Most of those who have heard about the Church or the Book of Mormon still know virtually nothing about it--again, a tremendous blessing and opportunity. But about half of those who do know something have negative impressions.
One of the reasons for these negative impressions, IMO, is that so many of the responses to the arguments made by our critics have consisted of confirmation bias designed to satisfy believers. To some degree, I suppose, those responses have been effective for that purpose. They confirm the biases of those who already want to believe.
In my view, though, these responses are unpersuasive to impartial observers, to say nothing of the critics.
I propose that we could do a much better job sharing the Book of Mormon and bringing people to Christ if we took a more realistic approach to the way we frame our positions. A key element is believing the words of the prophets.
They are writing from within the M2C bubble to others within that bubble, which is fine for people living in that bubble. But the billions of people I mentioned above are well outside the M2C bubble and are highly unlikely to ever enter it.
It's for those billions (and anyone else who is outside the M2C bubble) that I have worked through The Late War issue.
As these billions of people begin to learn about the Book of Mormon, they will search the Internet for more information. In no time, they will come across the critics who cite The Late War as a reason to disbelieve the Book of Mormon. If the only responses from Church members that they can find are those published so far by the M2C citation cartel, I think unbiased investigators will find the critics more persuasive for the reasons I explain below.
When the critics are more persuasive, people are unlikely to give the Book of Mormon serious consideration. That's an outcome we must work to avoid to give the billions of people in the world a fair chance to accept the Gospel.
The basic response from the M2C citation cartel has been to deny that Joseph read The Late War, to question the methodology of the critics, to find alternate sources for the similarities, and to claim that Joseph didn't even translate the Book of Mormon into English. I'll discuss the problems with each of these in more detail below, but first I'll review part 2 of this series and explain my biases and assumptions.
In part 2 I discussed the historical context of The Late War, including its formatting similarities to the Book of Mormon and its endorsement by Professor Mitchill, to whom Martin Harris took the copy of the characters transcribed from the plates by Joseph Smith. I think this context makes it highly unlikely that Joseph was unaware of The Late War.
Today in part 3 we will look at what I consider textual influences of The Late War and other pseudo-biblical texts.
To reiterate, here are my biases:
1. I think Joseph Smith actually translated the engravings on the plates by using the Nephite interpreters and studying it out in his mind. (e.g., D&C 8:1; 9:8; 10:41, 45)
2. I think he used the Urim and Thummim to articulate his understanding of the engravings, dictating in his own language and dialect, which was a product of his life experience and education. (e.g., D&C 1:24)
3. I think he was familiar with The Late War and other similar books, but he did not copy their language, syntax or themes. Instead, these books became part of his mental language bank, including his vocabulary and manner of speech.
Of course, I think my biases are confirmed by the evidence, as I'll explain below.
My biases drive my methodology, so I'll explain how I approach this issue.
When there are multiple ways to interpret the evidence (as there always are), I lean toward interpretations that are consistent with and that corroborate what the prophets have said.
In legal terms, I give greater weight to what the prophets have said than to what others have said, which means that in case of a conflict or discrepancy, I defer to the prophets.
By prophets, I mean Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who were the founding prophets of this dispensation. It was these two, together, who received all the Priesthood keys. The line of authority of every holder of the Priesthood today goes directly from President Cowdery to Peter, James and John, for example.**
I give greater weight to canonized works than to uncanonized works, but I haven't found any conflicts between these with respect to the words of the prophets.
Here are two examples of my methodology.
1. The only part of the Book of Mormon that Joseph said was "a literal translation" is the Title Page.
(He also said the Title Page was a "genuine and literal translation" as I've discussed elsewhere.)
I infer from this that the rest of the translation was not "literal" in the same sense, even though it was true, correct, accurate, etc.
There can be a significant difference between a "literal" translation and an "idiomatic" translation. Here is a simple example of the difference:
"I have coldness" is a literal translation from French j'ai froid, but "I'm cold" is the idiomatic translation. The idiomatic translation is accurate, but the translator uses his/her own natural speech patterns in the second language instead of a word-for-word literal translation.
Because Joseph said only that the Title Page was a literal translation, I infer that he made an idiomatic translation of the rest of the text, rendering it into his own speech patterns by drawing from his mental language bank.***
2. D&C 1:24 tells us that the Lord worked with Joseph's own idioms.
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
Some have told me this passage applies only to the Doctrine and Covenants and not the Book of Mormon, but Joseph received some of the sections in the D&C before he translated one word of the Book of Mormon. Based on D&C 1:24, I infer that Joseph translated the text "after the manner of his language."
This means we have two reasons to conclude that Joseph performed an idiomatic translation.****
People are free to disagree with my inferences, of course. I set them forth here precisely so people can decide whether or not to agree. I'm always interested in considering others' perspectives. For this analysis, though, you have my biases and methodology.
You may wonder, if Joseph translated the text "after the manner of his language," why did he need the Urim and Thummim (the Nephite interpreters)? I think the interpreters themselves operate by drawing on the prophet's own mental language base.
Joseph was taught by Moroni for four years before he obtained the plates. He explained he was familiar with the people, their modes of travel, etc. He studied the engravings for months before he began dictating to Martin Harris. The Lord explained to Oliver that he had to do more than ask; he had to work out the translation in his mind. Certainly that instruction applied to Joseph as well.
Anyone who has translated from one language to another knows how many variations come to mind during the process. I think the interpreters solidified his thoughts so he could read the text coherently, but they did not give him new syntax or terminology; they drew on Joseph's mental language base.
This is different from the gift of tongues, for example, that allows people to speak and understand other languages. (People experience the gift of tongues without any need for a device, but that's a topic for another time.)
Critics have pointed to parallels between The Late War and the Book of Mormon such as these:
|The Late War||Book of Mormon|
|27-28||... near Moravian Town ... And it came to pass ... the army ... were under ... a chief warrior, whom they called Tecumseh [...] smote their chief warrior [Tecumseh], and slew him... he fell to the earth.||... people of Morianton ... And it came to pass ... the army ... was led by a man whose name was Teancum [...] they did pursue Teancum, and slew him ... he was dead, and had gone the way of all the earth.||Alma 50:33,35, Alma 62:36-37|
|6-7||sent forth a Proclamation, ... abroad ... And it came to pass, that a great multitude flocked to the ... standard of Columbia...they came in battle array against the ...||sent a proclamation throughout ... the land; ... And it came to pass that thousands did flock unto his standard [of liberty] ... they ... went down with their armies ... against the...||Alma 61-62|
|51:3-10||it came to pass that the husbandmen ... gathered together, and pitched their tents, [and] assembled together ... And the people shouted with a loud voice, ...||it came to pass that ... the people gathered themselves together ... And ... pitched their tents... ye should assemble yourselves together ... And they all cried with one voice, ...||Mosiah 2-4|
The Late War is one of the four pseudo-biblical texts involved here. The others are The American Revolution, The First Book of Napoleon, and The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times. I detailed these in part 2.
LDS defenders such as FairMormon have accurately pointed out how the critics extracted phrases from different passages and stitched them together to compose these similarities. They have also shown that some of these phrases are common with the Bible and/or other sources.
For the details, see their analysis here:
These exchanges provide enough evidence to confirm whichever bias you have.
If you think the Book of Mormon is fiction, then the critics have given you some comparisons that will confirm your bias.
If you think the Book of Mormon is not fiction, then FairMormon has raised enough questions about the comparison to confirm your bias.
But what if you don't have a bias one way or the other?
Let's say you are an investigator, one of the billions of people who have never heard of the Book of Mormon. Someone tells you about it and you are interested. You do some quick research on the Internet and come across the CES Letter or another critic who claims the Book of Mormon is fiction, copied from The Late War. You read about the similarities such as the ones I posted above.
I think anyone who sees these similarities would find them persuasive on their face; i.e., they would conclude that Joseph copied from The Late War.
(BTW, these similarities are even more unsettling for long-time Church members who don't realize there were other books published before the Book of Mormon that also used the "Ancient Historical Style" that sought to emulate biblical language. Imagine how they feel when it is anti-Mormons who first tell them about it. Far better, IMO, to educate the Saints about these issues directly in Church, CES, BYU, etc.)
Back to the objective investigator.
You ask the missionaries or your friend about these similarities. They refer you to the FairMormon response I linked to above.
Do you find it persuasive?
Possibly. But not likely.
The critics did not know about The Late War before doing their analysis of 100,000+ books. The similarities to The Late War popped out of their statistical study. Then they did their qualitative analysis and came up with their lists of similarities in theme and language. That's a persuasive framing.
Now, let's look at how FairMormon responded, again from the perspective of an objective investigator.
1. FairMormon criticized the critics' methodology, but is that a plausible defense? I don't think so because the critics' methodology did, after all, lead them to The Late War which contains all these similarities. Plus, it was objective; they assessed over 100,000 books.
I rate this defense as unpersuasive.
2. FairMormon also points out that there is no proof Joseph ever read The Late War. This is technically true, but if there was such evidence, it would not have taken a statistical study of 100,000+ books to find the book. The problem here is that we have no proof that Joseph ever read anything prior to translating the Book of Mormon, except for the Bible.
It seems highly implausible that he never read anything else. During the long winter nights in upstate New York, what were people doing other than reading and discussing issues? Joseph himself wrote that, between the ages of 12 and 15, he was concerned with the situation of the world of mankind. Although he was not skilled as a writer, he definitely was not illiterate, despite his lack of formal education.
As I showed in part 2, the historical and cultural context makes it unlikely that Joseph never read The Late War. Plus, the formatting similarities and the connection with Professor Mitchill at least suggest a direct connection.
I rate this defense as unpersuasive.
3. Next, FairMormon goes through a few of the similarities, showing how they were cut and pasted together to create phony similarities such as those I showed above. This is a persuasive defense, to an extent. Many of the phrases also appear in the Bible; i.e., they are common to both the Book of Mormon and The Late War. Everyone agrees that Joseph read the Bible and was influenced by it. The Book of Mormon contains many direct quotations from the Bible, so it is not problematic to have Biblical phrases show up in the text, even if they also appear in The Late War.
I rate this defense as persuasive as far as it goes, but inadequate and ultimately unpersuasive.
Why inadequate? Because there are many passages common between The Late War and the Book of Mormon that are not found in the Bible.
I'll discuss specific examples below, but let's say that FairMormon or others show that these passages are also found in books other than the pseudo-biblical texts. As we already saw, there is no evidence that Joseph read any books other than the Bible. Thus we are left assessing the relative probabilities of his having read The Late War and other pseudo-biblical texts vs. the other books.
Given the historical context, The Late War is surely one of the books Joseph was most likely to have read. Plus, any alternative books are cited as sources would have to include all of the passages that are common between The Late War and the Book of Mormon, which also means they were written in the "Ancient Historical Style." And there are only a few of those--the very ones we are discussing here.
4. FairMormon links to Stanford Carmack's Interpreter article about Early Modern English (EME). Brother Carmack has done an extensive statistical analysis that shows clearly different and unique syntax in the Book of Mormon that is not found in the Bible, The Late War, or the other pseudo-biblical books. This syntax cannot be explained by the theory that Joseph copied from the other books.
I rate this defense as persuasive as far as it goes, but inadequate.
The reason? Brother Carmack's argument effectively proves there are distinctive elements in the Book of Mormon that could not have been copied, but there remain distinctive elements that are common between the Book of Mormon and the pseudo-biblical books that are not found in the Bible. This leaves us with the same problem that argument 3 left; i.e., how to explain the indisputably common elements?
In part 4 of this M2C web series I'll discuss Brother Carmack's argument in more detail. Here, I want to evaluate the elements that are common between the Book of Mormon and the pseudo-biblical texts. In my view, these corroborate the teachings of Joseph Smith and the D&C that I mentioned at the outset.
That is, they show that the pseudo-biblical texts added to Joseph's mental language bank, the resource he drew upon to dictate his translation of the Book of Mormon and the other revelations that comprise our standard works.
The critics' lists of similarities between The Late War and the Book of Mormon are rightly criticized for being concocted. True, some of the phrases are identical; that's what makes these lists persuasive to people who want to believe the Book of Mormon is fiction. But that is mere confirmation bias because many of these phrases are also found in the Bible, which is an acknowledged source for both books.
In other words, these terms and phrases were in Joseph's mental language bank, but because he could have acquired them from the Bible, they are not really persuasive evidence that he acquired them from the pseudo-biblical books. Any impartial investigator would be able to understand this.
What is more problematic are the unusual Book of Mormon terms and phrases that are not found in the Bible but are found in The Late War and other pseudo-biblical texts. These appear seemingly at random throughout the Book of Mormon. In many cases they also appear in Joseph's other revelatory work, including the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
Proponents of the EME theory suggest that Joseph was not the original translator into English. This means the English text was not his; i.e., he was learning as he read from the stone. I disagree for he reasons I'll explain in part 4, but EME proponents could argue that Joseph acquired these terms and phrases when he dictated the Book of Mormon, independent of the pseudo-biblical books.
I doubt an impartial investigator would find that explanation persuasive. I'm skeptical that many believers would find it persuasive, but I'll defer my discussion of that to Part 4 when I focus on EME.
Here, I offer an explanation that I think is persuasive to impartial investigators, believers, and maybe even critics.
The accumulation of these examples makes a strong case for the pseudo-biblical books as the source of Joseph's mental language bank, while also refuting claims of intentional copying or plagiarism.
In the interest of time and space I'll provide only a few examples out of many more I have found.
1. Methought and go and declare. The term methought doesn't appear in the Bible, but it appears in the Book of Mormon and the First Book of Napoleon. The term also appears in Shakespeare and other writings, so its mere appearance in the Book of Mormon could be coincidental and unconnected to the pseudo-biblical books.
But consider the context and the related word combination go and declare.
*The official name of the organization is FairMormon, but I refer to them as FairlyMormon because, IMO, their adherence and fidelity to M2C leads them to mislead members of the Church and investigators. See https://fairlymormon.blogspot.com/
**We usually show the line of authority going through the Three Witnesses who ordained the original Quorum of the Twelve, but Oliver was the only one of the Three Witnesses who received his Priesthood directly from Peter, James and John, and the historical record shows Oliver ordaining many, if not most, of the original Quorum himself.
***The nature of the translation has been much studied and debated. Here I'm merely pointing out that what Joseph said is corroborated by what we see when we analyze the influence of The Late War and other pseudo-biblical texts.
****Ironically, an idiomatic translation lends credence to the M2C position that the original text was a Mayan codex, but that Joseph didn't translate it literally so we have "horses" instead of "tapirs" and no mention of jaguars, jade and jungles. There are other reasons to reject that approach, starting with the Hill Cumorah in New York, that I don't discuss in this analysis of The Late War.