Curiously Unique:
Joseph Smith as Author
of the Book of Mormon

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Abstract: The advent of the computer and the internet allows Joseph Smith as the “author” of the Book of Mormon to be compared to other authors and their books in ways essentially impossible even a couple of decades ago. Six criteria can demonstrate the presence of similarity or distinctiveness among writers and their literary creations: author education and experience, the book’s size and complexity, and the composition process and timeline. By comparing these characteristics, this essay investigates potentially unique characteristics of Joseph Smith and the creation of the Book of Mormon.

 

 

Historically, many critics have dismissed the Book of Mormon by classifying its creation as remarkable but not too remarkable. As naturalist Dan Vogel explains: “The Book of Mormon was a remarkable accomplishment for a farm boy …. While Smith continued to produce religious texts, the Book of Mormon remained his most creative, ambitious work in scope and originality.”1 Like Vogel, skeptics commonly assume that human creativity, ambition, and originality can produce texts like the Book of Mormon and imply that past authors have used those abilities to produce similar volumes. Despite such assumptions, no attempts to duplicate his effort or to actively compare Joseph Smith to other authors have been published.

Admittedly, devising a scheme for comparison can be tricky. Multiple variables could be chosen, each detecting a potentially useful parallel or nonparallel. This essay will compare six criteria regarding the author, the book, and the composition process:

  1. [Page 152]Author Age
  2. Author Education
  3. Book word count
  4. Book complexity
  5. Composition timeline
  6. Composition methodology

Each of these elements represents an observable characteristic that can be generally, if not specifically, measured. Other criteria, like authors’ writing experience, book genre, intended audience, language, etc. might have been included and hopefully can be explored in future analyses.

I should point out that none of these criteria seems very useful if isolated from the others. In other words, Joseph Smith recited the Book of Mormon when he was in his mid-twenties, but many other authors of similar age and younger have written impressive novels. Similarly, his schooling was minimal, but limited education has not stopped other authors from writing their manuscripts. The Book of Mormon is long, but thousands of writers have equaled or eclipsed that word count. The complexity of the Book of Mormon is not particularly singular, and many books have been written in short periods of time.

Determining whether the Book of Mormon creation was unique in any observable way requires contrasting multiple characteristics simultaneously. Diagramming all six variables at the same time is not possible, but convergences and divergences can be detected by charting several of the characteristics together.

Joseph, the Book, and the Composition Process

Before attempting any comparisons, details regarding Joseph Smith’s age and education, the Book of Mormon’s length, complexity, and the composition process must be understood.

Joseph Smith’s Age and Education

Born December 23, 1805, Joseph Smith was 23 when he dictated the Book of Mormon and 24 when it was published. Precisely how much education he had acquired by that time is controversial. In 2016, scholar William Davis wrote that Joseph Smith’s “overall estimated time … in formal education” was “equivalent of approximately seven full school years.”2 While Davis’s research is useful, his conclusions seem incomplete for several reasons. First, Davis assumes Joseph attended school without documenting that he actually did. Several reminiscences report he frequently did not show [Page 153]up for classes.3 Second, the vast majority of recollections from individuals who knew Joseph Smith described him as ignorant4 or illiterate.5 Isaac Hale recounted in 1834: “I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. in November, 1825 … His appearance at this time, was that of a careless young man — not very well educated.”6 Lastly, we are not told how “seven full school years” of frontier schooling might compare to modern standards. It would probably be much inferior to a seventh-grade education in the United States in the twenty-first century.

Joseph Smith’s recollection that he was “deprived of the benefit of an education” seems accurate. His statement: “I was merely instructed in reading, writing and the ground rules of arithmetic”7 would place him with about a third-grade education in modern Western schools.8

The Book of Mormon Word Count and Complexity

The 1830 Book of Mormon word count (from computer calculation) is 269,528.9 However, when used to compare to other books, this total could be justifiably modified. Twenty-six chapters in the Book of Mormon closely resemble chapters in the King James Version of the Bible.10 In all, 15,527 similar words could be subtracted, representing approximately 5.8% of the Book of Mormon total. In contrast, Joseph Smith dictated many additional words comprising the Book of Lehi, which were lost by Martin Harris as part of the 116 pages. Since the total number of missing words is unknown, the 1830 Book of Mormon word count (269,528) will be used without modification in this article.11

The complexity of the Book of Mormon can be assessed through general observations, as well as technical measurements. The text mentions the activities of more than 175 individuals and groups who existed in at least 125 different topographical locations.12 Found within the narrative are 337 proper names, of which 188 are unique to the Book of Mormon.13 The chapters reference more than 425 specific geographical movements.14 Also included are 430 identifiable chiasms, with more than thirty being six-level or greater.15 Throughout the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith used more than 100 different names for deity.16 The storyline includes complex words that BYU Professor Roger Terry finds surprising to have been in “Joseph’s ‘available vocabulary’ in 1829.”17 Examples include:

abhorrence, abridgment, affrighted, anxiety, arraigned, breastwork, cimeters, commencement, condescension, consignation, delightsome, depravity, derangement, discernible, disposition, distinguished, embassy, encompassed, enumerated, frenzied, hinderment, [Page 154]ignominious, impenetrable, iniquitous, insensibility, interposition, loftiness, management, nothingness, overbearance, petition, priestcraft, probationary, proclamation, provocation, regulation, relinquished, repugnant, scantiness, serviceable, stratagem, typifying, unquenchable, and unwearyingness.18

Measuring the Readability and Complexity of the Book of Mormon

The specific characteristics mentioned above of the Book of Mormon are essentially impossible to directly compare to other books. Yet multiple analytic calculations have been used for decades to determine text readability and complexity.19 The outcomes of such evaluations can be compared easily. Submitting the text of the 1830 Book of Mormon to the most widely used of these computerized tests reveals a span of recommended reading grades (see appendix):

 

Scale Book of Mormon
Score Suggested Reading Grade
Coleman Liau index 7.92 8
ATOS 9.6 8
Lexile 1150 8 (6–11)
Fry Graph 9–10 9
Dale-Chall Adjusted Grade Level 8.4 11–12
SMOG 12.55 12
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level 15.74 High School plus 2 years
Gunning Fog index 17.69 Post-Graduate year 1
Automated Readability Index (ARI) 17.50 Post-Graduate year 1

 

Averaging these scores places the Book of Mormon reading level around the eleventh grade (high school junior) but with a range from the sixth to post-graduate.

An additional measure of complexity is the Flesch Reading Ease Scale, where the Book of Mormon scores 51–56, which correlates to “Fairly difficult to difficult to read.”20 To put this in context, “Low scores indicate text that is complicated to understand …. For most business writing, a score of 65 is a good target, and scores between 60 and 80 should generally be understood by 12 to 15 year olds.”21
 

[Page 155]Score School Level Notes
100–90 5th grade Very easy to read. Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student.
90–80 6th grade Easy to read. Conversational English for consumers.
7th grade Fairly easy to read.
70–60 8th & 9th grade Plain English. Easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students.
60–50 10th to 12th grade Fairly difficult to read.
50–30 College Difficult to read.
30–0 College graduate Very difficult to read. Best understood by university graduates.

 

The most common of all complexity scales, with more than 300,000 books scored, is the “Lexile Framework for Reading.”22

The Lexile Framework for Reading is a scientific approach to measuring reading ability and the text demand of reading materials. The Lexile Framework involves a scale for measuring both reading ability of an individual and the text complexity of materials encountered. The Lexile scale is like a thermometer, except rather than measuring temperature, the Lexile Framework measures a text’s complexity and a reader’s skill level.23

 

Grade Mid-percentile Range 25th to 75th percentile
1 210 120–295
2 360 170–545
3 590 415–760
4 795 635–950
5 925 770–1080
6 1010 855–1165
7 1080 925–1235
8 1140 985–1295
9 1195 1040–1350
10 1245 1085–1400
11–12 1285 1130–1440

 

[Page 156]The Book of Mormon Lexile score is 1150,24 which correlates to an eighth-grade reading level, with a range that includes some sixth graders and most in the eleventh grade:25

Since many books have been analyzed and assigned Lexile scores, these can be used when comparing authors and their books to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Other popular books with an 1150 Lexile score include Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 364,153 words), Moby Dick, (Herman Melville, 206,052 words), and Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 162,690 words).26

As discussed above, even the most optimistic historical estimates of Joseph Smith’s 1820s education assume seven years of upstate New York district schooling. When presented with this data, Don Bradley, author of a forthcoming book on the lost 116 pages, responded, “People have readily assumed the Book of Mormon was within Joseph Smith’s writing ability, when it’s actually questionable how well it was within his reading ability.”27

Composition Timeline

Several authors have calculated a productivity timeline for the full dictation of the original Book of Mormon.28 The most recent chronology is from John W. Welch, who identified five anchor dates in 182929:

  • April 7, when Oliver Cowdery began scribing in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
  • May 15, the day corresponding to the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood by John the Baptist (D&C 13).
  • May 31, when the Title Page of the Book of Mormon was translated.
  • June 11, when Joseph Smith obtained the copyright from the Library of Congress.
  • June 30, the established date for completion of the translation although it might have been a day or two earlier.

Within this framework, Welch starts with the 85 days between April 7 and June 30 and shows multiple distractions would have prevented Joseph Smith from translating every day. Welch approximates that 11 days were needed for travel, with another deduction of 16 for time spent farming, Sunday observance, doing business, visiting with guests, religious activities, performing needed chores, and other distractions. Another day is subtracted to account for 13 revelations received during those weeks. These reductions support that perhaps 57 days were all that were devoted to translation and writing of the original Book of Mormon manuscript.

[Page 157]Dividing the final word count by 57 days equals about 4,700 words per day. The average adult handwriting speed using a ballpoint pen or pencil is around 68 letters or 13.8 words per minute equating to translation times of just under six hours a day.30 Several observations suggest the process could have taken much longer. Martin Harris asserted that after Joseph dictated a sentence and Martin would write it down, Martin would then say “written” before they would move on.31 In contrast, David Whitmer reported that the scribe wrote down Joseph’s words “exactly as it fell from his lips,” then “the scribe would then read the sentence written” back to Joseph to assure accuracy.32 While the details are less clear, it appears the scribe and Joseph spent addition time trying to assure the text was correctly recorded.33

Also, using a quill and ink reservoir would likely have slowed the process (as compared to handwriting speeds using a pen or pencil). Issues of fatigue for continuous writing are common and might have further slowed the overall progress.34 If breaks were taken for food and other distractions, the process could easily have extended to most of the waking hours.35

David Whitmer recalled: “It was a laborious work for the weather was very warm, and the days were long and they worked from morning till night. But they were both young and strong and were soon able to complete the work.”36 “Elsewhere Whitmer reported: “The boys, Joseph and Oliver, worked hard, early and late, while translating the plates. It was slow work, and they could write only a few pages a day.”37

Composition Methodology

Multiple witnesses declared that Joseph Smith spoke the words of the Book of Mormon rather than personally writing them.38 This observation separates him from more than 99% of all authors who ever published a book.

Historically, the composition technique taught in schools worldwide is called creative writing and comprises three general steps.

  1. Pre-writing: choosing a subject, creating an outline, and performing the required research.
  2. Writing: making the initial draft and combining sections.
  3. Re-writing: revising, content-editing, and all subsequent drafts.39

When dictating a book to a scribe (or stenographer), as Joseph Smith did, step one is restricted to memory, and step three is eliminated. There is no evidence Joseph engaged in step one in any discernable way, [Page 158]although mental preparations would not be detectable. The manuscript went straight to press without step three enhancements.

Dictating a book without pre-writing or re-writing might be called creative dictation. The advent of smart phones and voice-to-text apps has facilitated cell phone users today to produce long manuscripts using creative dictation and thereby attempt to replicate Joseph Smith’s efforts. The need for a scribe is removed by dictating text messages of 20 to 30 words each (the apparent word blocks Joseph spoke to his scribes40) into the app. These are received in order and copied into an expanding document. Before hitting send, grammar and spelling can be corrected, but once sent, the sequence of the sentences cannot be changed.41 The author does not consult manuscripts or books while dictating.42 Repeat this process 10,000 times until a document of roughly 270,000 words is formed that can be sent to a publisher for typesetting and printing.

Creative dictation is more difficult than creative writing because, as Louis Brandeis, who served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939 explained: “There is no good writing; there is only good rewriting.”43 Popular novelist and essayist Robert Louis Stevenson concurred: “When I say writing, O, believe me, it is rewriting that I have chiefly in mind.”44 This inherent limitation of creative dictation is probably why none of the authors in the comparisons charted below elected to recite their books from memory and then send them directly to the printer. Even genius-level intellects today pre-write, write, and rewrite their books prior to completion.45

Throughout the remainder of this article, all the authors listed in the comparisons except Joseph Smith used creative writing techniques, rather than creative dictation, to produce their books. The possible significance of this distinction deserves additional study that is beyond the scope of this essay.46

Automatic Writing

A possible exception to the near universal implementation of creative writing techniques, rather than creative dictation methodology, is “automatic writing.” It occurs when authors produce their texts spontaneously through recitation or other types of communication.47 Automatic writing has two forms. Shorter writings may be induced by psychologists (generally through hypnosis) to discover feelings and memories hidden in a client’s unconscious mind. Psychologist Anita M. Muhl, author of Automatic Writing, explains: “The use of automatic writing in conjunction with psychoanalysis is invaluable in getting at unconscious processes quickly.”48 [Page 159]Naturalists may allege this process explains Joseph Smith’s ability to dictate the Book of Mormon,49 but multiple psychological studies demonstrate the unconscious mind lacks the ability to systematize memory elements or to perform complex cognitive functions.50

A second and much older form of automatic writing is also called “spirit writing” or “channeling.”51 Irving Litvag explicates: “One type of psychic activity, known as ‘automatic writing,’ began to attract attention through the activities of a group of mediums, mostly English, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Automatic writing involves the reception and transcription of various types of communications in written form. The medium claims to have no control over the writing that is produced.”52 This latter form can produce very long manuscripts even lengthier than the Book of Mormon. Their authors universally attribute the words they produce to extra-worldly sources.53

Since secular theorists disallow supernatural influences, they generally credit all the words generated by automatic writers to their unconscious minds54 or charge them with deception (including self-deception).55 No prospective scientific experiments have demonstrated that automatic writing can produce manuscripts like the Book of Mormon. All studies and conclusions are based upon retrospective analyses of existing manuscripts. Consequently, possible parallels between the Book of Mormon and automatic writings await reproducible data identifying the naturalistic methodologies ostensibly employed by the writers including Joseph Smith.

Comparing Young Writers

Throughout the remainder of this essay, the potential for one or more of the lists to be incomplete should not be ignored. Even with the information readily obtainable on the Internet, identifying all writers that are pertinent to each category below might not be possible. Acknowledging that hundreds of thousands of books have been printed in English over past centuries, the lists below compare more popular titles primarily because those are more publicly known. If any of the following compilations have missed a particular author who parallels Joseph Smith more closely, it is independent of my earnest attempts to be absolutely thorough. Scrutiny is encouraged and suggestions for expansion and modification are welcome.

Throughout recorded history, young writers have tried their quills, pencils, pens, typewriters, and keyboards at book-writing. Born [Page 160]December 16, 1775, Jane Austen began in her twenties writing novels that are still popular today.56
 

Author Education at Time of Publication First Book Title Age when Published Word Count Lexile
Taylor Caldwell Public schools The Romance of Atlantis 12 73,320 n/a
Zlata Filipović Public schools Zlata’s Diary 13 74,400 640
Alexandra Adornetto Secondary school The Shadow Thief 14 64,480 1060
Nancy Yi Fan Secondary school Swordbird 14 79,360 760
Flavia Bujor Secondary school The Prophecy of the Stones 14 124,000 830
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes High school In the Forests of the Night 15 54,560 900
Isamu Fukui High school Truancy 15 133,920 960
Malala Yousafzai Private school I Am Malala 16 114,080 1000
Beth Reekles Secondary school The Kissing Booth 16 138,880 780
Catherine Webb Secondary school Mirror Dreams 16 97,200 n/a
Pamela Brown High school The Swish of the Curtain 17 99,200 n/a
Gordon Korman High school I Want to Go Home! 18 57,040 n/a
Alex Harris College Do Hard Things 18 99,200 n/a
Percy Bysshe Shelley Secondary school Zastrozzi 18 101,600 n/a
Suresh Guptara Secondary school The Conspiracy of Calaspia 18 186,000 n/a
[Page 161]S.E. Hinton High school The Outsiders 19 69,440 750
Arthur Rimbaud Secondary school A Season in Hell 19 106,020 1080
Georgette Heyer High school The Black Moth 19 120,900 n/a
Christopher Paolini High School Eragon 19 163,680 710
Esther Earl High school This Star Won’t Go Out 20 138,800 960
Mary Shelley Home tutoring Frankenstein 21 51,460 900
Helen Oyeyemi Secondary school The Icarus Girl 21 109,120 n/a
Maureen Daly High school Seventeenth Summer 21 119,040 1130
Matthew Gregory Lewis College The Monk 21 128,960 990
Jessica Khoury College Origin 22 133,920 740
Samantha Shannon College The Bone Season 22 173,600 n/a
Eleanor Catton Secondary school The Rehearsal 23 106, 160 n/a
Carson McCullers College The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter 23 114,080 760
F. Scott Fitzgerald College This Side of Paradise 24 53,940 1070
Zoe Sugg College Girl Online 24 109,120 720
Joseph Smith Frontier school Book of Mormon 24 269,528 1150

 

How does the length of the Book of Mormon compare to the first books published by other young authors in the past centuries? The names of writers of 24 years and younger (whom I have been able to identify), their educations, [Page 162]books, word counts (for books of more than 50,000 words), publishing ages, and Lexile scores (when available) are charted above.57

The chart indicates that Joseph Smith’s education was less than that of any of the other authors except perhaps Mary Shelley. The word count of the Book of Mormon surpasses the next lengthy volume by more than 80,000 words, nearly a 50% increase.

While not a specific criterion, only three of the books on the chart were published before the Book of Mormon: The Monk (128,960 words) by Matthew Gregory Lewis in 1796, Zastrozzi (101,600 words) by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1810, and Frankenstein (51,460 words) by Mary Shelley in 1818. For that era, the Book of Mormon word count more than doubled the works of previous young authors.58

Also, the Lexile score of the Book of Mormon is higher, although many books have no score available. The lower Lexile scores of young writers are generally unsurprising, since writers generally draw from their own life’s experiences or from expansions of those experiences coupled with imagination. Most youthful authors will have limited and less mature material to reference. Their books are generally written for readers between grades 5–9 with science fiction, fantasy, and romance themes being common.

Prolific Young Writers

Several youthful writers, whose first books were much shorter than the Book of Mormon, immediately proceeded to write additional volumes. Their cumulative total word counts exceeded 269,528 by the time they reached 24 years, the age when Joseph Smith printed the Book of Mormon.

Catherine Webb published her first book, Mirror Dreams, by age sixteen and had almost a million words in print by age 24.59 While none of her books have been assigned a Lexile score,60 her early target audience seems to have been older elementary school children.61 On her personal website blog, she described some of her early writing experiences: “I actually won a prize for how much I used the library …. I have written sizeable chunks of novels in numerous libraries, and been shushed for typing too loud.”62

Born April 16, 1984, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes began writing her first novel in May of 1997, completing her manuscript by the end of the year. After additional revisions, the 53,680-word In the Forests of the Night was published in 1999. With a Lexile score of 770, it targeted fourth and fifth graders. By her 24th birthday, Atwater-Rhodes had published more than 600,000 words.

 

[Page 163]Book Year Published Age Word Count Lexile
In the Forests of the Night 1999 15 53,680 770
Demon in My View 2000 16 58,560 820
Shattered Mirror 2001 17 107,360 790
Midnight Predator 2002 18 78,080 780
Hawksong 2003 19 78,080 930
Snakecharm 2004 20 53,680 940
Falcondance 2005 21 63,440 870
Wolfcry 2006 22 63,440 870
Wyvernhail 2007 23 53,070 830
Persistence of Memory 2008 24 68,320 860
Total 677,710

 

In a question-and-answer forum posted online, Atwater-Rhodes explained her early writing: “I started my first ‘novel’ in first grade …. In second grade I tried to co-write a novel called The Hope to Get Out with my best friend. Shortly after, my father allowed me the use of his computer and I began a story about people who lived on rafts …. I love to write; I tell the stories for myself, because I want to know how they go.”63

A third prolife young author, Christopher Paolini, has become more famous than the others. Born in 1983, he authored his first book, Eragon in 2002 at age nineteen, which was made into a big-budget movie in 2006 that opened to mixed reviews.
 

Book Year Published Age Word Count Lexile
Eragon 2002 19 163,680 710
Eldest 2005 22 218,240 970
Bresingr 2008 25 248,000 1050
Total 629,920

 

Homeschooled by his parents, by the age of three Christopher was “comfortably working at a first-grade level.”64 When a teen, he entered public schools, earning his high school diploma at age 15. At that time, Reed College in Portland, Oregon, offered him a full college scholarship, but his father thought he was too young to enroll.65 Instead, Christopher tried his hand at fictional writing, publishing Eragon four years later. His biographer explains the process:

[Page 164]Paolini had ideas swimming around in his head, but he realized that he knew very little about the actual art of writing — for example, how to construct a plot line. So he set out to do some research. He studied several books on writing, including Characters and Viewpoint (1988) by Orson Scott Card and Robert McKee’s Story (1997), which helped him to sketch out a nine-page summary. Paolini then spent the next year fleshing out his story, writing sporadically at first, but then picking up the pace. The task went much more quickly after he learned how to type….

Paolini spent the bulk of 2000 reworking his first draft, smoothing out problems and fine-tuning such things as language and landscape…. By 2001 Paolini had a second draft, but he was still not satisfied, so he turned the book over to his parents for editing. They helped him streamline some of the plot sequences, clarify some of the concepts, and pare back some of what Paolini called “the bloat.” … In 2002 the Paolinis had Eragon published privately.66

In the years that followed, Paolini continued to write consistently every day from his home. He told an interviewer: “I get bolts of inspiration about once every three months … and between those bolts of inspiration the writing, while enjoyable, is definitely work. And I just treat it like a job. Every day I get up, I sit down, and I work on the book.”67 Paolini encouraged aspiring authors: “Read everything you can get your hands on …. Reading is probably the single most important skill I’ve learned in my life.”68

While the ages and literary productivity of these authors are impressive, when compared to Joseph Smith, divergences are detected regarding their levels of education, books’ complexities, and composition methods.

One Hit Wonders and Repeat Authors

As the author of only one lengthy book, Joseph Smith joined the club of one-hit-wonder authors or books that became popular but were not followed by additional books. The authors seemed satisfied with a single literary success:
 

[Page 165]One-Hit Wonder Authors Compared
Author Education Book Age Words Lexile
Anna Sewell Elementary Black Beauty 57 59,520 760
John Kennedy Toole College A Confederacy of Dunces 43 125,550 800
Arthur Golden College Memoirs of a Geisha 41 134,540 1000
Margaret Mitchell College Gone with the Wind 36 418,053 1100
Harper Lee Law school To Kill a Mockingbird 34 119,040 1120
Sylvia Plath College The Bell Jar 31 89,280 1140
Emily Bronte Academy Wuthering Heights 29 128,960 880
Joseph Smith Frontier school Book of Mormon 24 269,528 1150

 

Historically, a more common pattern for authors is to start their writing careers with shorter volumes that remain less known, only to later compose a book that might be considered their magnum opus:
 

Authors of Popular Books of More than 250,000 Words
Author Education First Book Age Words Popular Book Age Words
George Eliot Middle School Adam Bede 40 213,323 Middlemarch 52 316,059
Vikram Seth College The Golden Gate 34 99,200 A Suitable Boy 41 591,554
Ayn Rand College We the Living 31 143,840 The Fountainhead 38 311,596
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Academy Poor Folk 25 54,336 Brothers Karamazov 58 364,153
Leo Tolstoy College Childhood 24 40,783 War and Peace 37 587,287
Larry McMurtry College Horseman, Pass By 24 59,520 Lonesome Dove 49 365,712
Joseph Smith Frontier Schooling. Book of Mormon 24 269,528

 

As the author of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith could have written sequels or prequels. Continuing to describe Lamanite activities after 400 AD would have been a natural second volume, maybe involving an unknown Nephite population. Or he may have afterwards penned [Page 166]a narrative describing the journey of the Mulekites who left Jerusalem to come to the American continent where they were discovered by the Nephites.69 While he produced no additional Book of Mormon genre manuscripts, his early death allows only speculations on what he might have composed later in life.

Books Written in Fewer than Nine Weeks

Several online sources have compiled lists of books written in four to six weeks.70 This time span is shorter than the total translation days of the Book of Mormon of between 57 to 85 days. Even nine to 13 weeks is fast compared to the time generally required to write a lengthy manuscript. For example, Eleanor Catton related her speed in writing her 2008 debut novel, The Rehearsal (104,160 words): “I wrote the bulk of the novel in quite a short period of time – about eighty thousand words in eight months – and during that time I really immersed myself in the novel’s world.”71 She also explained her writing technique: “I spent a lot of time with my thesaurus.”72

Comparing these writers shows that in each case, they were older and more educated that Joseph Smith. With one exception, their books are generally less complicated. Even doubling the word counts to compensate for the added time needed to create the Book of Mormon does not reach Joseph’s word production.
 

Books Written in Fewer than Nine Weeks
Author Education Book Age Words Lexile
Elizabeth Jenkins College The Tortoise and the Hare 49 89,280 n/a
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Academy The Gambler 46 39,060 1050
Ian Fleming College Casino Royale 45 58,280 n/a
Anthony Burgess College A Clockwork Orange 45 66,030 1310
Muriel Spark College The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 43 49,600 1120
Mickey Spillane College I, the Jury 39 82,604 n/a
John Boyne College The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas 37 66,650 1010
Jack Kerouac College On the Road 35 90,830 930
[Page 167]Graham Greene College The Confidential Agent 35 64,480 880
William Faulkner College As I Lay Dying 33 82,770 870
Charles Dickens Academy A Christmas Carol 31 28,944 920
Arthur Conan Doyle Physician A Study In Scarlet 28 35,340 1020
Joseph Smith Frontier Book of Mormon 24 269,528 1150

 

Charting Authors’ Lifetime Productivity

An additional approach to compare authors plots their ages and productivity over time. Starting with Joseph Smith, his literary creations begin by first excluding the lost 116 pages, which are unavailable. His first written documents included two revelations, one dictated July of 1828, now Doctrine and Covenants section 3 (609 words) and possibly parts of section 10 (1937 words).73 The text of the Book of Mormon followed the next year. Then, between 1829 and 1832, came the Book of Moses, along with dozens of revelations.

The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) began in early 1831 and was mostly completed by mid-1833. Determining a word count is difficult because the Biblical revisions were recorded at different times, in different ways, and on different types of paper.74 The 1979 LDS scriptures includes Joseph’s more significant changes to the King James Bible yielding 13,976 words of JST text. For simplicity, this number (split over the years 1831–1833) will be used in this study to represent the Joseph Smith Translation.

Beyond 1832, a few revelations were dictated during the remaining twelve years of his life, but no other book-length manuscripts were seemingly anticipated or produced. Charting Joseph Smith’s published word counts (Figure 1) shows a rapid expansion of productivity between ages 23 and 24 that quickly diminished throughout the remainder of his life.

 
[Page 168]

Figure 1. Joseph Smith’s word counts, by age.

Comparing Joseph Smith to J. R. R. Tolkien

Joseph Smith has occasionally been compared to J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote the three-volume work, The Lord of the Rings.75 While not complimenting either author or book, Yale Professor Harold Bloom wrote in 1999: “Sometimes, reading Tolkien, I am reminded of the Book of Mormon.”76

Similarly, the authors of the MormonThink essay titled “Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?” (available online) list Tolkien’s works as a parallel in complexity: “The Book of Mormon is no more complicated than other works of fiction, such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and related works.”77 So if the complexity and word counts were similar, do other parallels also exist concerning the authors’ ages and education or the composition process of the books?

Born in 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien received a typical English education until age 19 when he enrolled at Exeter College, Oxford, graduating four years later. Technically, his first publication was A Middle English Vocabulary at age 30, but his first fantasy book came later after seven years of writing. The 97,364-word, The Hobbit, published in 1937 received wide acclaim.78 Years later Tolkien finished the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.
 

[Page 169]Words Age Name
94,903 30 A Middle English Vocabulary
97,364 45 The Hobbit
44,640 57 Farmer Giles of Ham
177,227 62 The Fellowship of the Ring
143,436 62 The Two Towers
134,462 63 The Return of the King
94,240 70 The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
54,560 72 Tree and Leaf
49,600 75 Smith of Wootton Major
20,770 75 The Road Goes Ever On
9,920 82 Bilbo’s Last Song

 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s word count output over time contrasts with that of Joseph Smith, as shown in Figure 2. The chart shows that Joseph Smith’s major book-writing occurred much earlier than that of Tolkien, who composed his well-known fairy tale after years of writing experience and academic activity.79

 

Figure 2. Word count comparisons, by age, for Joseph Smith and J. R. R. Tolkien.

[Page 170]Comparing Joseph Smith to William Shakespeare

Some critics reason that if Shakespeare, who started at a relatively young age, could write all the plays he did, then Joseph Smith could author the Book of Mormon. For example, the MormonThink essay also discusses “extraordinary accomplishments by others” and writes: “Shakespeare —need we say more?”80 Perhaps a more detailed comparison would  be helpful to discern whether a genuine parallel between the authors actually exists.

The most accepted date for Shakespeare’s birth is April 23, 1564. Little is documented concerning his youth, but scholars believe he attended a local grammar school where he would have encountered an emphasis on memorization, writing, and the Latin classics.81 Shakespeare wrote his first two plays at age 26, Henry VI, parts II and III, with a combined word count of 49,733. For the next 22 years with one exception, he produced between 16,633 words and 63,133 words each year:
 

Age Word Count Age Word Count
26 49,733 38 23,009
27 21,607 39 0
28 43,979 40 48,230
29 41,798 41 43,269
30 63,133 42 24,905
31 38,934 43 44,710
32 42,063 44 18,529
33 50,268 45 27,565
34 47,276 46 24,914
35 61,230 47 16,633
36 52,402 48 41,758
37 26,089

 

During his lifetime Shakespeare composed at least 38 plays and more than 150 short and long poems. His productivity and the complexity of his works are very impressive.

As demonstrated in Figure 3, Shakespeare’s play-writing abilities manifested themselves first at age 26. Then for the next two decades, new plays and poems flowed as a steady stream from his mind and imagination. At his death in 1616 (age 52), he had produced more than 850,000 words. In contrast, Joseph Smith’s lifetime literary output [Page 171]was less, approximately 420,000 words. But more than 85% of them emerged from Joseph by the time he reached his 26th birthday on December 23, 1831. In other words, the vast majority of the Prophet’s revelations, translations, and dictations were finished by the age at which Shakespeare had completed his first play.

 

Figure 3. Word count comparisons, by age, for Joseph Smith and William Shakespeare.

To summarize, Joseph Smith was slightly younger, with less formal schooling, who completed most of his words in a shorter time span than Shakespeare.

Comparing Joseph Smith to J. K. Rowling

Another comparison to a more modern author would juxtapose Joseph Smith with J. K. Rowling, author of the popular Harry Potter series. Rowling published her first volume, the 77,325-word Philosopher’s Stone at age 32. Other volumes soon followed. The graph of their word productions (Figure 4) shows both authors completed long complicated books, but their ages and productivity patterns differed.

Charting These Four Authors

While certainly not representing an exhaustive study, a snapshot of Joseph Smith, Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Rowling together, shown in Figure 5, shows that Joseph’s early burst of creativity without subsequent productivity contrasts the writing patterns of the other authors. They [Page 172]all started later in life with writing that continued steadily or increased over time.

 

Figure 4. Word count comparisons, by age, for Joseph Smith and J. K. Rowling.


 

Figure 5. Word count comparisons, by age, for four authors.

Other differences can be identified in that all these writers had more education and wrote their words at a slower pace than that at which Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon text.

[Page 173]Comparing Joseph Smith to Orson Pratt

In 1835, Church leaders hired Joshua Seixas to teach Hebrew to 40 students over the course of seven weeks. In that class Joseph Smith’s intellectual abilities were put to the test. While he apparently worked very hard, he was not the top student. BYU Professor Matthew Grey explains:

Joseph Smith was proud to be in a group of advanced students that included W. W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, Orson Hyde, and Orson Pratt who were singled out by Seixas to receive additional instruction …. Upon completion of the initial seven-week course, Seixas issued two certificates of Hebrew proficiency to Mormon leaders, one to Joseph, and one to Orson Pratt. It is sometimes claimed that Joseph was the best student of the class, but of the two, Orson Pratt’s certificate qualified him to teach the language while Joseph Smith’s indicated that “by prosecuting the study he will be able to become proficient in Hebrew.”82

Later in life, Orson Pratt wrote several complicated books and pamphlets allowing his literary accomplishments to be compared to Joseph’s. The chart shown in Figure 6 is seemingly unremarkable but documents Pratt’s beginning his writing career later in life. While Orson’s ability to learn Hebrew surpassed Joseph Smith’s, it is impossible to discover whether he bested the Prophet intellectually in any other area.

Joseph Smith: Curiously Unique

This examination of authors and their writings attempts to identify parallels to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. By comparing authors’ ages and education, the complexity and length of their books, and their composition techniques and timelines, single, double, and even triple parallels can be found. Yet overall, it appears that if Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon from his own intellect, his efforts as an author stand out as curiously unique.

 
[Page 174]

Figure 6. Word count comparisons, by age, for Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt.

Appendix: Readability and Complexity Scores
of the Book of Mormon

While currently there are dozens of formulas to calculate complexity and readability of a text, a handful are more commonly used.83 By evaluating a document’s sentence length, word length, number of word syllables and presence of challenging words, a level of comprehension difficulty is calculated. Readability pioneer author Rudolf Flesch explains:

When you read a passage, your eyes and mind focus on successive points on the page. Each time this happens, you form a tentative judgment of what the words mean up to that point. Only when you get to a major punctuation mark — a period, a colon, a paragraph break — does your mind stop for a split second, sum up what it has taken in so far, and arrive at a final meaning of the sentence or paragraph. The longer the sentence, the more ideas your mind has to hold in suspense until its final decision on what all the words mean together. Longer sentences are more likely to be complex — more subordinate clauses, more prepositional phrases and so on. That means more mental work for the reader. So the longer a sentence, the harder it is to read.

[Page 175]Exactly the same thing is true of words. Some words are short and simple, others are long and complex. The complexity shows up in the prefixes and suffixes. Take is a simple. short word that doesn’t present much difficulty to a reader. But unmistakably has the prefixes un- and mis- and the suffixes -able and -ly and gives the mind much more to think about than take.84

Calculations derived from the text can be used to determine reading grade recommendations.85 Besides counting words and characters, some scales also employ lists of difficult words to further distinguish reading difficulty for grade school students. The following tests have been applied to the Book of Mormon.
 

Scale Book of Mormon
Score Suggested Reading Grade
Coleman Liau index 7.92 8
ATOS 9.6 8
Lexile 1150 8 (6–11)
Fry Graph 9–10 9
Dale-Chall Adjusted Grade Level 8.4 11–12
SMOG 12.55 12
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level 15.74 High School plus 2 years
Gunning Fog index 17.69 Post-Graduate year 1
Automated Readability Index (ARI) 17.50 Post-Graduate year 1

 

Coleman Liau Index: (Book of Mormon 7.92)

Rather than working with syllables per word and sentence lengths, “The Coleman Liau Index relies on characters and uses computerized assessments to understand characters more easily and accurately.”86 The Book of Mormon’s score of 7.92 supports that a near-eighth grade education would be sufficient for understanding.

ATOS : (Book of Mormon 9.6)

ATOS is an acronym for Advantage/TASA Open Standard.87 “ATOS takes into account the most important predictors of text complexity — average sentence length, average word length, and word [Page 176]difficulty level.”88 At 9.6, the ATOS score supports an eighth-grade reading level for the Book of Mormon.

Lexile Framework for Learning: (Book of Mormon 1150)

As discussed in the text, the Lexile score measures sentence length and word frequency as overall indications of semantic and syntactic complexity.89 The proprietary system is widely used, but demands educational financial resources to implement. The Book of Mormon’s score of 1150 represents an eighth-grade reading level with a span between sixth and eleventh.

Fry Graph: (Book of Mormon 9)

The Fry Graph plots the number of sentences per 100 words (Book of Mormon is 2.56) against the number of syllables per 100 words (Book of Mormon is 131). The resulting point on the graph (see Figure 7) identifies a ninth grade reading level.
 

Figure 7. A rendition of the Fry Graph90

Dale-Chall Readability Formula:
(Book of Mormon adjusted 8.4)

The Dale-Chall Readability Formula employs a list of about 3000 words that would be in the vocabulary of up to 80% of fourth graders (around age 10). Words not found on that list may be considered difficult and [Page 177]are included in the formula. The Book of Mormon adjusted score is 8.4, making it understandable to the average 11th or 12th grade student.91

SMOG: (Book of Mormon 12.55)

SMOG is an acronym for “Simple Measure of Gobbledygook.” The SMOG Index estimates the years of education a person needs to comprehend a piece of writing by assessing the sentence count and the number of polysyllabic (more than three syllables) words in those sentences.92 “The grades are supposed to be those which a reader needs to ensure complete comprehension.”93 The Book of Mormon score of 12.55 correlates to the twelfth grade or having completed high school.

Flesch Kincaid Grade level: (Book of Mormon 15.74)

The Flesch Kincaid grade level readability formula is oldest and most widely used readability index. It is based upon the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word. After multiplying by predetermined coefficients, the final number is the grade recommendation in the U.S. education system. According to this scale, the Book of Mormon at 15.74 would be suited to college juniors and seniors.

Gunning Fog index: (Book of Mormon 17.7)

The Gunning Fog Index is calculated based upon the numbers of words, sentences and complex words, which are defined as having three or more syllables. The Book of Mormon’s score of 17.69 suggests that a person would need at least 17 years of formal schooling in order to “comprehend a passage of text on the first reading.” “A Gunning Fox Index score of 7 or 8 is ideal,” recommends an online source “Anything higher than 12 is too complex for most people to read. Popular magazines, such as TIME and the Wall Street Journal. average Gunning Fog scores of 11, while Shakespeare has a Gunning Fog Index of about 6.”94

ARI (Automated Readability Index):
(Book of Mormon 17.50)

The ARI combines calculations of the characters per word with the number of words per sentence to generate “an estimate of the U.S. grade level necessary to comprehend a passage of text.” 95 The Book of Mormon’s score of 17.5 supports that post-graduate education might be necessary to understand it.

 

 

[Page 178]1. Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), 466.
2. William Davis, “Reassessing Joseph Smith Jr.’s Formal Education,” Dialogue 49, no. 4 (Winter 2016): 46.
3. See Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 14–15; Perry Benjamin Pierce, “The Origin of the ‘Book of Mormon,'” American Anthropologist 1 (October 1899): 677, 680; William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883), 6.
4. See George Peck ed., “Mormonism and the Mormons,” Methodist Quarterly Review 25 (1843): 112; Orlando Saunders, William Van Camp, and John H. Gilbert, quoted in “The Early Days of Mormonism,” Lippincott’s Magazine 26 (August 1880): 198; John W. Barber and Henry Howe, Historical Collection of the State of New York (New York: S. Tuttle, 1841), 580–1.
5. Jonathan Hadley, “Golden Bible,” Palmyra Freeman, (August 11, 1829); Daniel Hendrix in “Origin of Mormonism. Joe Smith and His Early Habits. How He Found the Golden Plates. A Contemporary of the Prophet Relates Some Interesting Facts,” San Francisco Chronicle (May 14, 1893), 12; William H. Kelley, “The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon,” Saints’ Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 166.
6. Isaac Hale quoted in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed: or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, Ohio: E. D. Howe, 1834), 262–63.
[Page 179]7. Joseph Smith, “History, Circa Summer 1832,” in Histories: Volume 1, Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, vol. 1, eds. Karen Lynn Davidson et al. (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 11 (spelling and punctuation corrected and standardized).
8. Davis, “Reassessing Joseph Smith Jr.’s Formal Education,” 10–11. Davis writes that Joseph’s school curriculum would have been “more accurately depicted” if he had included: “reading, writing, arithmetic, basic rhetoric, composition, geography, and history” (italics added). Despite this opinion, virtually all references to district school curriculums in the United States in the 1810s and early 1820s fail to include either rhetoric or composition. “The great majority of the one-room elementary schools which sprang up over America in the early nineteenth century” write R. Freeman Butts and Lawrence A. Cremin, “were simple institutions providing a simple educational fare …. Reading, spelling, writing, and arithmetic constituted the principle elements in the offering. (R. Freeman Butts and Lawrence A. Cremin, A History of Education in American Culture [New York: Henry Holt, 1953], 269–70.) Studying composition would have required Joseph to acquire paper and ink, expensive items in rural America at that time.
9. This Book of Mormon word count was calculated using Microsoft Word and the text from, “Book of Mormon, 1830,” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed December 21, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/book-of-mormon-1830/1, after removing the witnesses’ testimonies, copyright page, and bracketed insertions.
10. Compare 1 Nephi 20–21 to Isaiah 48–49 (1654 words), 2 Nephi 7–8 to Isaiah 50–51 (1218 words), 2 Nephi 12–24 to Isaiah 2–14 (7548 words), 2 Nephi 27 to Isaiah 13 (611 words), Mosiah 14 to Isaiah 53 (392 words), Mosiah 15 to Isaiah 52 part (40 words), 3 Nephi 12–14 to Matthew 5–7 (2755 words), 3 Nephi 22 to Isaiah 54 (508 words), 3 Nephi 24–25 to Malachi 3–4 (801 words) for a total of 15,527 words.
11. A sidebar discussion asks why Joseph Smith would write such a long book. Book of Mormon scholar Grant Hardy observed: “If the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon were to function as a sign — as tangible evidence that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God — that mission could have been [Page 180]accomplished much more concisely … A longer tome might be more impressive to some, but it would put off other readers, in addition to offering a broader target for critics. In any case, the book represents a significant amount of work on the part of Joseph Smith and his scribes” (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide [New York: Oxford, 2010], 5). The New Testament has 138,020 words and the Qur’an 77,701. A commonly accepted rule today recommends a 60,000 to 80,000-word range for general novels, allowing more than 100,000 words for thrillers or more complicated plots. Driving these numbers is public preference. Longer novels may discourage readers before they begin, especially for an author’s very first book.
12. See John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, (Provo, UT: FARMS), 217– 326.
13. Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Book of Mormon Names,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1:186.
14. See Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, 217–326.
15. Modified from Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted according to Parallelistsic Patterns (Provo, UT: FARMS., 1992); James T. Duke, The Literary Masterpiece Called the Book of Mormon (Springville, UT: CFI, 2004), 116.
16. Earl M. Wunderli, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2013), 329–33.
17. Roger Terry, “The Book of Mormon Translation Puzzle,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 23, (2014): 182. Terry observes that most of these words “do not appear in the Bible.”
18. Emma Smith reported that, while dictating, when Joseph “came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out” (Quoted in Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9 [October 1916]: 454.)
19. “Tests Document Readability: Readability Calculator,” Online Utility, accessed December 21, 2018, https://www.online-utility.org/english/readability_test_and_improve.jsp; “ATOS for Text,” Renaissance, accessed December 21, 2018, http://www1.renaissance.com/Products/Accelerated-Reader/ATOS/ATOS-Analyzer-for-Text; “Readability Formulas”, Readability Formulas, accessed December 18, 2018, [Page 181]http://www.readabilityformulas.com/; “Free Lexile Analyzer,” Lexile Framework for Reading, accessed December 21, 2018, https://la-tools.lexile.com/free-analyze/.
20. “Tests Document Readability: Readability Calculator,” Online Utility.
21. “Flesch-Kincaid,” Readability Test Tool, accessed December 21, 2018, https://www.webfx.com/tools/read-able/gunning-fog.html.
22. “What Does the Lexile Measure Mean?”, The Lexile Framework for Reading, accessed December 18, 2018, https://doe.sd.gov/octe/documents/WhatDoestheLexileMeasureMean.pdf.
23. “Understanding Lexile Measures,” Lexile Framework for Reading, accessed December 18, 2018, https://lexile.com/about-lexile/lexile-overview/.
24. The Lexile Framework for Reading, Publisher Report, containing the certified Lexile score for the text of the 1830 Book of Mormon was issued August 17, 2017, commissioned by Brian C. Hales for LDS Answers, Inc. Due to the lack of an ISBN number for the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the Lexile score is not included in the Lexile score database at Lexile Framework for Reading, accessed September 2, 2018, https://lexile.com.
25. See “How Do Lexile Measures Relate to Grade Levels?” Lexile Framework for Reading, accessed September 2, 2018, https://lexile.com/educators/measuring-growth-with-lexile/lexile-measures-grade-equivalents/; See also Gary L. Williamson et al, “The Text Complexity Continuum in Grades 1–12,” (report, MetaMetrics Research Brief, October 1, 2012), https://metametricsinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Research_Brief-Text_Continuum_Grades_1–12_1.pdf.
26. Scores can be obtained at “Book Results,” The Lexile Framework for Reading, accessed December 18, 2018, https://fab.lexile.com/.
27. Don Bradley to author, December 19, 2018, used by permission.
28. John W. Welch, ed., Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844. 2nd ed., (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2017), 79–125. See also Elden J. Watson, “Approximate Book of Mormon Translation Timeline,” April 1995, http://www.eldenwatson.net/BoM.htm. John W. Welch, “How long did it take Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon?” Ensign [Page 182](January 1988), https://churchofjesuschrist.org/ensign/1988/01/i-have-a-question/how-long-did-it-take-joseph-smith-to-translate-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng. See also John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, “How Long Did It Take to Translate the Book of Mormon?” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1110&index=1.
29. John W. Welch, “Hours Never to Be Forgotten: Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” YouTube video, 1:17:48, November 16, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT4bF3g4yHA.
30. David Bledsoe, Jr., “Handwriting Speed in an Adult Population,” Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners 27, no. 22 (2011): 10, http://rehab-insider.advanceweb.com/handwriting-speed-in-an-adult-population-30461/. Another study measuring maximum handwriting speeds of 36 adults using a pen and paper reported an average speed of 97 characters per minute for one hour of the testing time. (R. A. Hardcastle and C. J. Matthews, “Speed of writing,” Journal of the Forensic Science Society 31, no. 1 [January 1991]: 25.) John W. Welch estimated between 15 and 20 words per minute. See Welch, “Hours Never to Be Forgotten.”
31. Welch, Opening the Heavens, 149, 151.
32. Ibid., 166, see also 175.
33. Royal Skousen, “How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7, no. 1 (1998): 25–27.
34. Hardcastle and Matthews, “Speed of writing,” 26–27.
35. Skeptic Dan Vogel disagrees, writing that Joseph “averaged about 8 pages per day, which could be done in a few hours; he therefore had the rest of the day to think of what to dictate next, perhaps while praying in the woods or skipping stones with Harris” (Dan Vogel, email message to author, December 22, 2015). Vogel’s timeline appears too optimistic and contradicts several witnesses’ accounts.
36. David Whitmer, quoted in James H. Hart, “About the Book of Mormon,” Deseret Evening News, March 25, 1884.
37. E. C. Briggs, letter to the editor, The Saints’ Herald 31, no. 25 (June 21, 1884): 396.
[Page 183]38. The following men and women reported Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon text while placing his face in a hat holding a seer stone: Martin Harris, David Whitmer, William Smith, Isaac Hale, Joseph Knight Sr., Emma Smith, Alva Hale, Elizabeth Whitmer Cowdery, Michael Morse, Joseph Lewis, and possibly Thurlow Weed. See Welch, Opening the Heavens, 126–227.
39. See Jean Wyrick, Steps to Writing Well, 12th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 2014).
40. Skousen, “How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon,” 25–27.
41. See Brian C. Hales, “Why Joseph Smith’s Dictation of the Book of Mormon Is Simply Jaw-Dropping,” LDS Living, November 10, 2018, http://www.ldsliving.com/Why-Joseph-Smiths-Dictation-of-the-Book-of-Mormon-Is-Simply-Jaw-Dropping/s/89568.
42. David Whitmer quoted in Chicago Times, October 17, 1881, cited in Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Books, 1991), 76; Whitmer quoted in St. Louis Republican (16 July 1884), as cited in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 139–40; Whitmer as quoted by J.W. Chatburn, in The Saints’ Herald 29, no. 12 (June 15, 1882) 189; Emma Hale Smith quoted in Welch, Opening the Heavens, 145; Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald 26, no. 19 (October 1, 1879): 289–90.
43. The exact source of this quote is unknown.
44. Robert Louis Stevenson, quoted in Richard C. Hoefler, Creative Preaching and Oral Writing (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing, 1978), 152.
45. See Stephen Hawking, My Brief History (New York: Bantam Books, 2013), 93–94; Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory and other Essays (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1956), 195.
46. See Brian C. Hales, “Opening the Black Box: Applying a Dictation Model to a Popular Naturalistic Theory of the Book of Mormon ‘Translation,'” (presentation, The Book of Mormon Studies Association Conference, October 14, 2018, Utah State University).
47. See Brian C. Hales, “Automatic Writing and the Book of Mormon: An Update,” Dialogue 52, no. 1 (Spring 2019), forthcoming.
[Page 184]48. Anita M. Muhl, Automatic Writing (Dresden: Theodor Steinkopff, 1930), 96.
49. See Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 248–62; Scott C. Dunn, “Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon,” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 25–44. For general support, see James H. Hyslop, “Apparent Subconscious Fabrication,” The Journal of Abnormal Psychology 1, no. 5 (1906): 208, 213.
50. See John A. Bargh and Ezequiel Morsella, “The Unconscious Mind,” in Perspectives on Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science 3, no. 1 (2008): 73–79; Anthony G. Greenwald, “New look 3: Unconscious Cognition Reclaimed,” American Psychologist 47, no. 6 (June 1992): 775; Paul Campbell Young, “An Experimental Study of Mental and Physical Functions in the Normal and Hypnotic States,” The American Journal of Psychology 36, no. 2 (April 1925): 214–232; Joseph Barber, “Hypnosis and Memory: A Hazardous Connection,” Journal of Mental Health Counseling 19, no. 4 (October 1997): 311, 313; John F. Kihlstrom, “Hypnosis, Memory and Amnesia,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 352, no. 1362 (December 1997): 1727–32; Steven Jay Lynn and Irving I. Kirsch, “Alleged Alien Abductions: False Memories, Hypnosis, and Fantasy Proneness,” Psychological Inquiry 7, no. 2 (1996): 151–5; Peter W. Sheehan, “Memory and Hypnosis — General Considerations,” in International Handbook of Clinical Hypnosis, ed. Graham D. Burrows, Robb O. Stanely, and Peter B. Bloom, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001), 52; Graham F. Wagstaff, et al, “Facilitating Memory With Hypnosis, Focused Meditation, and Eye Closure,” The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 52, no. 4 (2004): 434; Peter Farvolden and Erik Z. Woody, “Hypnosis, Memory and Frontal Executive Functioning,” The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 52, no. 1 (2004): 19.
51. See Robert A. Rees, The Book of Mormon and Automatic Writing,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15, no. 1 (2006): 5.
[Page 185]52. Irving Litvag, Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 8.
53. Examples include Pearl Curran and The Sorry Tale (from deceased spirit Patience Worth), Catherine-Elise Müller and From India to the Planet Mars (from Martians via trances while sleeping), Geraldine Cummins and The Scripts of Cleophas (from a spirit-guide name “Astor”), Helen Schucman and A Course in Miracles (from an inner voice she identified as Jesus), Jane Roberts and The Seth Material (from an energy personality named “Seth”), John Ballou Newbrough and Oahspe: A New Bible (from “Jehovih,” “The Great Spirit”), an unidentified author and The Urantia Book (from Celestial beings), Levi H. Dowling and The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (transcribed from the Akashic records).
54. Morton Prince, “The Unconscious,” The Fundamentals of Human Personality, Normal And Abnormal (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 15–48.
55. See Irving Litvag, Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 65–85; Robert Todd Carroll, s.v. “Automatic Writing (Trance Writing),” The Skeptic’s Dictionary, accessed November 14, 2018, http://skepdic.com/autowrite.html.
56. Wikipedia, s.v. “Jane Austen,” last edited January 12, 2019, 11:26, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Austen. Austen’s works were not published until she was in her thirties, so they are not included in this study. Her novels and word counts are: Sense and Sensibility (114,080), Pride and Prejudice (148,800), Mansfield Park (121,520), Emma (158,720), Northanger Abbey (89,280), and Persuasion (46,500).
57. Data is compiled from multiple websites. Word counts are primarily from http://www.readinglength.com/, which uses a calculation based upon page count and may not be strictly accurate.
58. The next young authors publishing after 1830 are Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud who published A Season in Hell (106,020 words) in 1873 and Taylor Caldwell who wrote The Romance of Atlantis (73,320 words) in 1912.
59. See the books listed on the author’s website, “About Claire North/Kate Griffin,” Claire North, accessed December 16, 2018, https://www.kategriffin.net/about/.
[Page 186]60. The absence of a Lexile score for any of Webb’s books is puzzling. It is possible her publisher did not want to pay the evaluation fee or that her books did not meet a Lexile requirement.
61. The LoveReading website recommends her early books to “11+ readers.” See “Catherine Webb – Author,” LoveReading 4 Kids, accessed December 12, 2018, https://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/author/1602/Catherine-Webb.html.
62. Catherine Webb, “My local library,” Claire North, accessed December 17, 2018, https://www.kategriffin.net/2018/12/13/my-local-library-2/.
63. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, “FAQ, About the Author,” Larmaen Nyeusi: a genolaahar (blog), January 22, 2009, http://nyeusiwiki.blogspot.com/2009/01/faq-about-author.html.
64. Encyclopedia of World Biography, s.v. “Christopher Paolini Biography,” accessed August 18, 2017, http://www.notablebiographies.com/news/Ow-Sh/Paolini-Christopher.html.
65. Lisa Wade McCormick, Christopher Paolini (New York: Rosen Publishing, 2013), 22.
66. Encyclopedia of World Biography, s.v. “Christopher Paolini Biography,”
67. McCormick, Christopher Paolini, 78–80.
68. Ibid., 80–81.
69. Mulek, a Book of Mormon character, son of Zedekiah, escaped the sack of Jerusalem (587 bc) and went with others to a place in the Western Hemisphere that they called the land of Mulek (Helaman 6:10; see also Mosiah 25:2).
70. Jill Harness, “6 Famous Novels Penned in Under a Month,” Mental Floss, October 31, 2011, http://mentalfloss.com/article/29126/6-famous-novels-penned-under-month; “AfsheenF,” “10 Novels Written in About a Month,” Bookstr, November 4, 2015, https://www.bookstr.com/10-novels-written-in-about-a-month, Hillary Kelly, “6 Great Works of Literature Written in 6 Weeks or Less,” The New Republic, November 1, 2013, https://newrepublic.com/article/115441/6-great-books-written-6-weeks.
71. Eleanor Catton: “‘I am still astonished and a little bit suspicious that The Rehearsal has even been published’ — An Interview with Eleanor Catton,” interview by Annie Clarkson, Bookmunch (blog), August 4, 2009, https://bookmunch.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/i-am-still-astonished-and-a-little-bit-suspicious-that-the-rehearsal-has-even-been-published-an-interview-with-eleanor-catton/.
[Page 187]72. Ibid.
73. Michael Hubbard MacKay et al, The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 6–9, 37–44.
74. F. Henry Edwards, ed., Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible (Independence Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1970), 15.
75. See for example “Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?” MormonThink, accessed September 17, 2017, http://www.mormonthink.com/josephweb.htm; Bill McKeever, “Is J.R.R. Tolkien Also Among the Prophets?” Mormonism Research Ministry, accessed January 3, 2018, http://www.mrm.org/tolkien.
76. Harold Bloom, ed., J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings (modern Critical Interpretations) (New York: Chelsea House Publications, 1999), 2.
77. “Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?” MormonThink.
78. David Doughan, “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biographical Sketch,” The Tolkien Society, accessed December 25, 2018, https://www.tolkiensociety.org/author/biography/.
79. See Katie Behrens, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Epic Quest: Writing The Lord of the Rings,” Books Tell You Why (blog), December 16, 2014, https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/jrr-tolkiens-epic-quest-writing-the-lord-of-the-rings.
80. “Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?” MormonThink. This essay reports numerous alleged parallels between Joseph Smith’s authoring of the Book of Mormon and other artists, geniuses, musicians, and scholars and their creations. Absent from the lists is an author of Joseph’s age and education who produced a book as complex and lengthy as the Book of Mormon by dictation in a compressed timeline.
81. “Shakespeare’s Life,” Folger Shakespeare Library, accessed December 19, 2018, http://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-life.
82. Matt Grey, “‘The Word of the Lord in the Original:’ Joseph Smith’s Study of Hebrew in Kirtland,” in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, eds. Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Religious [Page 188]Study Center, 2015), 266, https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/approaching-antiquity-joseph-smith-and-ancient-world/word-lord-original-joseph-smith-s.
83. Shixiang Zhou, Heejin Jeong, and Paul A. Green, “How Consistent Are the Best-Known Readability Equations in Estimating the Readability of Design Standards?” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 60, no. 1 (March 2017): 97–111.
84. Rudolf F. Flesch, How to Write Plain English: A Book for Lawyers and Consumers (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 21.
85. Several popular scales were not used to evaluate the Book of Mormon. The Powers-Sumner-Keral Readability Formula calculates reading difficulty based on sentenced length and number of syllables, but it is not considered ideal for assessing readability “for children above the age of 10 years.” (“The Powers-Sumner-Kearl Readability Formula,” Readability Formulas, accessed December 23, 2018, http://www.readabilityformulas.com/powers-sumner-kear-readability-formula.php.) The Spache Readability Index is similar to the Dale-Chall Readability Formula. While Spache was designed to access the readability of primary texts through the end of third grade, The Dale-Chall is ideal to gauge the readability of more advanced texts — i.e., fourth grade and above. And the Linsear Write Formula was designed for detecting the readability of Air Force manuals and is less applicable to the Book of Mormon.
86. “Coleman Liau Index,” Readability Test Tool, accessed December 21, 2018, https://www.webfx.com/tools/read-able/coleman-liau-index.html.
87. ATOS analytic software is available jointly from Advantage Learning Systems and Touchstone Applied Science Associates.
88. “Text complexity, ATOS, and Lexile® Measures,” Renaissance, accessed December 18, 2018, https://www.renaissance.com/products/practice/accelerated-reader-360/atos-and-text-complexity/.
89. Sheida White and John Clement, “Assessing the Lexile Framework: Results of a Panel Meeting,” (paper, National Center for Education Statistics, August 2001), https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/200108.pdf.
[Page 189]90. Wikipedia, s.v. “Fry readability formula,” last edited February 2, 2018, 06:33, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fry_readability_formula. The original figure has been modified to show the plot point for the Book of Mormon.
91. “The New Dale-Chall Readability Formula,” Readability Formulas, accessed December 18, 2018, at http://www.readabilityformulas.com/new-dale-chall-readability-formula.php. If the number is over 4, then 3.6365 is added to determine adjusted score to determine grade level.
92. “SMOG Index,” Readability Test Tool, accessed December 21, 2018, https://www.webfx.com/tools/read-able/smog-index.html.
93. Harry Mc Laughlin, “SMOG Grading-a New Readability Formula,” Journal of Reading 12, no. 8 (May 1969): 645.
94. “Gunning Fog Index,” Readability Test Tool, accessed December 21, 2018, https://www.webfx.com/tools/read-able/gunning-fog.html.
95. “Automated Readability Index (ARI),” Readability Test Tool, accessed December 21, 2018, https://www.webfx.com/tools/read-able/automated-readability-index.html.
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About Brian C. Hales

Brian C. Hales, is the author of six books dealing with polygamy, most recently the three-volume, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013). His Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto received the “Best Book of 2007 Award” from the John Whitmer Historical Association. He has presented at numerous meetings and symposia and published articles in The Journal of Mormon History, Mormon Historical Studies, and Dialogue as well as contributing chapters to The Persistence of Polygamy series. Brian works as an anesthesiologist at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, Utah, and has served as the President of the Utah Medical Association.

27 thoughts on “Curiously Unique: Joseph Smith as Author of the Book of Mormon

  1. Enjoyable article. However, I think that it failed to consider the Book of Abraham. What we have is a short work, true, but apparently Joseph translated a very long manuscript indeed, that took at least two hours to read. That was somewhat later in life.

    I wish we had the full thing rather than the small bit we have now. Still, does the longer Book of Abraham change any of this analysis?

    • Hi Vance,

      I included the Book of Abraham as 6231 words in 1842. We know he translated some in 1835, but I waited until it was published to date the word count.

      I don’t know if that actually responds to your comment, but the Book of Abraham was included in the graph.

      Thanks,

      Brian

      • Thanks. What I was asking is that a lot of your analysis is based on the facts that Joseph wrote a large book early in life and then tapered off as it were, unlike other authors.

        However, the Book of Abraham story suggests that in fact he produced another large work later on; we just don’t have it. Does that later, large work mess up anything in your theory?

  2. I am very impressed with this essay. And I am wondering if Brian would be willing to explain what suggested this study to him, and also how long it took him to do the study and also to draft his essay?

    I also wonder about dealing with the sentence length in the Book of Mormon. Why? It seems, does it not, that the scribes just wrote down the words dictated in short bursts, and that this resulted in a manuscript that had very little punctuation. Hence, it seems that Joseph Smith did not provide the punctuation with which we are now familiar.

    • Thanks Lou,

      I looked up my first draft, which was just under two years ago.

      This paper, however, is just part of an larger research project that attempts to look at the critics’ responses to the Book of Mormon in ways that haven’t been published before. With a little luck, I will have several other article published here and elsewhere in the future.

      I don’t expect these observations to impress unbelievers, but I’m hopeful they could represent a tangible validation of faith-based beliefs for those of us who hold JS as a true prophet.

    • Hi Again,

      I didn’t mention sentence length. I have addressed that here: http://www.ldsliving.com/Why-Joseph-Smiths-Dictation-of-the-Book-of-Mormon-Is-Simply-Jaw-Dropping/s/89568

      You are right that the Printer’s Manuscript had no punctuation. The Book of Mormon was typeset to almost 7000 sentences–on average of 40 words each (2-3 times longer than normally found in novels).

      The remarkable thing is that Joseph Smith didn’t rearrange the order of a single one after dictating them. It is an observation that secularists might want to explain.

      Thanks,

      Brian

  3. Absolutely excellent article! Very clever. However, I do have one bone to pick…

    “Born in 1983, he authored his first book, Eragon in 2002 at age nineteen, which was made into a big-budget movie in 2006 that opened to mixed reviews.”

    That “mixed reviews” bit may be the one and only truly and absolutely false thing this fine journal has ever let slip past its editors! 16% on Rotten Tomatoes and a first-time director who never made another film again after this universally panned debacle can hardly be characterized as a movie whose reviews were “mixed.”

    Aside from that rather minuscule error, great work! 🙂

    • When I first saw the movie, I liked the movie and probably would have given it a thumbs up. So maybe there’s the “mix” 🙂

      I recently watched it again (as I was writing this essay) and could better detect the critique-worthy elements, which were plentiful.

      I bought Paoloini’s trilogy, but I just can’t seem to slog through it. It doesn’t seem (in my mind) to be of the same sophistication found in the BofM.

  4. Very informative article.

    One thing to consider might be the research of Stanford Carmack and Royal Skousen in demonstrating that the Book of Mormon is primarily an Early Modern English book, and that it could not have been composed by Joseph Smith Jr.

    If the English Book of Mormon came to Joseph already written, and all he needed to do was read it to his scribes, then that explains a lot about the uniqueness of it.

  5. I’m a novelist and there are some things to add to what’s above.

    SPEAKING, NOT WRITING
    First of all, Joseph was dictating. His skill as a writer or reader is probably irrelevant. What’s important is his skill as a storyteller. His skill in talking. My wife teaches 7th and 8th grade language arts. And her classes are full of kids who can talk with great fluency and tell all sorts of anecdotes. But they struggle a bit when capturing that on the page. Now some of them do have a strong vernacular, and it shows up in their papers. Bad conjugations, the works. “He come down” etc. So I think a better comparison would have to be in the difference between his vernacular and what we see in the text and between him and others who dictate or tell stories.

    DIFFERENT STRUCTURE
    Next, the structure of the Book of Mormon is very unlike any modern novel. In fact, it’s unlike early novels. It makes it very hard to compare. It’s episodic. And shot through with sermons. It’s almost all in narrative summary. Not the narrative detail of scenes that we see today. So it’s a very different task. I think it might be harder than a single narrative thread.

    USE OF AN OUTLINE
    Third, you’ll notice that the BOM gives a summary of the whole book in 1 Nephi 12. As an author, I work from an outline. I’m not saying Joseph did. I believe the BOM is what it claims to be. It’s a prophecy. But those arguing for Joseph’s authorship could point to it and suggest he was using an outline.
    • Nephi sees wars and rumors of wars.
    • Many generations and cities
    • Mist of darkness, a vapor, come upon the land and a huge earthquake. Many cities burned. Others sunk.
    • Christ visits
    • Calls 12 others
    • 3 generations pass away in righteousness
    • Many of 4th pass away in righteousness
    • Multitudes of earth gathered together—his seed and the seed of his brothers
    • Because of pride and temptations, his seed overcome
    • Brothers seed go forth in multitudes upon the land. Wars and rumors of wars. They become a dark and loathsome and filthy people full of idleness and abomination.

    WORLD BUILDING
    Next, as a writer of fantasy and science fiction, I do a lot of world building. The reason Tolkien took so long with his books is that he built so much of the world, including a huge focus on the language. Heck, he developed languages for his world.

    Something that’s interesting is Lucy Mack’s description of what happened after Joseph’s first attempt to obtain the plates failed.

    “From this time forth, Joseph continued to receive instructions
    from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every
    evening, for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation
    of the same. I presume our family presented’ an aspect as
    singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth — all
    seated in a circle, father, mother, sons and daughters, and giving
    the most profound attention to a boy, eighteen years of age, who
    had never read the Bible through in his life: he seemed much less
    inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our chil-
    dren, but far more given to meditation and deep study.

    We were now confirmed in the opinion that God was about to
    bring to light something upon which we could stay our minds, or
    that would give us a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salva-
    tion and the redemption of the human family. This caused us
    greatly to rejoice, the sweetest union and happiness pervaded our
    house, and tranquility reigned in our midst.

    During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally
    give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined.
    He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their
    dress, mode of traveling, and -the animals upon which they rode;
    their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of
    warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with
    as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among
    them.”

    Someone could claim that all those years before he dictated the book he was world building, devising and coming up with sketches of what he’d put in the book later. It’s like me telling stories on the fly to my kids when they were little and developing a whole series that way. Many authors have done that. The Hobbit was originally a story Tolkien told to his children.

    Writing isn’t about the writing. The the lesser part. It’s the development of the story that’s the big part. And you can develop a story and then tell bits and pieces aloud just as easily as you can write it. In fact, sometimes it’s easier. So someone familiar with story development could look at what Joseph’s mother said and claim that Joseph spent the years from from 1823 up through the final dictation of the book developing and telling the story. So instead of it being a task of a few months. It was something he developed over 7 years.

    None of that proves Joseph wrote the…

    • I took a closer look at the famous Lucy Mack Smith quote about Joseph Smith’s story telling in “Playing to an Audience”:

      There are some unexamined oddities about the Lucy Smith quote. Before I would take it as an interpretive foundation, I must consider that, even though a first-hand account, it is not an autograph account, and it is late,12 dating to an 1844 dictation in Nauvoo to the … 24-year old Martha Jane Coray regarding events in Palmyra 1823 and then not published until 1853. That is, the quote is six years older than Joseph Smith’s official history from 1838, which Taves takes notable interest in dissecting and comparing with earlier sources. In her discussion of method and sources for Mormonism, she observes:

      “Apart from the 1825 agreement with Josiah Stowell and the 1826 court record, both of which are preserved in later versions, we have no real-time access to events until July 1828, when D&C 3 — the first real-time recorded revelation — opens a window in the wake of the loss of the first 116 pages of the manuscript. Chapter 1 thus opens with an in-depth analysis of D&C 3, read as a window on that moment rather than as it was interpreted and reinterpreted in later accounts. (21)”

      The Lucy Smith quote, aside from being a late account, rather than early and contemporary (not “real time access,” not a direct “window on the moment”), turns out to be notably odd and unique with respect to Joseph Smith, rather than well supported from a range of sources. Certainly much in Lucy’s biography is well supported, but let us recognize the anomaly here. Odd accounts do occur in history, yes, but the account raises questions that should be faced and mentioned before building one’s structure there. First of all, the Book of Mormon we have has no descriptions of people riding animals in over 500 pages that include several major migrations and 100 distinct wars. It provides no notably detailed descriptions of clothing (other than armor) and no detailed descriptions of the structure of later buildings. The most detail we get involves descriptions of fortifications with palisaded walls and ditches.

      Then there is the unasked question as to why — if Joseph Smith as a youth was capable of this kind of detailed, immersive, evening-filling recital on the everyday particulars of Book of Mormon peoples and culture — do we have no further record anywhere of his performing the same service as an adult? Perhaps the closest circumstance on this topic involves the Zelph story on Zion’s Camp, but in that case the notable differences in the details recorded by the different people who reported it, even those writing close to the event, should give pause to a person trying to build an interpretive foundation on an isolated, late, anomalous account related to far longer and complex narrative than the Zelph gossip.13 It bears mentioning that if Joseph Smith had been telling stories about the Book of Mormon peoples, animals, clothing, and culture, such stories should have had an obvious influence on Abner Cole’s 1830 parody version, the Book of Pukei, which “tells in mocking fashion about the sorts of things that Joseph’s neighbors expected to find in the Book of Mormon.”14 Yet the most notable thing about the Book of Pukei is how utterly different it is from the actual Book of Mormon.15 The book Joseph Smith produced was emphatically not what his neighbors expected.”

      From https://www.mormoninterpreter.com/playing-to-an-audience-a-review-of-revelatory-events/

      Kevin Christensen
      Canonsburg, PA

    • Hi John,

      I think you bring up some good points. As I say in the article, the fact that JS dictated the text (I call the process CREATIVE DICTATION) rather than composing it through CREATIVE WRITING needs to be further explored. Even if someone has a preformed outline (in memory), I think CREATIVE DICTATION is exponentially more difficult than CREATIVE WRITING.

      Some storytellers have a knack for producing vivid tales on the fly. Was JS a storyteller? Lucy Mack Smith’s recollection, which you quoted above, is probably the most quoted paragraph in all of her memoirs. Yes JS told stories “occasionally” to family members in 1823. What does that mean? An extreme view is that over the next five years he developed an expert-level storytelling skill set that allowed him to dictate the BofM.

      The curious thing is as Richard Bushman observed. Joseph Smith “is not known to have preached a sermon before the Church is organized in 1830. He had no reputation as a preacher.” If JS was developing storytelling or preaching skills in the 1820s, no one mentioned it beyond Lucy’s statement.

      The question is also whether storytelling skills would be sufficient to allow JS to do what he did? Perhaps some of the most impressive of storytellers ever studied were found in Yugoslavia in the 1950s. Called “sulars,” they could recount stories of over 100K words over many days (usually singing the words rather than reciting). Avdo Mededovic is such a sular, whose stories have been recorded and translated into English.

      Yet comparing a 23 year old farm boy to such professionals seems to emphasize JS’s uniqueness, rather than explain how he recited the words. He was not practiced in storytelling (according to the historical record), he generated a fully new text—most sulars just embellish pre-existing storylines, the BofM is much more complex, and longer than even the most lengthy storytellers’ stories.

      I encourage you or others to expand on these comparisons, but my preliminary research does not find a parallel in storytelling lore, their methodologies, or the accomplishments of their most skilled bards. But we should all keep looking!

      Thanks again for the observations!

      Brian

    • I think this is an important observation. Speaking is related to writing only in that what is spoken may be recorded, but the process of creation and organization can happen quite differently. I think remembering that Joseph was reluctant to write, but dictated the Book of Mormon and later revelations, tells us that he was most comfortable with the oral process. That should caution us in the ways we understand the things we have from Joseph that are written, but not holographs.

      I also agree that understanding Joseph better doesn’t alter the issue of how the Book of Mormon was created, how it was structured, or how it relates to a time and place. Positing Joseph as a great storyteller rather than a special writer is an academic issue that really continues to fall short of explaining the whole of the Book of Mormon.

    • John:
      I notice that you do not cite a source for those four paragraphs attributed to Lucy Mach. To begin to make your case, should you not consider how long after Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon to scribes and also whether those were really her exact words or perhaps embellishments of someone else?

  6. If Joseph only “occasionally” told stories about the Nephite people, and if details of dress, buildings, animals on which they rode were what Lucy thought to tell, it does not sound as if Joseph Smith is developing a story outline to later deliver to a scribe. And according to Emma, Joseph would come across parts of the story he was telling that were a surprise to him, such as whether Jerusalem had walls. Also, other topics would come up, such as baptism and so forth that would cause Joseph and Oliver to inquire of the Lord in prayer. This is evidence Joseph was not delivering a story he had previously developed.

    Related to the walls of Jerusalem, note that Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews” begins with a grand description of Jerusalem with repeated mention of its walls. For Joseph Smith being accused of plagiarizing Ethan Smith’s book, Joseph does not seem familiar with it.

    I love this essay, which shows how different Joseph Smith’s publication of the Book of Mormon is such an anomaly when compared to other writers and their published works. Another interesting topic would be to compare Joseph Smith’s material production to other religious writings and writers.

  7. The style of punctuation imposed on a text can make quite a difference:

    The 1830 first edition has 6,852 full stops in 269,318 words = 39.3 words per sentence OR 2.54 sentences per 100 words. It is over-punctuated by our standards in terms of commas: 24,852. (The JSP transcription has a few dozen issues, which analysts should be aware of; a much more reliable and scholarly version is available in WordCruncher.)

    The critical text has 10,441 full stops in 269,518 words = 25.8 words per sentence OR 3.88 sentences per 100 words. (“Only” 13,780 commas.) This is the best text to use for scholarly study and analysis of the Book of Mormon.

    I liked Figure 5, and the vocabulary list presented was interesting to see. As Widtsoe observed in the early 1950s, the range of lexical usage is different from what we expect Joseph would have produced from his knowledge base in 1829. Most remarkable, of course, is the obsolete lexis (see Skousen, The Nature of the Original Language, 2018), by which is meant vocabulary, some grammatical forms, and expressions.

    For some reason, Grant Hardy wants to leave the impression that there are only a few of these in the text: “there are a few words that make more sense if they are read with obsolete meanings” (BYU Studies 57.1: 176). But Skousen’s careful work indicates that there are potentially 80 instances of extrabiblical (archaic) lexical usage, including “at least 39 specific words with archaic meanings” (BYU Studies 57.3: 92).

    The Book of Mormon’s archaic lexis, the grammar—both good and bad—which wasn’t Joseph’s, a very large amount of extrabiblical (archaic) syntax, and all the unfamiliar names clearly indicate that Joseph didn’t word the text from revealed ideas. These things constitute strong evidence pointing to the Book of Mormon as curiously unique.

    • Thanks to Stanford Carmack for the comments and his amazing research.

      I’ve encountered several different word counts for the BofM including mine at 269,528 and Stanford lists 269,518 and I think Jack Welch uses 269,510. I’m happy to acquiesce to a more accurate number and perhaps it would be good for us to agree as we move forward.

      Thanks again,

      Brian

      • Brian, the current word counts I have for the three different versions are as follows (excluding the witness statements):

        Critical text (Yale): 269,518
        1830 first edition: 269,318
        Current LDS text: 268,422

        Editing has shortened the text. (Chapter words are not counted, since only a section mark was used in the original manuscript.)

        The JSP transcription currently has a number of errors. Some of these are as follows.

        There are eight eoln strings that copy as single words; a space at the linebreak character is missing:

        shallbe 32, 31 (page, line)
        mineenemy 70, 29
        blessyou 158, 4
        neverending 160, 1
        forredemption 258, 36
        yehope 315, 2
        insomuchthat 362, 8
        foundthat 365, 15

        Internal textual comparison indicates that the following four words should be transcribed with hard eoln hyphens:

        byword 51, 39
        selfsame 311, 40
        headplates 408, 29
        candlestick 480, 14

        At least seven words involve known in-press changes:

        this 275, 19; This
        does 393, 4; do
        becaus 400, 32; because
        Paharon 400, 32; Pahoran
        is in/ 507, 26; is/
        elder priest 575, 18; elder or priest
        to the baptism 576, 14; to baptism

        So they’re correctly transcribed according to the JSP page images, but many copies do not have these typos.

        Ten words are missing at 577, 30–31:
        “cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain”

        There are 17 other potential transcription errors, which may incorrectly add four words total to the word count. Also, sometimes typos are corrected like this: chi[l]d; and sometimes like this: plaees [places]. So removing brackets globally adds words in some cases (after carefully dealing with page brackets [marked variably]).

        • I should add that if we count the first instance of “me thought” as two words (18, 41; the second is spelled as one word) and the second instance of “for/asmuch” as two words (111, 32; no hyphen; the first is spelled as one word), then we get 269,320 words.

  8. Brian: This is really a great and compelling piece of work, although I don’t know how many will truly grasp the significance of it.

    I’m a guy forced to dictate a lot. I have a J.D. degree and work at a high level of law practice. It is extraordinarily hard to dictate, even from an outline. The mistakes are overwhelming. The only advantage to dictation is to have a person with a lower billing rate spend time with the document. Dictation requires a lot of after-the-fact editing to get things right. I see no evidence that Joseph Smith ever did anything like that. Sure, there were some corrections (Benjamin/Mosiah) but they are extremely rare.

    • Thanks Robert,

      I have racked my brain to try to identify an easily understood way of describing the challenges of “creative dictation” (the methodology JS employed in producing the 269,318 words).

      The simplest observation I’ve identified (to date) is noting how JS didn’t rearrange any of the sentences (out of 7,000 to 10,000 depending on the punctuation). Most people can relate to that as challenging. Still, it doesn’t seem to be very impressive to some.

      Any other thoughts?

      • Here’s the thing: it’s completely obvious that Joseph had a preexisting text, either written down or precomposed. The intricate details of the several sermons, which show great skill and polish in their composition clearly are not something dictated off the cuff, so to speak. King Benjamin’s address is clearly carefully composed.

        Yet it was written down in one day, with no editing to speak of. It had to have been precomposed somehow. I just don’t see how anyone can, on the spot and spur of the moment, dictate a chiastic sermon over 5 chapters.

        Right? That’s like impossible, isn’t it?

        Not only that, but things like the sacrament prayers in Moroni that clearly relate back, word for word, to Christ’s messages in 3 Nephi… how can anyone do that on the spur of the moment? Joseph Smith would have had to at least ask for 3 Nephi to be read back, wouldn’t he, in order to extract the sacrament prayers from it? He shows no signs of an eidetic memory, and Mormon and Ether were both composed and written down in between Christ’s words and Moroni’s stuff.
        Yet he didn’t get anything read back to him. Simply impossible, I think, to dictate this on the spot.

  9. Excellent article. Certainly gives some context as to what we are dealing with in regard to the Book of Mormon.

    Thanks.

  10. Brian,

    I don’t see you addressing this. There were less than 100 actual translation days but those days were spread out over almost TWO years, in which time Joseph could easily have refined the story.

    It feels disingenuous to say he did this in less than 90 days because it makes it sound like he sat down and made the BofM continuously for 90 days.

    Can you address this?

    • Not to preclude Brian addressing this, Randall, but you may be interested in this article:

      https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/sites/default/files/archive-files/pdf/welch/2016-04-11/welch_the_miraculous_translation_of_the_book_of_mormon_opening_the_heavens.pdf

      Joseph received the plates in September 1827, translated 116 pages (those subsequently lost) between April and June 1828, had the plates taken away between June and September 1828, and translated a few pages in March 1829. The majority of the translating occurred when Oliver Cowdery started helping in April 1829 and was finished in June 1829.

      In the words of Jack Welch (from the above-cited article), “nearly all the 590 pages printed in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon were translated, dictated, and written within an extremely short and intensely busy period of time, from April 7 to the last week of June 1829.”

      The assumption that Joseph “spread out” the actual translation days over two years is just that–an assumption. It is not borne out by the historical record.

      Jack also recently updated his research in this area; see the updated article, available here:

      https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/timing-translation-book-mormon-days-and-hours-never-be-forgotten

      There was also a Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy produced on this topic, which you can see here:

      https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/why-is-the-timing-of-the-book-of-mormons-translation-so-marvelous

      I hope that helps in some way.

      -Allen

      • Thank you for this. However, without looking at this apologetically but from a strictly analytical perspective, it is entirely possible to write and dictate the BofM in a short period of time if, over the course of his life he has been telling stories of ancient inhabitants of America. His mother recounts him telling detailed stories of what the inhabitants ate, wore, what animals they rode, etc. (although there is no proof that indiginous Americans rode animals during the timeframe of the BofM, but I digress). Between adding chucks of Isaiah, Joseph Smith Sr’s tree of life dream and having around 2 or more years to develop a story line to mesh together stories he had been telling since youth, the easiest way to explain the BofM is that of a creation by JS. Inspired fiction even. There is still value in the BofM without it being literal and ancient.

        I would absolutely love to have Brian Hales and John Hamer sit down and have a serious long discussion about these matters. History, without apologetics, is so much easier to explain in my humble opinion. The mental gymnastics are exhausting to me sometimes. Maybe Brian can prove me wrong.

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