I'll explain with a parable.
Someone sent one of her cakes to the King, but by the time it arrived, it had dried out. He asked his top scholars to study the cake so they could replicate it and make one that he could enjoy fresh without having to travel to the village.
After months of study, the experts determined that the chemistry involved was so complex that no village baker could have possibly produced such a cake. The idea that baker had produced the cake was obviously a naive folk legend. Instead, the cake had to be the work of unknown alchemists of exceptional skill whose work could only be understood after several more years of study--all to be funded by taxing the King's subjects, of course.
|BYU's infamous fantasy map
of the Book of Mormon that
teaches students the prophets
Naturally, critics of the Book of Mormon have always sought to discredit its divine authenticity. They say it is fictional because Joseph (and/or others) wrote it and/or copied it from one or more sources.
Faithful LDS refute those claims with semantic arguments. They write blogs, post comments on Facebook and other social media, read and write books and articles, etc., all focusing on semantics, word choice, statistical analysis, etc.
KEY POINT: The intellectual debate over the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon is essentially an exercise in confirmation bias. There is "evidence" to support whatever you want to believe.
Most participants in these discussions forget this key point. Their own confirmation bias blinds them to others' perspectives. Anyone who wants to understand the issues thoroughly should be able to at least articulate contrary positions, using the facts and arguments of the various proponents.
Lawyers learn this in their first year at law school, but anyone who analytically observes the world realizes that those with whom we disagree are not merely ignorant or stupid. Everyone has different biochemistry and brain structure, different family and religious and social backgrounds, all of which (and more) lead to different biases we seek to confirm.
That said, I think it's possible to break through confirmation bias if we heed the words of the prophets and the scriptures. That's why we have prophets, after all.
In my view, these prophetic sources explain the evidence in such a way as to corroborate what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said all along.
This is why it is so destructive to have M2C intellectuals teaching the world (including LDS youth) that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah--and all the other things I listed above.
People taught by M2C intellectuals and their followers come to view the Book of Mormon through the lens of M2C. My term for this condition is Mesomania. Mesomania leads one to interpret the text as a Mayan codex, complete with volcanoes, the three Js: jaguars, jungles and jade, etc.
M2C is promoted by a group of intellectuals who live in an intellectual bubble that I refer to as the citation cartel. Once you escape the M2C bubble, you begin to realize how pervasive it is.
I know how this works from personal experience, because for decades I, too, had Mesomania. I learned it through CES and BYU. Like the M2C intellectuals, for decades I could "not unsee" Mesoamerica when I read the Book of Mormon. I even accepted the premise that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
But then I learned more about what the prophets have actually taught. I learned about Letter VII and its widespread distribution while Joseph Smith was alive. I learned about the archaeology, anthropology, geology and geography that supports and corroborates the teachings of the prophets.
Now, the influence of M2C on LDS intellectual pursuits is more obvious to me than ever. In this blog series about the M2C web, I'm going to look at several aspects of this problem, including the treatment of The Late War, the Early Modern English theory (EME), and the revisionist Church history in Saints.
NOTE: This post about The Late War includes references from multiple perspectives. Many LDS do not want to know what critics say. If that describes you, that's fine, but I suggest you skip this rest of post. I'm writing for those who want to understand why the critics say what they do, how LDS defenders have responded, and what I think is the best way to understand all the evidence.
Background on The Late War
A few years ago, a couple of critics of the Church did an analysis of over 100,000 books published before 1830, searching for connections with the Book of Mormon. They concluded that a book called The Late War, originally published in 1816, had the most similarities to the Book of Mormon. The Late War is a narrative of the War of 1812, written in a style that emulates the King James Bible. This style has been called a "pseudo-Archaic," "pseudo-Biblical" or "Ancient Historical" style.
These critics claimed there were so many similarities of language and theme between The Late War and the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith must have copied from The Late War when he created the Book of Mormon. Other critics have made similar comparisons, including the CES Letter which as been read by (and believed by) many thousands of Church members and investigators.
Faithful LDS writers responded by claiming that critics manipulated the texts to find comparisons, that there is no evidence Joseph ever read The Late War, that distinctive phrases are actually common with other sources, and that the differences between the two books outweigh the similarities such that that there is little to no relationship between them.
(Citations to many of these articles on both sides are found at the end of this post.)
The latest response to The Late War is the theory that the Book of Mormon is written in Early Modern English (EME), a form of the language that predates the King James Version. This means that Joseph Smith could not have copied either the KJV Bible or The Late War and other books written in a pseudo-Biblical style. As the article explains, "There are a number of archaic features of complementation missing from the four pseudo-biblical writings in this domain. This argues against Joseph having been the author or English language translator of the Book of Mormon."
The conclusion of EME? Joseph didn't translate the Book of Mormon at all. Instead, he merely used a seer stone to read a translation performed by some unknown person 300-400 years earlier.
In part 4 of this series I'll explain why I completely disagree with the EME theory
The way we all interpret the evidence is driven by the bias we seek to confirm. When it comes to the Book of Mormon, if you're a critic, you focus on facts that you think confirm your disbelief. If you're a believer, you focus on facts you think confirm your belief.
To be clear, I'll explain my biases up front.
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 base, including his vocabulary and manner of speech.
Of course, I think my biases are confirmed by the evidence, as I'll explain below.
However, I recognize that my biases differ from the prevailing biases shared by LDS scholars, especially among the M2C intellectuals. But those differences, in turn, are driven by the differences between our views regarding Joseph Smith.
That is, I think Joseph knew a lot about the Book of Mormon and its peoples.
M2C intellectuals think Joseph knew next to nothing about them, and therefore they claim to know more about the Book of Mormon and its peoples than Joseph did. For a while now, they've been saying Joseph didn't even use the plates. Now they're saying Joseph didn't even translate.
If The Late War issue is new to you, you can see some of the comparisons set forth in the web pages I listed at the end of this post.*
There are undeniable similarities between The Late War and the Book of Mormon. The critics and defenders have focused on the nature of these similarities and what they mean, but they are all arguments about semantics and linguistics. I'll discuss the semantic arguments in part 3, and the linguistic arguments in part 4, including Early Modern English, but let's start by looking at the non-semantic similarities.
First, think of the historical and geographical context. In May, 1814, during the War of 1812, the British invaded the town of Pultneyville, NY, located only 17 miles due north of Palmyra on the shores of Lake Ontario. The British ships fired on the town, British troops invaded, and both the local militia and the British suffered casualties.
Joseph and his family moved from Vermont to Palmyra in the winter of 1816-7, less than three years after the nearby British invasion. As a 12-year-old boy, Joseph surely would have known about the War of 1812. It seems unimaginable that he and his siblings would not have been taught about it and read about it. The Late War was written and published specifically for school children. It was published in several editions starting in 1816.
In his 1832 history, Joseph wrote "thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed." We usually infer he was referring only to religious disputes, but I think the War of 1812 fits within the contentions and divisions in the world of mankind that distressed Joseph at this period of his life. There were veterans of that war from Palmyra. Palmyra was no backwater village, either, thanks to the Erie Canal that had been started in 1817 and completed to Palmyra by 1822. The town had its own newspaper. People discussed political issues.
Even if Joseph and every member of his family never read or saw The Late War, it seems even more unlikely that Martin Harris and other residents of Palmyra had never read it. And how likely is it that no copies were available to Joseph and his contemporaries between 1816 and 1829?
That's the historical context. Now let's look at the practical similarities.
In this series of images to the left, we see the first three pages of each book, starting with the Book of Mormon.
In both cases, we have a Title Page, a Copyright Page, and a Preface.
I've looked at other books from this period and there is considerable variation among them. Most have a table of contents in the first few pages, for example.
I'm sure there are other books of this vintage that follow the same form as the Book of Mormon and The Late War, but these two books are unusually similar, as you can see.
The first page in each book is a Title Page with a long, detailed title.
The author and printer are listed, along with the location of the printer and the date printed.
Obviously, the formatting is different. I'm not saying the Book of Mormon is an exact copy by any means. But we can all see the similarity between the two.
Both have the word "The" above the main title. The main title is followed by a multi-line subtitle.
Notice how the title page of The Late War reads, "Written in the Ancient Historical Style." This is Hunt's description of his effort to mimic the style of the King James Version.
The Late War also contains "a sketch of the late Algerine War." The term "sketch" is interesting because it's the term Joseph Smith used in the Wentworth Letter when he described Moroni's visit.
I was informed also concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came;—a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me.
The second page in each book is the full Copyright certificate.
I took these images from online databases.
You can see a copy of the original Book of Mormon in the Joseph Smith Papers here:
An 1819 edition of The Late War is available here:
Again, these two books are not unique in having the entire copyright notice printed on the second page.
However, many books I looked at simply state "copyright secured" or something similar. Some don't have a copyright on the second page at all.
The point is, Joseph was not required to print the entire copyright notice on the obverse side of the title page.
But he did.
Just like G. J. Hunt did when he published The Late War.
Both copyrights were filed in district courts in New York, albeit in different districts. Both copyright notices fill the entire page, with the Book of Mormon using a smaller font to avoid extending to a second page.
The third page in each book is a Preface. Some books of the period had prefaces, while others did not.
In both books, the word PREFACE is in all caps, followed by a period and set off with a line from the text below it.
Obviously, the text of the preface is different in each book. Joseph's preface to the Book of Mormon is one long paragraph of four long sentences, while the preface to The Late War includes numbered paragraphs.
Still, the formatting we see here shows some commonality in design.
Maybe Grandin, the printer in Palmyra, decided how the Book of Mormon should be arranged. Perhaps Grandin showed Joseph other books to get ideas of how he wanted the Book of Mormon to be printed.
But it seems unlikely that Grandin would have told Joseph he needed a Preface.
Instead, Joseph apparently decided he needed to explain what happened to the lost manuscript. Perhaps Grandin suggested he do so in a Preface.
However, it seems just as plausible to me that Joseph didn't need Grandin's suggestions. Had he read The Late War, as I think he surely did given his proximity in time and place to the events of that war, he could have gotten the idea of writing his explanation as a preface from that book
One counterpoint to the possibility that Joseph followed the formatting of The Late War is the placement of the testimony of the Three and Eight Witnesses at the end of the book.
The Late War, by contrast, includes two endorsements at the beginning, immediately following the Preface. That might have seemed a more logical place for the testimony of the witnesses.
On the other hand, the final pages of The Late War include a list of the officers of the American Bible Society, an endorsement of sorts of the goal of The Late War to encourage more Bible reading. That could be considered comparable to the endorsement by the eleven witnesses.
There may have been other practical reasons why Joseph put the testimony of the witnesses at the end of the book, such as something having to do with printing, timing, composition, etc.
But the endorsements of The Late War raise another interesting point.
This could have been a coincidence, of course. But others have suggested that, given Professor Mitchill's strong endorsement of The Late War, perhaps Martin and Joseph hoped for a similar endorsement.
That seems likely to me.
We don't know exactly what Martin showed Professor Mitchill, but we assume it included a translation of the characters as well as the copy of the characters themselves. This would have been Joseph's first attempts to translate the characters into English, and perhaps he sought Mitchill's approval of the type of language he was using.
Surely Joseph would have been pleased to procure an endorsement from the prominent Professor Mitchill similar to the one Mitchill gave to The Late War:
"Your Chronicle of events deserves to be mentioned in the list of useful publications. It will answer as a document of constant and ready reference. The reception of it into schools, will render familiar to children the chief actions in the contest, and teach them, at the same time, to respect their country and its institutions.
"It seems to me one of the best attempts to imitate the biblical style; and if the perusal of it can induce young persons to relish and love the sacred books whose language you have imitated, it will be the strongest of all recommendations."
Had Joseph obtained such an endorsement, it would have helped public acceptance of the Book of Mormon, to put it mildly.
These practical considerations give context to the semantic and linguistic issues.
The Late War was not the first book to imitate the Biblical style. Three specific prior books also have relevance to understanding the semantic issues.
The First Book of Napoleon, published in London in 1809, uses a pseudo-Biblical style to describe Napoleon's history. You can see it here:
The first verse gives an idea of its style: "And behold it came to pass, in these latter days, that an evil spirit arose on the face of the earth, and greatly troubled the sons of men."
Another book, The American Revolution by Richard Snowden, published in Baltimore in 1796, was "Written in Scriptural, or Ancient Historical Style," according to its title page. You can see The American Revolution here:
Recall that the title page of The Late War also claimed it was written in the "Ancient Historical Style." Another example of how The Late War is derivative of The American Revolution are these passages:
Such passages are not evidence of joint authorship, but they do indicate influence, whether intentional or not. These similar passages were derived from a common Biblical source, because neither passage highlighted in red appears in the Bible. It seems reasonable to infer that The Late War copied at least these phrases from The American Revolution.
The fourth book is John Leacock’s The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times, published in 1774-5.
All four books are available on BYU's WordCruncher library, an outstanding reference that you can download here:
If you look at the lists prepared by the critics, you'll see lots of superficial similarities between The Late War and the Book of Mormon (similar to the comparison I just made between The American Revolution and The Late War, actually). The counter argument is that these lists are heavily manipulated to make the similarities seem more obvious. For example, critics combine isolated phrases from different pages to compose something that also appears in the Book of Mormon.
People seeking to confirm their bias that the Book of Mormon is fiction are satisfied with the misleading and superficial similarities. They are uninterested in counter arguments and contradictory evidence.
People seeking to confirm their bias that the Book of Mormon is not fiction are satisfied with the explanation that the similarities are contrived. They, too, are uninterested in counter arguments and contradictory evidence.
Others, who may be troubled by the similarities but still seek to confirm their bias that the Book of Mormon is not fiction are satisfied with the EME explanation. This is the claim that the syntax is so complex and different between the Book of Mormon and both the Bible and the pseudo-biblical texts that Joseph didn't copy from any of these sources. In fact, statistical analysis shows that the syntax is so complex that it could only have been produced by someone intimately familiar with EME, which predates the King James Version. That is, Joseph himself could not have produced the Book of Mormon.
I think the statistical evidence is a powerful argument that Joseph did not copy The Late War (or the Bible), but I also think that the EME theory goes too far.
I have a different explanation of all the evidence.
I think Joseph read and was familiar with the Bible as well as The Late War and other pseudo-biblical books for the practical reasons explained in this post.
I think these books, as well as the Bible, contributed to Joseph's mental language base. That's what Part 3 of my series on the M2C web covers.
But I also think Joseph did not directly copy from or plagiarize those books when he dictated the Book of Mormon, partly because the similarities compiled by the critics are contrived, but more because of the statistical syntax evidence compiled by Carmack and Skousen, which demonstrates distinct syntax in the Book of Mormon text in many cases that is not found in either the Bible or the pseudo-biblical texts. (That said, I do think Joseph copied passages from the KJV Bible because he recognized them when he was translating the plates, but that's a topic for another day.)
I also think Joseph was the first and only translator of the ancient Nephite records into English and that what appears to be EME is actually Joseph's own dialect and manner of speech. That's the topic of part 4 of my series on the M2C web.
* List of books written in the Biblical style:
List of comparisons by the critics.
Some of the rebuttals to these comparisons: