Interpreter’s web site. I present my formal methods for doing exactly this. I really recommend you read through it, because it deals with a number of the kinds of concerns that get raised. By the way, this same sort of issue was brought up in 1929, by E. H. C. Oliphant in his essay titled “How Not to Play the Game of Parallels”:

      “It is time to take critical stock of what has been accomplished, to expose the absurdity of much that is being done in this field of scholarship, and to endeavor to estimate the value of the work that really counts. … First let it be remarked that passages are not to be considered parallels because they duplicate thought without any duplication of language. Ideas may be common to many writers, and nothing is to be inferred from such similarity. Verbal parallels that do not duplicate ideas may also be ignored. The parallelism in such cases may be regarded as merely accidental. The only true parallel is one that duplicates both thought and the expression of thought. If we accept that interpretation, we shall knock out about seventy percent of what are presented as parallels.

      Regarding everything that is offered to us as a parallel, we have to inquire not only whether or not it fulfils this condition, but also, if it does, whether it possesses any significance. It is possible to have a duplication of both language and thought, and yet for the thought to be so trite as to make it ridiculous to attach any importance to its repetition. And, even if the suggested parallel passes that test, we have yet to ask ourselves whether or not it cannot be paralleled in the work of some other writer than the one to whom it is desired to attribute both passages.”

      This process of valuing parallels actually begins before the writing of the Book of Mormon. And when we get to your modeling here, what I find isn’t building on past understanding and awareness, it goes back and starts from the beginning, making all of the same mistakes that have already been made in terms of the assumptions you bring to the table. The only difference is that you don’t have to go through the tediousness of doing all the comparisons by hand.

      3: “Duane and I believe that creativity is basically a remix of influences.”

      This argument has been made many times – is anything we write, or say, or even think, truly original? Can you say things that are original? Or is everything you produce merely a remix of influences? Are you programmed by your environment as to what you can say, or think? This is not a trivial question – and despite where you have gone with it, I do recommend that you take some time and become a bit familiar with the literary theory and the philosophical perspectives behind it. I don’t agree with your opinion here. I do not believe that this represents creativity. And I do believe that people can have original thoughts (even if they come to the same place through them as others have done). You will find references to this discussion in my review of Grunder’s Bibliography as well.

      4: You wrote: “Authors are influenced by their culture, and technology is progressing to the point where we can all have access to the tools we need, to see with our eyes and know for ourselves where the most likely influences are coming from.”

      Authors are influenced by their culture. But this is really only a small part of it. Author’s aren’t just affected by their culture – they are a part of it. Their culture is also remade by them. You have a really rather black and white sense of these issues that doesn’t reflect the nature of texts or authors as I understand either. And this sort of approach that seems so logical to you doesn’t come across as particularly useful or helpful to me. Part of this may reflect a difference in our starting places. You seem to argue that technology can do all of these things for us – as if the technology could in fact, after analyzing literature, provide us with the perfect novel. Perhaps it can happen in the future. But it cannot happen now. Yes computers can imitate very well. But, can a computer really be creative simply by remixing influences? Is this even something we can call “creativity”? Would most novelists agree with you that their work isn’t so much a work of originality or creativity, but rather a re-mixing of sources? Of course, this discussion is itself not very new either. On December 16th, 1829, there was a recorded conversation between Eckermann and Goethe:

      “Something similar,” said I [Eckermann], “often happens in the literary world, when people, for instance, doubt the originality of this or that celebrated man, and seek to trace out the sources from whence he obtained his cultivation.”
      “That is ridiculous,” said Goethe, “we might as well question a strong man about the oxen, sheep, and swine, which he has eaten, and which have given him strength.”

      You have some assumptions in your work that are far from accepted in any universal sense. They seem to form the foundation of your work and your assumptions about Joseph Smith, who, as “a man who had very little education,” must have had a lot of easily to traceable “literary influences.” This is a really odd sort of assumption to make when your influences for Joseph Smith are not common works. How does an uneducated man become so intimately familiar with an 1822 edition of the Koran as your results indicate? What level of exposure could Joseph Smith have had to a failed attempt by Hunt to sell his book as a history textbook? There are problems here – not just with your statistical model, but also with your fundamental assumptions on the nature of language and influence in texts. And while the statistical problems are the easiest to point out, the philosophical stances you take are just as problematic. It is harder to deal with those issues because you don’t express any recognition of these problems. What seems novel to you isn’t novel at all within the framework of literary theory.

      • Long posts about Forests, while I’m looking at lots of trees.
        Academia, yet again destroying a good discussion on how all these books have such an amazingly consistent feel about them.
        Too much ego left and right

  5. Earlier, RT made this comment (I missed it earlier, and I apologize for responding so late):

    “I have used criteria well established in the field of literary and historical criticism for determining textual influence, including density, sequencing, and distinctiveness.”

    Actually, I didn’t see any evidence of this at all in your blog post. Consider your first example -

    “A battle at a fort where righteous white protagonists are attacked by an army made up of dark-skinned natives driven by a white military leader. The white protagonists are prepared for battle and slaughter their opponents to such an extent that they fill the trenches surrounding the fort with dead bodies. The surviving elements flee into the wilderness/forest (pp. 102-4, 29:1-23) Alma 49:10-25″

    There is no further explanation. This parallel is all about the description, and not about the texts. Neither of the passages listed here uses this language – “righteous,” “white,” “dark,” or “native” (some of these words do occur in other contexts). Why is this an issue? Hunt uses the word “dark” six times: “dark forest” (twice), “to hide in utter darkness,” “the dark and solemn hour of the night,” “a night dark and gloomy,” and “the night which was dark and rainy.” He never uses the term “dark” to describe the Indians. And Hunt never describes the Americans as white either. He uses the word “white” five times. And while some of them refer to people, in both instances it refers to the British – “white sails” (twice), “the white men of Britain,” “whose surname was White,” and “Woodbine, the white savage, came in the rear …” This last one deserves a bit of an explanation – particularly since Hunt attaches a footnote to it: “The celebrated Capt. Woodbine of the British Navy.” This refers to George Woodbine, who as a British naval officer, traveled to Florida to recruit, and he succeeded in collecting 500 Indians and 100 black men for the war effort – which is perhaps why they refer to him as a savage. So not only does Hunt never refer to the Indians as “dark”, he also never refers to the American troops as “white”. So while we have a potentially white military leader of the attacking forces (potential because Hunt doesn’t describe him in this way, and because of course, that leader isn’t actually present at the battle in the Book of Mormon), and the protagonists aren’t described by Hunt as being white.

    Why is this important? The language that RT emphasizes here is meant to make us think of the Book of Mormon (particularly controversial issues within it), but this reflects a modern readership and not someone reading in the 1820s. This also comes out in the term “native” (a word Hunt uses once in Chapter 44: “now this weed is a native of the land of Columbia.”) This is of interest in some ways because of the current practice of calling Hunt’s “savages” using the term “native American.” This is a recent change in the language (coming in the 20th century). In 1850s, for example, it was used to describe those Protestant individuals born in the United States in comparison with the new wave of mostly Catholic immigrants coming from Europe. It was not used to describe the Indians.

    So to describe the proposed parallel here, RT uses language aimed at getting people to recognize the Book of Mormon text (it would be useless in describing Hunt’s text, since the language doesn’t occur there). And these aspects of the parallel are fabricated in my opinion. But it doesn’t stop there. These “white protagonists are attacked by an army made up of dark-skinned natives driven by a white military leader.” But this doesn’t actually happen. The “white military leader” is (at least as far as the Book of Mormon is concerned) King Amalikiah (who we are told in Alma 49:25 “was a Nephite by birth”). But King Amalikiah wasn’t present. We learn this in Alma 49:10: “Now, if king Amalickiah had come down out of the land of Nephi, at the head of his army, perhaps he would have caused the Lamanites to have attacked the Nephites at the city of Ammonihah; for behold, he did care not for the blood of his people.”

    So, perhaps, had this white military leader actually been present for the rest of the narrative, he might have driven his troops to attack. But he wasn’t. So he didn’t. And the Lamanite armies take a peek at several different Nephite cities before finally picking one to attack. Compare this to the supposedly relevant part of Hunt’s text (from p. 103): “furthermore, if ye refuse then shall the wild savages be let loose upon you.” This is a threat of extinction by the savages. These savages were not being “driven” by the British (rather it has the sense that only the British can keep them from attacking). Hunt describes the attacking force in this way (p. 102): “a thousand savages, and about five hundred men of war of Britain; and Proctor was the commander thereof.” This isn’t at all like the Lamanite army with an absentee Nephite king.

    So what do we really have? A battle, with trenches used as fortifications, in which the attackers are killed in great number to the point that the trenches are piled with dead bodies. And the survivors of the failed assault flee (RT tells us “into the wilderness/forest”). Of course, even these issues aren’t without problems in the description.

    Hunt: “But the men of Croghan were prepared for them; and they let loose their weapons of war upon them, and set their destroying engine to work, and smote the men of Britain, hip and thigh, with great slaughter. And the deep ditch that surrounded the fort was strewed with their slain and their wounded. So the host of Britain was dismayed and overthrown, and fled in confusion from the fort into the forest; from whence, in the dead of the night, they went into their vessels, and departed from the place.”

    The filling of the ditch with bodies plays a different role in each narrative. Here is a bit from the Book of Mormon: “Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies.”

    Hunt really doesn’t deal with the actual fight other than to report the outcome. In the Book of Mormon, we have the defenses described in much greater detail, along with Lamanite strategies to overcome those defenses. In this particular scene, the goal of the Lamanites was to fill in the ditch by piling in dirt. And because they are exposed, they ended up being more successful in filling the ditch with dead bodies. The forest doesn’t match up well to the “wilderness” of the Book of Mormon. The wilderness is a no-man’s land of sorts – a buffer between the Nephites and the Lamanites. And a necessary route back to the Lamanite homeland and their king. The forest is a temporary hiding place, where they could wait until dark and escape the scene of the battle. The wilderness in that chapter of Alma is used previously in verse 12. “Therefore they retreated into the wilderness, and took their camp and marched towards the land of Noah,” – they went from one city to the next, through this wilderness, looking for the best place to invade. The forest doesn’t fill this sort of role in Hunt’s text. So these comparisons seem more superficial than helpful. Is waiting in the forest to avoid being seen or shot at an unusual meme that comes to the Book of Mormon from Hunt?

    On top of this we have some really interesting issues in Hunt’s text that aren’t reflected in the Book of Mormon. In the bit above, we have them being smote “hip and thigh”. This comes from the story of Samson right? Judges 15:8? “And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” Even more visible though is the comparison of the entire battle to the victory of David over Goliath. This is explicitly made in Hunt on page 103:

    “Lo! David, of old, with a sling and a stone, slew the mighty Goliath: and shall the people of Columbia be afraid, and bow before the tyrants of Europe?”

    Consequently, Croghan, the leader of the American forces is described as a “young man” (he is the David). His rejection of the terms offered by proctor is supposed to be seen as a rejection of Goliath’s overture. And the victory as a whole is to be seen in these terms (the tiny force against the huge one). Now the Book of Mormon author is certainly potentially aware of the David and Goliath narrative (in fact I have argued in one of the Maxwell Institute publications that it is used in a literary allusion in the Book of Mormon). So if Alma 49 is based in some way on pages 102-104 of Hunt’s volume, why don’t we see these and the other biblical references also appearing in both?

    In the long run, this parallel – forced through the description – doesn’t work well. It isn’t strong. Much of the potential parallel isn’t there on closer inspection. More to the point, the comparison tends to rewrite the stories in terms that are not displaying the main arguments brought out by either author. We reduce the two narratives to these secondary details of minor importance – the filler. The stories aren’t about the dead bodies in the ditches. They aren’t about a white military leading driving his dark skinned native forces to attack. The description is a flawed recasting of these narratives, not an accurate retelling. Gone one the one hand is sense of David killing Goliath. Gone on the other hand is the sense of preparations – not limited just to the ditches but to every aspect of the war – forcing the Lamanites to try location after location looking for one that might be poorly prepared and defended.

    Additionally, the parallels are presented very much from the perspective of a reader today, and not from a reader in the 1820′s. This creates part of the problem with the presentation – which in turn doesn’t really interact with the rhetoric of the text (really, of either text).

    Can we find lots of similarities between descriptions of battles? Yes. Look here for example:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Trench

    And what is most visibly absent, given your remarks, RT, is what you claim to be your criteria: “density, sequencing, and distinctiveness.” This is replaced by sleight-of-hand in your description of the parallel, and not in any parallel from the text itself. So no, I don’t believe that you use well established criteria. If you had, I suspect your list would be far different from what I read.

  6. I feel completely free to resign any test based on computer algorithms that does not come accompanied by credible historical data as a mere odd point of interest, and nothing more.

    And this is all the word-print analyses of the Book of Mormon have ever been. Something kind of neat, but signifying nothing – like seeing the Virgin Mary’s face in your morning flapjacks.

    Come up with some historical narrative that doesn’t read like claims that George W. Bush ordered the destruction of the World Trade Center personally, or that Shakespear and Milton were actually women, or that Winston Churchill was gay and I might take notice.

    Until then – I consign thee to the realm of performing hippos, UFO reports, and bigfoot. Keep crunching those numbers – fun to be had for all.

    • You do understand that when someone claims, “There are Hebraisms in the BoM, therefore it is of ancient origin,” it is just as valid as saying “There are Hebraisms in The Late War, therefore it is of ancient origin,” right? I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it when it shuts down several of the age-old apologetic arguments in the BoM’s favor.

  7. As we read the Book of Mormon carefully, it seems pretty clear that the text was not referring to a geography/culture landscape that Joseph was familiar with – placement of rivers, mountains, valleys, absence of cold/snow, a culture that was literate with large cities, etc, as mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon simply doesn’t fit into any kind of historical North American context with which Joseph might be familiar. (Many BOM scholars point out that there are an exceedingly high number of correlations between the Mayan/Epi Olmec cultures and the Nephite culture.)

    This surely would be at least a small problem to the theory proposed by Johnson/RT et al. If Joseph were to be so heavily influenced by a historical narrative of his time (The Late War), why would he go into so much detail about a geographical/cultural landscape with which was very foreign to his surroundings?

    Or is my logic misplaced?

    • Most authors who set out to write a story with a geographic area in mind or a certain setting in mind, cannot help but keep blatantly drawing attention to their descriptions of the set-pieces.

      Like the sci-fi writer who goes into a big long explanation how an automatic robotic door opens – though nobody who actually lived in such a futuristic setting would even notice the door opening. The author can’t help geeking out about his own creation and fanboying about it. Especially if that writer is inexperienced.

      Joseph Smith writes his entire book without doing any of that. If he was indeed the sole author, it was quite a masterful piece of writing.

      • Seth,

        You bring up a valid point. I apologize for digressing a bit off topic from the featured article, but one of my favorite series of books right now is the Wheel of Time, which is an uber-epic fantasy world created by Robert Jordan and (to a very minor extent) LDS Brandon Sanderson. Throughout the exhaustive series of books, Jordan, a highly educated person that was well seasoned in world travels before he started writing professionally, does exactly what you describe – often getting into the gee-wiz parts of his mythical world that the average everyday person who would actually live in that context would never think twice about, and would probably never bother to explain to an audience when articulating the history of his people.

        If the Book of Mormon were a fabrication, this should be a mistake that Joseph would have made, and is thereby a subtle but very strong mark to its authenticity. I appreciate your insight very much.

  8. I enjoyed your essay on another attempt at connecting a rare book to the publishing of the Book of Mormon.

    Aside from Johnson’s dubious claims, are there other connections in the book to the Book of Mormon like: chiasmus, Hebrew-isms, genuine Egyptian names, and other things that the Book of Mormon scholars use for evidence of ancient provenance?

    I know that the book was attempting to copy biblical style so the author could have included these connections IF the author knew about them.

    I also wonder which edition Johnson used for comparison of the two books.
    Did he use the current official edition which had many Hebrew-isms edited out to make for easier reading? Did he use the first edition, which had thousands of typeos in it? Did he use the printer’s copy in which Oliver Cowdery made on average two mistakes per page in copying from the original copy?

    What he should have done is use Skousen’s edition, which is probably the closest in accuracy that we’ll ever get to what was on the original plates.

    Being an amateur without the time or scholarship tools to answer any of these questions, I’d like to see the answers on the Mormon Interpreter
    website in the future.
    Sincerely,
    Robert B. Hawes

  9. Hmmmm…. As a faithful member for 35 years who served as Bishop, gospel doctrine teacher, etc., I keep learning about things I taught that I feel that I shouldn’t have.

    For example, the church disavowing the theories advanced by leaders in the past about blacks and the priesthood…. I really wince at some things we taught that have been disavowed.

    And now reading The Last War, I’m recalling so many things we learned in Institute and by visiting speakers, about what made the Book of Mormon so unique, how you could tell it came from a Semitic language, etc. And so I taught those things in gospel doctrine and high priests, but there many of them are in The Last War, The First Book of Napoleon, and The Koran, just as the big data mining suggested.

    I really wish I’d known about these books before I taught those lessons. I really thought I had done my homework, but this isn’t something I recall ever hearing about.

    • Chris, since you mentioned the new article on blacks and the priesthood, you might want to remember that the theories many members taught each other came from sources other than the first Presidency. When it was declared that the Priesthood was for all worthy members, those folk explanations were disavowed at that time. I have heard such disavowal multiple times prior to the recent article.

      As for the Book of Mormon, we continue to learn new things about it and there is much that is stronger evidence than ever before. What we are also learning is that the imitation of King James language was pretty common in Joseph’s day, and expected for religious texts. The lesson of The Last War is nothing more than the commonality of that kind of language. As for the question of the Book of Mormon’s Semitic origins, we are learning more about that as well. I would encourage you to continue to do your homework and make sure that you are keeping up with the best available scholarship. Fortunately, you have found Interpreter and much of it can be found here (such as the article on which you have commented).

      • As I understand it, Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie advanced those theories about blacks and the priesthood. I agree that these theories have been disavowed now, but I think it incorrect to suggest that they were all conjured up by members, and not advanced by church leaders.

        • I think that Brant was, at least in part, addressing such folk “doctrines” as the so-called “premortal fence-sitters” theory. I do not recall anything like that coming from any First Presidency. Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie were clear that there were no neutrals in the war in heaven. Nonetheless, it is true that not everything that members were teaching each other came from the First Presidency.

  10. Good article. Now, the next thing that needs to be done is for the entire Late War to be reorganized and analyzed for Hebraic structure to see how easily it can be laid out as such, much like Parry (IIRC) did with the Book of Mormon. It will not prove much because The Late War was intentionally written and set using the so-called “oriental vernacular.” But, it would be interesting to see how much of the book really could be fit to such a mold and how many of the parallelistic structures can be substantiated by further, closer analysis with accurate versions of the text.

    Jumping all over alleged parallels between the two texts is like trying to compare the Book of Mormon with Lord of the Rings and showing that a literary genius certainly could come up with the Book of Mormon that is knife-edged in precision so far as details are concerned in most of the book. That might hold up if one does not consider that Lord of the Rings was written over a long period after more than 30 years of research and study of languages to boot, by a scholar trained in translation and biblical studies. Compare that to the Book of Mormon and its putative author, Joseph Smith, and to the length of time the Book of Mormon was written and what little time there was available for research beforehand.

    I read the Late War and just did not see as many comparisons as people claim are there. Even the feel is different, and I am not talking about spiritual feelings when I write that. There are a number of potential parallels there but further analysis still needs to be done over and above what has been done.

  11. This was a wonderful analysis of the Johnson research!! As a mathematician I appreciate someone examining their data and conclusions. It seems many proponents of anti-Mormonism will try to claim that their experiments were unbiased. In Chris Johnson’s own words, “falsehood shrinks into the shadows, hoping never to be tested, with excuses aplenty.”

    I too had a red flag pop up with the mention of Pride and Prejudice, a favorite of mine. There are many additional large sources of error which they admitted on the outset. But the greatest error is the logistical issue of literary influence. There is no accounting for the limitations of publishing and distributing during the time period. How can a rare and unknown text influence such well published, world renowned works and not be known? Is it possible that Jane Austin actually got a hold of a copy of An Officer’s Daughter? Did a limited edition of Late War actually leave the bustling city of New York where it failed to sell and travel to a distant rural community and into the hands of poor farmers? The Book of Mormon had its struggles for proliferation yet met greater success than these rarities.

    I am curious about the correlation of the Koran to the Book of Mormon. Better yet, what about a correlation of the Koran to Late War? Would they conclude that the 1822 translation of the Koran was influenced by Late War? Both were published on different continents with the first steamship crossing in 1819. Geographically speaking, was there even a copy of the 1822 Koran in North America? Joseph Smith would have only a few years to get a hold of it before publishing the Book of Mormon. It is also curios that the Koran is a well known religious text, but they failed to explore the correlation.

    Finally, the text of Late War is a compilation itself. Where did Hunt find the sources for his “history” book? He didn’t attend every battle or make all those journeys. They were related to him. By book? Orally? Oral accounts of history is #6 on the researchers list of error sources.If by book, which books? Where are they? Another fault of their research is the lack of actual books from that time period.

    Thank you for the diligent critique, Ben!

  12. Ben,
    Thanks for your thorough, scholarly, unbiased evaluation. I will have to read it several times to understand it more fully but I desperately needed something like this to help my son who is in a tailspin from the Johnson’s half baked poor science – it has the same look and feel of other anti-mormon opinions, namely underlying the pseudo science is a hidden agenda. Anyway, thanks for keeping it strictly scientific. Just what I needed.
    Steve

  13. Thank you Benjamin for a well thought through analysis of the textual-analysis method linking the Late War with the Book of Mormon. While I lean towards with your conclusions, is it possible that experiments in textual analysis, such as the one being discussed here, serve a purpose in challenging common assumptions about the process of translating the plates? The perceived correlation between the Late War and the Book of Mormon is problematic for some in part because of the assumption that Joseph Smith was GIVEN the exact words, one word at a time, word for word. If this were the case, the chances of repeated textual similarities with other published works would be extremely low, notwithstanding the points you make in your article. But if Joseph was indeed given each unique word, one word at a time, one could ask why he needed a scribe, for he was simply transcribing the exact text given to him via the Urim and Thummin. He could have simply scribed the words himself, for he wasn’t actually translating, he was just repeating what the Urim and Thummin gave him. Perhaps textual analysis such as that being discussed help us to recognise that the translation process may have been a little different than commonly assumed. Perhaps it was as much revelation as it was translation. If Joseph Smith wasn’t actually GIVEN the exact words – like some 19th century version of Google Translate – but needed to construct language to reflect what was revealed to him, it is not unreasonable to assume that some of the words and phrases Joseph used reflected language he was familiar with, be it consciously or sub-consciously.

  14. This comment is not specifically on the outlined analysis and response, but on the suggestion that we cannot realistically evaluate angels and miracles as contributors to the Book of Mormon and its origin.

    I know that folks tend to get focused on physical, material types of sources for possible origins of the Book of Mormon rather than believing Joseph Smith’s reports of divine visitors, specifically the angel Moroni and others, but what is interesting to me is the complete lack of attention or regard for the numerous accounts of spiritual encounters with the individuals identified in the Book of Mormon by Latter-day Saints over the last 180 years since the book’s publication.

    In brief, take the prophet Moses, whose story is in the Bible, as an example. An “independent proof,” albeit a spiritual account, of Moses’ one-time and continued existence is Joseph Smith’s description of the visitation of Moses to bestow priesthood keys for the gathering of Israel (D&C 110). Let’s extend the possibility of such a means of proof, making the argument that such experiences can be counted as valid descriptions of an actual experience (as claimed), and then include all individuals who have described spiritual encounters with beings identified in the Book of Mormon (Alma, Nephi, Moroni, etc.). I have numbered dozens of them by garden-variety Latter-day Saints around the world, who straightforwardly report such spiritual encounters with angels, spiritual beings, or however you want to identify them, who are identified in the Book of Mormon. I would suggest this provides additional evidence affirming Joseph Smith’s explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. I am sure that individuals who do not accept the validity or possibility of such supernatural proofs would have another explanation for the existence of such reports.

    Just a thought.

  15. Everybody has exactly the same body of evidence.

    Why is it that Mormon apologetic arguments and conclusions based on that body of evidence, is persuasive virtually only to believers already committed and invested?

    • That, of course, would depend upon which body of evidence to which you refer. As for myself, any evidence I have found typically comes from careful study of the Book of Mormon, followed by non-purposeful reading of scholarly works outside the LDS tradition. I’ve found quite a few for myself, quite by accident. Perhaps they might not be as persuasive to someone outside the faith but they certainly were of great interest to me when I found them.

      On the other hand, my conversion to the Book of Mormon did not come in the usual way. It came through conversion by the Spirit of God to the Doctrine and Covenants. After coming to accept the Doctrine and Covenants as revelation from God, I determined it would have been foolhardy to reject the Book of Mormon when the Doctrine and Covenants testifies to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Any evidences I found after that time were merely ancillary to the text itself but interesting nonetheless.

      For instance, besides Hebraisms there are Egyptian ideas in the Book of Mormon, as well as Mesoamerican ideas in the Book of Mormon, and these all would be consistent with such a milieu stated for the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon speaks concerning sacrifice of blood, and how it isn’t possible that one man’s blood could be sacrificed for another, but that there must be an infinite atonement, etc.

      “Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.” (Alma 34:11)

      Sacrificing of blood (as opposed to blood sacrifice) was a very Mesoamerican way of doing things. Blood itself was sacrificed there by the Maya and other culture groups. One technique was to draw one’s blood by stabbing and drip the blood on bark paper, which blood on the paper would then be sacrificed by being burned.

      Book of Mormon kingship among the Lamanites shares affinities with Mesoamerican kingship. Among the Maya, persons could be kings of lands, towns, cities, and have kings that would preside over two or more of such kingships, in some cases with a “Great King” presiding over them all. Such can be seen in the Book of Mormon, with Lamanite kings over cities and lands, with a “Great King” presiding over them all. Am I saying that the Maya were the Lamanites? Not at all. This cannot be proven, but it is an interesting parallel nonetheless.

      The very Egyptian idea of gods as gatekeepers also can be seen in the Book of Mormon, notwithstanding this idea cannot be found in the Bible. Nephi describes God as follows:

      “O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.” (2 Nephi 9:41)

      In one of the pyramid texts of Teti we find the following for comparison:

      “Stand at the gates which bar the common people! The gatekeeper comes out to you. He grasps your hand, takes you into heaven…”

      Where would Joseph Smith get such an idea of God as gatekeeper? In popular culture, St. Peter is said to stand in control of the “Pearly Gates” to admit people into heaven. The Book of Mormon puts a check to that idea. Did he just make it up all on his own and this was just a mere coincidence? He could not have gotten the idea from a book. The pyramid texts of Teti were not available to Joseph Smith, or to anyone else in America, in 1830.

      Alma was regarded as a female name. Here comes the Book of Mormon giving the name Alma as an exclusively male name. It was a laugh-getter in a number of circles. In recent times it was offered as one of 43 reasons to reject the Book of Mormon in favor of the Bible, or common sense. And, yet, Alma turned out to be a real Hebrew male name, as was shown in the Bar Kochbah land deed (published in 1977), in the name “Alma son of Judah.” Anti is a name element in the Book of Mormon. It also turns out to be one in Egyptian. Ani is a Book of Mormon name or name element. It turns out also to be an Egyptian name. (There are other Egyptian names but we will not consider those here for now.)

      Even the name Irreantum may well be another interesting evidence. In Egyptian, many names in written texts actually are word-phrases with meaning, or phrase-names. Nefi (spelled the Egyptian way) can be seen in two such phrase-names I have seen. Irreantum also appears to me to be another one of those kinds of phrase-names that would need interpretation into Hebrew or other language, just as it appears in the Book of Mormon. If we break up the Book of Mormon phrase-name into its components, we see the following: Ir re antu m. This could correspond with Egyptian jrrj ntw m or Egyptian Jr r ntw m. Both of these would translate as “more than all bodies of water, which Nephi tells us by interpretation is, “many waters.” For many years I was curious about that name and never really could see anything satisfactory to explain it until the last decade. An attempt was made to correlate it to a South Semitic dialect (and it might still be so, even if not proven) but I instead think it really is an Egyptian name-phrase like those which are ubiquitous in Egyptian written texts. I could not explain the m element at the end until one day while I was flipping through one of the most recent Egyptian lexicons on the market, those of the Hannig series. An entry had a form of m and listed as one definition thereof was “all.” That clinched it for me and it all came together for me, at that time. It could one day turn out to be mistaken. Who knows but God? But it is interesting nonetheless.

      There are many examples that could be provided. The thing I have noticed over the years of my life, though, is that most people outside the faith cannot be bothered to consider the evidence as a whole, or even the statistics underlying the probability that Joseph Smith could have found some of that information when much of it wasn’t known. But, most I have known and with whom I have corresponded won’t even read it all except cursorily. And if all the evidence cannot be considered on the merits rather than merely relying on other peoples’ negative opinions and claims regarding the evidence, how is it that any (who claim such as you have) really would have considered the evidence as a whole for themselves? To each his/her own, I suppose.

    • John, for every person for whom that statement is both true and self-evident, there are others whose testimonies develop differently. For many it is important to know even more about the Book of Mormon. My favorite Hugh Nibley quotation is that “you can never know too much about the Book of Mormon.”

  16. I may have missed this, but was there an analysis between LW and the KJV? Also, someone above commented that the translation is in the language of the time of JS but what I have read or heard recently, ie JS Papers, the language of the BOM is closer to 15th century English. Is LW more like 15th century English? If so then maybe all one needs to do to write 15th century English is to write like scripture. Since LW is written like scripture and the BoM is scripture (or also written like scripture), then why is anyone surprised by the analysis of LW vs BoM?

    • So far as I am aware, they strip out KJV n-grams before running the analysis.

      For LW, that text was deliberately modeled after KJV language by its author, but it was written fairly close to Joseph Smith’s time. It doesn’t surprise me that what is left after stripping out KJV n-grams comes close to Joseph Smith’s vocabulary and use of so-called n-grams for that reason alone.

      Another interesting case study would be in the way the JST contains more of the English style of the period in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as opposed to the way in which it exists in the extant manuscripts and printed texts.

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