long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Friday, August 31, 2018

M2C web part 7 - Bread lines and translation

We all know that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said Joseph translated the plates. I think the evidence corroborates their claim.

Others disagree.

Critics who insist Joseph couldn't have translated the text from an ancient record fall into two categories:

1. Unbelievers who say the text is a crude copy or imitation of the Bible, The Late War, and other pseudo-biblical texts, written in the 19th century. 

2. Believers who say the text is too sophisticated to have been the product of the uneducated Joseph Smith living in the 19th century. This is EME-OT (the Early Modern English-Other Translator theory).

Today we'll look at more evidence for why I believe Joseph and Oliver.

BTW, I didn't mention this in previous parts of this series, but if you go to the Wikipedia article on The Late War, you'll see this:

Association with the Book of Mormon[edit]

In the 21st century, speculation arose that The Late War influenced the 1830 work The Book of Mormon. Believers in a miraculous origin for the Book of Mormon dismiss that claim.[1][4]

I'm a wikipedia editor and I thought about making a change here by inserting "some" before believers, and then adding this sentence at the end. "Other believers agree that The Late War, along with other books, naturally influenced Joseph Smith, but that the text is his actual idiomatic translation of ancient records."

But I don't have a citation (yet) and anyway, I looked at footnote 4, a reference to FairMormon's unpersuasive response. I figured they would object to my changes because of the 14th Article of Faith. Far better to have the people at FairMormon themselves make the change, assuming they can overcome their cognitive dissonance and stop making the unbelievable argument that The Late War had nothing to do with Joseph's dictation. Seriously, does anyone outside the M2C bubble believe that?

BTW 2: I uploaded a video explanation of my take on EME-OT here:
Subscribers already got a notice, so if you want such a notice, just subscribe to my youtube channel.

I'm all in favor of academics, study, research, publication, etc. But often we can learn more from the real world if we simply open our eyes.

Recently I stood in a bread line that explained how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.

We were lined up because the bakery had just brought a rack of baguettes out of the oven. The worker behind the counter was doling them out. People were taking 3, 4, 5 at a time. The bread was hot, almost too hot to handle, so long paper sacks were stacked on the counter. You had to slip the bread into each one so you could carry it.

Because I'm living in Mauritius, the people in front of and behind me were all Mauritians, descendants of immigrants from India, Senegal, and Madagascar, mostly. Our island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1507, settled by the Dutch in 1598 (the Dutch named the island after the Dutch Prince Mauritius), seized by the French in  1715, surrendered to the British in 1810, and granted independence in 1968. The French brought in slaves from Africa. When the British abolished slavery in 1835, they imported indentured servants and soldiers from India.

English is the official language of Mauritius, but everyone speaks French and Morisien, a form of Creole that is mostly French with a mixture of English and various African and South Asian languages that developed as a common language among immigrants. Mauritians speak Morisien at home, French at work, and English and French in school, although they mix everything everywhere.

Back to the bakery. Everyone was speaking Morisien, their unique and unwritten language.* And I thought, some future linguist would deny that anyone ever spoke Morisien because he/she wouldn't find any evidence by doing n-grams of published books.

That's one of the basic fallacies of EME-OT (the Early Modern English-Other Translator theory). 

In the real world even today, few local dialects are published. They have to be dictated to be authentic, anyway. The Book of Mormon is a rare example of a long dictated text. It's really the only one of its kind. (I've heard people compare it with the Koran, but that took 23 years to complete, not 3 months.)

The Lord explained that he gave these commandments to his servants "after the manner of their language" (D&C 1:24). For many believers, that settles the matter. It did for me for a long time.

But then EME-OT came along and we were confronted with faithful LDS scholars who said D&C 1:24 was wrong, or at least misunderstood and misapplied with respect to the Book of Mormon.

Whenever the intellectuals say the revelations or the prophets are wrong, I follow the adage "Trust, but verify." I mean, trust the prophets, but verify what they teach when challenged by the intellectuals.

Once again we ask, what does the evidence support? The prophets or the scholars?

The answer is in the bread line.

Everyone in line was waiting for French bread, even though Mauritius has not been ruled by France for over 200 years. French baguettes in Mauritius are an example of how cultural artifacts endure. The same is true of language artifacts.

Consider this sentence: "I took a digital photograph of a blue tattooed avatar eating lemon sorbet while kowtowing to a jaguar in a canyon swamped by a tsunami." 

Here are the origins of the words.

"I took [Norse] a digital [Latin] photograph [Greek] of a blue [French] tattooed [Samoan] avatar [Hindi] eating [Dutch] lemon [Arabic] sorbet [Turkish] while kowtowing [Chinese] to a jaguar [Portuguese] in a canyon [Spanish] swamped [Norse] by a tsunami [Japanese]."

We don't think consciously about the origins of the words before we speak them. We acquired our vocabulary from our parents and social environment, who acquired their language from their parents, etc. We build on that by reading books (I'm thinking 19th century) and maybe attending school.

Like English, Morisien, and every other language and local dialect, Joseph's dialect was a combination of numerous sources: his parents, siblings, people in the community such as preachers and teachers, plus books he read.

Some people think Joseph read only the Bible. Others think he read every book in the libraries in western New York (because they claim Joseph extracted ideas and doctrines from a wide variety of books).

Common experience and the available evidence tells me that both extremes are highly unlikely. Instead, I think Joseph read a few books on topics that interested him, including The Late War, which explained the war of 1812 and was published in New York in several editions between 1816 and 1819. In those years, the Smiths were living in Palmyra among veterans of the war. Recall that the British had invaded Pultneyville, just a few miles north of Palmyra, so the war was fresh on the minds of the people Joseph grew up with.

In 1832, Joseph reminisced about this time of his life in his brief hand-written journal:  thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind 

His journal naturally focuses on religious issues, but what boy his age, pondering the "world of mankind," would be uninterested in a recent war that included an invasion not far from his home? Plus, Joseph wrote that "At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly..."

We see he was taught to believe the scriptures. His claim that he was "searching the scriptures" is given some context by his mother in her dictated history. She described how the family would gather around Joseph, "giving the most profound attention to a boy, nineteen <eighteen> years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life; for he was much less inclined to the perusals of books then any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study."

Notice, he was not a Biblical scholar. He didn't read the entire Bible, but we know he read at least the book of James. Joseph didn't refuse to read, either; he was "less inclined" to peruse books, but he studied deeply.

In previous parts of this series, I showed the influence of The Late War and other books. I showed also showed examples of the Early Modern English syntax appearing in other dictated passages, including the D&C, the PofGP, and Lucy's History.

In this part, I'll look at the likely source of unique terms in the Book of Mormon.

Of the 5,673 unique words in the Book of Mormon, about 1,700 of them are used only once. Another nearly 800 are used only twice. This means nearly half of the unique words are used only once or twice. On top of that, there are unique word combinations, phrases, etc.

If, as I think, Joseph actually translated the ancient record, where did he learn these words and phrases?

1. Adieu. The word adieu appears once in all the scriptures, in Jacob 7:27. How did a French word appear in the text of the Book of Mormon?

FairMormon explains that adieu was a common English term used by Mark Twain in 1905, Chaucer in 1374, and Shakespeare in 1609. It even appears in the original unpublished draft of the Declaration of Independence. That's not a bad explanation--well, it's definitely overkill and comes across as highly defensive--but none of it explains how Joseph Smith, living in rural western New York, learned the term.

I think a simpler explanation is that Joseph Smith's aunt used the term in a poem she wrote shortly before she died in 1794. Lucy included a copy in her History.

“My friends, I bid you all adieu;

The Lord hath called, and I must go;

What is more likely?

1. Joseph Smith's mother shared her dying sister's poem with the family.
2. Joseph Smith obtained Thomas Jefferson's unpublished draft of the Declaration of Independence.

This is so obvious one has to wonder why FairMormon would not use this simple explanation. We aren't mind readers, so we have to infer that they either (i) didn't know about Lucy's History or (ii) don't want to acknowledge her influence on Joseph's dialect. (Okay, there is third option: maybe they just prefer long, complicated, unpersuasive explanations.)

Think about this when you consider which alternative is more plausible. FairMormon consists of anonymous contributors, many of them employed by the Church directly or indirectly, which makes them authoritative under the 14th Article of Faith. Could they really be unaware of Lucy's History?

Just asking.

And don't worry, I realize that's a gratuitous comment and I won't discuss FairMormon again here. But you can see why so many people find their explanations more confusing than useful. And we haven't even gotten to the real gems in their explanations of M2C.

2. Tremendous slaughter. This phrase appears only once in the Book of Mormon. The term tremendous appears only 3 times in the scriptures, all in the Book of Mormon:

Alma 28:2 And thus there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem; yea, and tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad.

3 Yea, and also there was a tremendous slaughter among the people of Nephi; nevertheless, the Lamanites were driven and scattered, and the people of Nephi returned again to their land.

Mormon 8:2
2 And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.

Joseph could not have learned the term tremendous from the Bible. However, the term does appear in The Late War nine times, always as an adjective modifying noise, thunder or roar; e.g., "the battle continued with tremendous roar."

This is the kind of similarity that feeds both critics who claimed Joseph copied The Late War, and defenders who claim the usage is so different Joseph couldn't have read The Late War.

I think the evidence could be used to confirm either bias, but an unbiased observer would note that the context is similar, suggesting Joseph may have read the book, but the specific application is so different in the Book of Mormon that it's a most an influence. Or, as I say, a deposit into Joseph's mental language base.

How so I resolve this one?

I read Lucy's History.

Near the beginning of her History, Lucy explained "I have a sketch of my father’s life, written by himself, in which is detailed an account of his several campaigns and many of his advenures while in the army: From this I extract the following.—"

She puts the account in quotations, but it's not clear whether she read the account to her scribe or handed it over to be copied. Either way, part of the quoted account of her father (Joseph's grandfather) is this:

“The above engagement commenced early in the morning, and continued until about 3. o.clock P. M.; in which half of our men were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoners. In consequence of this tremendous slaughter, we were compelled to send to Fort Edwards for men in order to assist in carrying our wounded; which were about 80 in number." 

There it is, Joseph's exact phrase, taken from his grandfather's biography.

Next, we wonder if there is any evidence Joseph knew about his grandfather's biography. By now, you're probably figuring there is, and you're right. I'm going to share a long passage from Lucy's History.

Joseph told him that he was apprehensive of a mob being there that night, and, that they must prepare themselves to drive them away: but the first thing to be attended to, was to secure the record and breast plate. In view of this it was determined, that a portion of the hearth should be taken up, and, that the Record and breast plate should be burried under the same, and then the hearth be relaid to prevent suspicion.
This was accordingly done as speedily as possible; but the hearth was scarcely relaid, when a large company of men, well armed, came rushing up to the house. Joseph threw upen the doors, and taking a hint from the stratagem of his grandfather Mack [Solomon Mack Sr.], hallooed as if he had a legion at hand; meanwhile giving the word of command with great emphasis; while all the male portion of the family from the father down to little Carlos [Don Carlos Smith], ran out of the house with such fury upon the mob, that it struck them with terror and dismay, and they fled before the little Spartan band into the woods, where they despersed themselves to their several homes.

There are all kinds of interesting things in here I'd like to discuss, but let's just look at two.

First, the bolded passage relates back to an account in Lucy's father's biography you can read in the next section of this post. Here, Lucy makes the point that he "took a hint" from his own family history. That's solid evidence that his parents shared his grandfather's biography with him. Hence, I think this is the deposit of tremendous slaughter into Joseph's mental language bank.

Elsewhere in her history, Lucy uses tremendous 3 more times and tremendously once. I take that as good evidence that the term was part of the language Joseph inherited. To read it in The Late War may have cemented it, but he likely heard the word as a child long before he read The Late War.

Second is another rare Book of Mormon term from Joseph's grandfather's biography: stratagem.

3. Stratagem. This term appears 8 times in the Book of Mormon, once in Joseph Smith-History, and zero times in the Bible or pseudo texts (The Late War, etc.).  Lucy uses it 5 times in her History. This, I think, is another solid deposit of family dialect into Joseph's mental language bank.

Here is Joseph Smith-History, 1:60 "For no sooner was it known that I had them, than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose."

Here is the passage from Joseph's grandfather's biography, related by Lucy: I saw my danger, and, that there was no way to escape unless I could do it by stratagem. So I rushed upon them, calling in the meantime at the top of my voice, ‘rush on! rush on my boys! we’ll have the devils.’

Here is another use by Lucy: but by various stratagems one we succeeded in keeping them out of their hands

I find this highly persuasive in terms of showing that Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon in his own dialect.

I did a google n-gram on the term. You can enlarge it by clicking on it.

You'll notice that the term was not common ever, but it is documented as far back as the early 1500s. That means it could support the EME-OT theory.

The term appeared to die out in the early 1700s. (Remember this data reflects published books, not how actual people actually spoke.) But then it revived with a substantial peak around 1760.

Lucy was born in 1775, which means she probably began reading serious literature around 1790. That was about where the second modern peak was. If Lucy didn't learn the term from her parents (see the caveat below), she could easily have learned it from reading.

Although I don't think n-grams are all that useful for assessing any particular local dialect, here we see that an EME term became popular again in the timeframe of Joseph and his parents.

There are a lot more examples, too many to describe in this blog, but I went through my methodology so you can do the same, according to your interest. There are more examples in my next book, too.

Here, I need to mention a caveat. If I believed that the Book of Mormon is actually an Early Modern English text that Joseph didn't translate because he was not an expert in EME, then I would seek to confirm my bias with an alternative explanation.

I would tell myself that because Lucy dictated her history after Joseph's death, she herself must have been influenced by the EME in the text. IOW, she read the Book of Mormon. She read the term tremendous in three different verses. Therefore, the term became part of her vocabulary, and she merely parroted it back when she dictated her history. And, she undoubtedly borrowed the Book of Mormon phrase and attributed it to her father.

I fully expect the EME-OT intellectuals to adopt some rationalization along these lines. Confirmation bias is that strong.

I think most people would recognize how unrealistic that position would be, but my response would not be merely an appeal to common sense. First, I would point to the n-gram above. Then I would point out that Lucy never, or hardly ever, used such common Book of Mormon language as behold, thou, wherefore, etc., except when she was explicitly quoting scripture (and she never used "it came to pass"). Next, I would point to what Lucy said about the reason why she dictated her history:

People are often enquiring of me the particulars of Joseph’s getting the plates seeing the angels at first and many other thing which Joseph never wrote or published I have told over many things pertaining to these matters to different persons to gratify their curiosity indeed have almost destroyed my lungs giving these recitals to those who felt anxious to hear them I have now concluded to write down every particular as far as possible and if those who wish to read them will help me a little they can have it all in one piece to read at their leasure

This indicates she had repeated these accounts for a long time. Historians will quibble with some of the details Lucy related and, if they have an EME bias, will use those quibbles to cast doubt on anything that contradicts EME. And it's also true that Lucy's first draft varied in many respects from her second, corrected draft.

Because of my bias, I weigh the evidence in favor of the proposition that Joseph and Oliver told the truth and that the scriptures are accurate; i.e., that the Lord revealed these things according to the manner of language of his servants.

Here are a few more interesting examples.

4. Watery grave. This term appears only in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 18:18), The Late War, and Lucy's History. Joseph couldn't have learned it from the Bible, but he could have from either of the other sources.

5. Anxious. This term appears only twice in all the scriptures: Mosiah 29:38 (became exceedingly anxious) and D&C 121:27 (awaited with anxious expectation). It appears twice in First Book of Napoleon but not in the other pseudo texts (with anxious eye, anxious nights).

Lucy uses it 11 times in her History, often similar to the way Joseph used it (extremely anxious, very anxious, unusually anxious) and quotes Hyrum using it once (waiting anxiously). (Lucy also used the terms exceedingly and expectation, but not together with anxiety.)

When we remember that Lucy's history was also dictated, this is good evidence to support Lucy's influence on Joseph's dialect.

6. In consequence. Surprisingly, the term consequence does not appear in the Bible, but it is in the Book of Mormon 4 times (serious consequences, which consequences, awful consequences, and the consequences of sin), the D&C 9 times, and JS-History 3 times. It appears once in The American Revolution (the consequences of thy fall!) but not in the other pseudo books.

Lucy uses it over 20 times.

That's interesting enough but even more interesting is the odd phrase in consequence. Joseph uses it twice in JS-History.

Joseph Smith—History 1:29 In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; 

46 and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. 

Every time consequence appears in the D&C, it appears as part of the phrase in consequence. Here are two examples.

Doctrine and Covenants 42:64 And even now, let him that goeth to the east teach them that shall be converted to flee to the west, and this in consequence of that which is coming on the earth, and of secret combinations.

Doctrine and Covenants 56:6 For behold, I revoke the commandment which was given unto my servants Selah J. Griffin and Newel Knight, in consequence of the stiffneckedness of my people which are in Thompson, and their rebellions.

[Note: the term which in verse 6 is supposedly evidence of archaic EME when it appears in the Book of Mormon because more modern usage is who or that.]

Here are some of the 26 instances of this phrase from Lucy's History. (2 of these are from her father's biography and 7 of these are from an affidavit by Hyrum Smith, showing that Joseph's brother also used the phrase as well as Joseph's grandfather.)

Lucy: In consequence of that which brother Page for the purpose of getting a room for the women and sick children; but returned unsuccessful. (That is lined out in the manuscript which suggests Lucy said it but then revised it--the type of automatic utterance of a phrase we expect in dictation. It's the identical phrase that I bolded in D&C 42:64.

In consequence of which I took a severe cold

In consequence of which the young man returned without his grain

In consequence of which they were compelled to absent themselves from the city

And in consequence of the injuries which we had received at his hands, suspicion immediately fastened itself upon Joseph

But in consequence of his misfortunes, he was unable to do so, with the property which remained in his hands

Hyrum: That night was a commencement of a fit of sickness from which I have not wholy recovered unto this day, in consequence of my exposure to the inclemency of the weather. Our provision was fresh beef roasted in the fire on a stick; the army having no bread in consequence of mills to grind grain.


That's more than enough for now!


*Lately there has been an effort to standardize a written form of Morisien. Plus, people use it in social media, so there is a recent written record of it. But for decades, the language remained unwritten. And Morisien is different from the creole spoken on neighboring islands such as La Reunion and the Seychelles.

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