Curious Parallels Between the Book of Mormon and The Late War Against the United States

As a follow up to my previous post about “The Late Great War Against the Book of Mormon,” there are some interesting parallels between The Late War and the Book of Mormon that have gained some attention, especially among our critics. For example, one writer, convinced that The Late War was an important source for the Book of Mormon,
provides a lengthy list of parallels over at Patheos,
some of which seem noteworthy. Some, though, are a
bit of a stretch. Read The Late War
and try explaining to me how that actually accounts for the Book of Mormon. Further
analysis and responses to the charges will later be provided on
my LDSFAQ page dealing
with allegations of plagiarism in the Book of Mormon

The Patheos article begins its list with this
impressive parallel:

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

As with most of the parallels, much of the content is a
fairly natural description of details of war. Forts, walls, and ditches are not
that unusual, though I’ll admit it was only recently that scholars
recognized how important they were in ancient Mesoamerica. Further, preparing
for battle, fighting, suffering casualties and fleeing–these are not very
unique nor impressive. The filling of the ditch with the wounded is getting a
bit more unique because it is so extreme and memorable. But is that what The Late War actually says? Pages
102-104 describe a battle at a fort with a deep ditch around it. As in many
battles there are casualties, as we read in the key sentence on page
: “And the deep ditch that surrounded the fort was strewed with their
slain and their wounded.” The word “strewed” does not convey the “filling” by
numerous bodies as in the Book of Mormon, but can have more of a sense of bodies
scattered around the ditch, not bodies piled high. Hmm, rephrasing that as
“filling” the ditch and scoring it as a strong parallel suggests we may be
dealing with a less than objective approach by the author. Indeed, it may give
us a taste of what is to come in the parallels that follow.

Then the defeated troops fled into the forest and straight
back to their vessel. Does that really equate with the wilderness of the Book
of Mormon?

The vast majority of the parallels from The Late War naturally involve war, and often the details of war,
with parallels generally found in Alma’s detailed accounts of some wars the
Nephites fought. While critics feel that their often contrived parallels
somehow explain the authorship of the Book of Mormon based upon the cumulative
impression these parallels create, mingled with bogus statistical tools, there
is a severe absence of clearly plagiarized material of the kind that would make
life easier for a lazy plagiarist. The
Book of Mormon is “explained” by plagiarism from The Late War even less than the New Testament is “explained” as a
work of plagiarism from, say, Isaiah (and in that case, we know Isaiah was
actually quoted frequently).

Detailed accounts of actual war have parallels with the Book
of Mormon because the Book of Mormon text has intricate details steeped in the
realities of real war, something Joseph Smith was not acquainted with. The
issues of recruiting, chain of command, supply chains, managing prisoners,
negotiations with the enemy, deception, strategy of many kinds, the challenges
of marches and terrain, the relationship between seasons and warfare, morale of
the troops, weaponry, armor, fortifications, wounds, and numerous other details
that we often miss provide a consistent and remarkable tapestry that speaks of
authorship from someone besides Joseph Smith. There is an entire book of
warfare in the Book of Mormon that only partially explores the deep war-related
content of that ancient book.

While many of the realities of war apply to any setting,
including the war of 1812, much of what is in the Book of Mormon has an ancient
flavor that Joseph could not have fabricated. The chapter on warfare in John
Sorenson’s recent Mormon’s Codex also should be read by anyone even mildly
impressed with The Late War as a
possible explanation for the Book of Mormon. The Mesoamerican elements
consistent with the Book of Mormon, and foreign to what Joseph might have
known, deserve serious consideration. But the common elements with almost all
war will make for easy parallel hunting, but none of these parallels explain

Something Curious about that Book

One of the parallels that I felt was most interesting, at
least initially, involves a phrase that one might think is a distinctive
Book of Mormon term: “curious workmanship.” If you Google that phrase, the
first page of hits will be dominated by links related to the Book of Mormon and
LDS lore.  Here are the related parallels
mentioned at Patheos, which definitely caught my interest:

A man builds a boat of “curious workmanship”, despite the mocking and
scoffing of others. The latter are humbled when they see the completed product.
192-193, 50:2-7, 12) 1 Nephi 17:17-18; 18:1-4

A “ball” made out of “brass” of “curious work” with clocklike spindles (p. 195, 50:28) 1
Nephi 16:10

Swords of fine/curious “workmanship” (p. 42, 12:12; p. 44,
13:13; p. 58, 16:24) 1 Nephi 4:9

The Book of Mormon references are:

1 Nephi 16: 10

And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went
forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a
round ball of curious workmanship;
and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one
pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.

1 Nephi 18:1

And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth
with me; and we did work timbers of curious
. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I
should work the timbers of the ship.

Ether 10:27

And they did make all manner of weapons of war. And they did work all
manner of work of exceedingly curious

(Note: 1 Nephi 4:9 is presented
as sort of a “curious workmanship” hit at Patheos, but that verse doesn’t use
the word curious. Instead, Nephi observes that “the workmanship” of Laban’s
sword was fine. But Ether 10:27 refers to curious workmanship right after a
mention of weapons. )

How impressive are the parallels cited at Patheos?

I’ve already noted that the last parallel cited isn’t
completely fair since the Book of Mormon doesn’t use “curious workmanship” in
the cited verse. But things are better in the first parallel. Here is The
Late War text, pp. 192-193
, featuring chapter
50, verses 2-7, 12:

2 Among these there appeared one whose ingenuity
was exceedingly great inasmuch as it astonished all the inhabitants of the
earth :

3 Now the name of this man was Robert, sir-named
Fulton; but the cold hand of death fell upon him, and he slept with his
fathers, on the twenty and third day of the second month of the eighteen
hundred and fifteenth year of the Christian era.

4 However, the things which he brought into
practice in his life time will be recorded, and his name spoken of by
generations yet unborn.

5 Although, like other men of genius, in these
days, he was spoken of but slightly at first; for the people said, Lo ! the man
is beside himself! and they laughed at him; nevertheless, he exceeded their

6 For it came to pass, that (assisted by
Livingston, a man of wealth, and a lover of arts and learning) lie was enabled
to construct certain curious vessels, called the vernacular tongue,

7 Now these steam-boats were cunningly contrived
and had abundance of curious workmanship
therein, such as surpassed the comprehension of all the wise men of the east,
from the beginning to this day.

12 But when the scoffers, the enemies of Fulton,
and the gainsayers, saw that the boats moved pleasantly upon the river, they
began to be ashamed of their own ignorance and stupidity, and were fain to get
into the boats themselves; after which, instead of laughing, they gaped at the
inventor with astonishment.

Yes, Robert Fulton built a boat alright, and some folks
laughed at him. But is there anything about this story that makes it helpful to
an eager plagiarist in need of material, lots of material, for his book? If
this is THE SOURCE that Joseph relied on above all other sources, why is so
little of the material used?

Maybe things will be more clear with the remaining “curious”
parallel above, the one that looks most impactful with its kinship to the
Liahona. Here is the cited text from The
Late War, verse 28 of chapter 50, p. 195

26 And now, also, the cunning and witchcraft of
these Yankees, these sons of Belial, these children of Beelzebub, have invented
another instrument of destruction, more subtile than all the rest :

27 Yea, these are mighty evil things, and they
are called torpedoes, which may be said to signify sleeping devils ; which
come, as a thief in the night, to destroy the servants of the king ; and were
contrived by that arch fiend, whose name was Fulton.

28 Now these wonderful torpedoes were made partly
of brass and partly of iron, and were cunningly contrived with curious works, like unto a clock; and
as it were a large ball.

29 And, after they were prepared, and a great quantity
of the black dust put therein, they were let down into the water, nigh unto the
strong ships, with intent to destroy them;

30 And it was so, that when they struck against
the bottom of the ship, the black dust in the torpedo would catch fire, and
burst forth with tremendous roar, casting the vessel out of the waters and
bursting her in twain.

Maybe it’s just my Mormon faith getting in the way of
cognitive dissonance of something, but I’m still struggling to see the faith-demolishing
power of this. It’s not even “curious workmanship,” but just “curious works.”
Where is the scene of Lehi finding the ball outside his tent? Where is the
device that guides them through the wilderness? Why, Gilbert Hunt’s “large
ball” is nothing like the Liahona, but is, of all things, a torpedo. Now if Lehi had  found a sacred
outside his tent and marched across the desert with it, the
anti-Mormons would have a better case. Further, where are the promised spindles
in the Liahona? Is there reference to “clock” supposed to magically provide the
direction-giving spindles in a divine compass/torpedo? I guess with a little
faith, all things are possible. But I’m thoroughly disappointed.

Yes, there are parallels, but scattered, weak, and not very
helpful to a would-be plagiarizer. The relationship between The Late War and the Book of Mormon does
not appear to offer a serious explanation for Book of Mormon origins, and not
much substance and density as an alleged influencer of some kind, though the
relationship may be statistically stronger than with many other books that also
were not used as sources by Joseph Smith. But where does that get us actually?

But isn’t it a strange coincidence that both books
repeatedly use this odd phrase, “curious workmanship”?

“Curious workmanship” is not in the Bible and is certainly not
a common phrase in the English of today, but yes, there it is in both the Book
of Mormon and The Late War. If you
Google that word, the first page of hits are dominated by links related to the
Book of Mormon, so it seems like a pretty distinctive and unusual Mormon term.
Smoking gun? Well, if smoke is what you want, we’ve come to the right place.
While “curious workmanship” may not be part of our modern working vocabulary,
get past the first page of Google results and look at other works using that
phrase. You’ll soon see a plethora of works from the 1700s and early 1800s
invoking that term. has a page for the bigram “curious
workmanship” at (at
[note, 8/30/2020: no longer provides the bigram data, but you can still see it at the archived page at via the provided link] where they explore its use in books. We can see that this phrase was not
exceedingly rare in Joseph’s day, and that over 1% of the books published in the years around and
prior to the Book of Mormon used this phrase (some years had 4% or more of
their published books incorporating the phrase). No, it was not used in most
books, but it was used enough that finding it in one book does not necessarily
have any bearing on issues of derivation. 



{begin update}

8/8/2020 Update:  Here is a view of the bigram from via

In Joseph’s day, it looks like a significant number of books had that phrase, somewhere between 1% to 3% of all books in their database.


Next we provide the Google Books Ngram Viewer results for “curious workmanship” versus what we might normally say in our day, “fine workmanship,” revealing that in Joseph’s day “curious workmanship” was much more common.  The percentages shown show what percent of all bigrams in their database consist of the specific bigram being measured. It was a surprisingly common term back in Joseph’s era.


{end of update}

“Curious workmanship” is actually part of a four-word phrase found in both texts.
But don’t be too highly impressed. The other words are trivial: “of” and “and,”
as in “of curious workmanship and.” In The
Late War, the “and” is part of a
single sentence, logically joining workmanship with other elements.  In the Book of Mormon, it’s a little
different, being separated from workmanship with a semicolon or a period. Not
all that impressive. What really counts is the concept of “curious
workmanship,” which almost always will be preceded by “of.”

To see how “curious workmanship” was used in Joseph’s day
and before, Google Books is a useful tool, as is the Google search engine. Google,
of course, has a vast library of old books under its cyber belt. Just about
every old book of significance and thousands of highly obscure ones seem to be
there–with the apparent exception of The
Late War

In Google Books, we find the following examples, in order
(no date filter was applied, but very recent books such as LDS-related books
have been manually excluded), and with a touch of tongue-in-cheek commentary
explaining “exactly” how these sources could have been used to fabricate the
Book of Mormon. You’ll see just how easy it can be to turn random parallels
into “smoking guns.” Naturally, I’ll provide some of the smoke to help things
along. Let’s look at the top candidates from my initial search (renumbered
after excluding modern books):

1. A
history and description of the royal abbaye of Saint Denis
, London:
J.S. Jordan, 1795. Here the very title page of the book, much more likely to be
read and noticed than anything inside, speaks of “pieces of curious workmanship and antiquity.” There is our four-word
phrase in full glory, prominently displayed in a book predating The Late War. Had Joseph but glanced
within, he might well have landed upon page 50, where we read of a great
warrior who, like Captain Moroni, faced “enemies” with his “pious attitude,”
relying on divine protection and guidance “in the day of battle” when he “led
on his Knights and his armies to victory; whilst, in his councils, he ceased
not to look up to them [the holy Martyrs in heaven] for their heavenly aid and
influence.” Councils, armies, battle, victory, seeking divine help–that’s
pretty much the Book of Mormon in a nutshell. Through such heavenly help, the
hero found success in battle and, like the wounded Alma after leading his
people to victory, also found “recovery of his health.” Yes, this could have
been an important source that Joseph used, not through digesting hundreds of
pages, but a mere glance or two, perhaps in just a few moments of wandering in
his vast frontier library.

One further hint of the potential significance of this
source: there is a reference to the Restoration of pure Christianity in its
foreword, p. iv. After a reference to Saints and “their Church” at the top if the
page, we have a revealing–or shall we say “revelatory”?–passage condemning the
apostasy seen among the clergy and men of learning in France, and expressing
hope for that day “When mankind shall have withdrawn from Christianity, all
that they have added to it, GENUINE RELIGION ITSELF only will remain, as simple
in its doctrines, as pure in its morality.”

That’s what the Restoration was all about: reversing
apostasy and bringing back pure religion. Could this have been the book that
sparked Joseph’s dream–and his visions? I will leave it as an exercise to the
reader to find the many other Book of Mormon terms embedded in this book, such
as Isaiah, prophet, temple, and so forth.

Of course, one must understand that the church being
described was no ordinary church, but one blessed with remarkable sacred relics
such as “the real tooth” of the Apostle John (p. 13) and the shoulder blade of
John the Baptist (p. 16), not only serving as inspiration for the angelic
visitation of those holy men as angels to Joseph Smith, but also raising
difficult questions about missing elements in the possibly incomplete resurrection
of those saints, if the relics have been accurately catalogued.

2. Keating’s
general history of Ireland
by Geoffrey Keating and Dermod O’Connor,
1865, on page 487 we encounter “ten coats of mail, two cloaks richly adorned,
and two pair of chess-boards of curious
.” A three-word parallel! Coats of mail and chess-boards both
invoke military concepts and battles, an important Book of Mormon theme. This
is followed by another instance on the same page with even stronger military
ties: “six swords, six shields of
curious workmanship, and
six scarlet cloaks.” And there you have it, all 4
words, in the context of weaponry made of metal. Nearly a perfect fit for
explaining the Book of Mormon’s use of that phrase, though the slightly late
publication date could give Mormon apologists some unfortunate talking points.

3. The
border antiquities of England and Scotland
by Sir Walter Scott, vol. 1,
1814, page 8, has two relevant instances. One occurs as “ruins of some curious
workmanship” and the other is “a piece of
curious workmanship
, as is visible to this day, and… ” which would be a perfect four-word match were it not for a
brief parenthetical remark. The context, interestingly, is that of describing a
castle, or, equivalently, a great and spacious building.

Since this book does not appear on the list of books at the
Manchester Library that Joseph might have had easy access to, we must assume
that this book was one of the many smuggled into Joseph’s frontier library.
While this book is filled with numerous themes that have relation to the Book
of Mormon, we do not expect Joseph to have read and extracted them all, but
perhaps only a choice page or two in his random perusing. After all, he was not
a bookworm and rarely read before publishing the Book of Mormon, so his
plagiarism surely must have been based upon very brief episodes of gleaning
material from selected sources. Had he flipped upon Scott’s work, surely his
eyes must have fallen upon page 90, where we find an astonishingly high density
of Book of Mormon parallels, enough to surely settle the case the Walter
Scott’s Border Antiquities was a
vital Book of Mormon source. Look at the concepts, in order:

  •  “Four sons” (like Lehi!)
  •  “his castle” (defensive fortiations)
  • King John (introducing the concept of kings)
  • “pledges his fidelity” (making oaths)
  •  “joining with the barons in that holy war of
  •  “the fickle tyrant” (King Noah and others)
  •  “his castles and lands were given to” another
    (as happened several times in the Book of Mormon)
  •  “In the succeeding reign, however, he obtained a
    restitution of them” (The Book of Mormon refers to Nephites obtaining a
    “restitution” of their lands from the Lamanites. Perfect match!)
  • His son Gilbert succeeded to his barony (as sons
    succeeded fathers to positions of leadership among the Nephites)
  • “To him succeeded a son of the same name” (a
    common Nephite practice: Nephi and Nephi, Alma and Alma, etc.)
  •  “endowed it with . . . land . . . for the
    maintenance of two chaplains to perform divine service daily”

And that is just warming up for the most
relevant paragraph at the bottom of page 90. 

The present condition of this mansion
remains to be described. It is guarded by an outward wall towards the Tyne, built on the brink of the cliffs, in this
place not less than sixty perpendicular feet in height, above the plain which
intervenes between the castle and
the river. This wall, at intervals, is defended by square bastions. The entrance to the castle is from the south: when viewed
from the heights, the whole structure has a very noble and formidable
appearance. Mr. Hutchinson, who seems to have examined very minutely the actual
state of this mansion, has given the following description of it: “The narrow neck of land,” says he,
“leading to the entrance, was formerly cut through by a deep ditch, over which a drawbridge has
given access to the outward gate:
the water which anciently supplied the ditch
is now collected by a reservoir before the gate, and serves a mill: the outward
gate was originally defended by several outworks and a tower, as appears by their ruins. From the situ- {end of page 90,
continues on page 91} ation in which I drew my view of this place, I could
overlook the top of the first gate, and the eye penetrated the inner gateway;
the superstructure of which is a lofty
embattled square tower, about sixty
feet high. . . . The outward wall to the left, from the inner gateway, extends
to a considerable distance without any turret or bastion, over which several
interior buildings, and among them, the remains of the chapel, were discovered
in all the confusion of ruin . . . above all which objects, a square tower, the
keep of the fortress . . .
overlooked the castle. . . .

neck of land? Curious workmanship? Fortresses, walls, ditches, outworks
(breastworks), towers, gates, and many more Book of Mormon concepts–all on just
a page or two of one book? Could this be the smoking gun? But what, there’s
even more smoke to come! Continuing onto page 91, as Joseph may well have done
once page 90 captured his limited attention, we read again of a “narrow path” (as
in the narrow paths the Nephite had to traverse) and walls, with a gate flanked
with various structures and a tower, reminiscent of King Benjamin’s tower and
the defensive works Moroni made. “This gate gives admittance to a covered way,
leading to the inner gate, about 30 paces in length; a sallyport opening on
each side, to flank the walls and defend
the ditch
.”  The ditch concept occurs
again on page 92, where a ditch “guards the southern side” near a tower
and walls. “Steps ascend from the area to the top of the walls in several
places, which is broad enough to allow armed men of the garrison to pass each
other, covered by a rampart.” So wooden structures on top of the walls further
protect the armed soldiers, with a ditch outside the wall helping to defend the
fortress. Eerily similar to Book of Mormon descriptions of Captain Moroni’s
defensive works. The search for a smoking gun could well stop here, but there
are other treasures to be mined with a little more effort.

the way, Mormon apologists might try to dilute the shock value of this
discovery by arguing that a few other works prior to 1830 also used the phrase
“narrow neck of land.” (See, for example, the Google search at the shortcut
which finds 25 books with that very phrase.) In doing so, they may only shoot
themselves in the foot as they offer more evidence for plagiarism. See, for
example, the reference in page 67 of An Account of the expedition to Carthagena by Sir Charles Knowles which refers
to military men defending themselves as they “throw up a Breast-work upon the
narrow Neck of Land; Soldiers to be there posted. . . .” That is exactly how
the Book of Mormon has it: soldiers “throw up” or cast up their defensive
structures, and they add breastworks upon the walls that they have thrown up,
and then they are posted there.

such parallels are waiting to be discovered in virtually any reference that
Mormon apologists might “throw up” to create a desperate defense for the Book
of Mormon under siege. As we find parallels of any kind in modern texts, we can
take these as further proof that the Book of Mormon is a product of its day,
written with words and phrases found scattered throughout modern English
writings. We have already noted that the Book of Mormon shares 60% of its
vocabulary with the Leaves of Grass.
More astonishing still, over 90% of its vocabulary is shared with Noah
Webster’s famous little dictionary, but that intricate story is for another
day. True, Joseph’s plagiarism may been of the tedious sort, searching through
vast volumes of books to come up with words and brief phrases that he gradually
cobbled together to form entire verses and, slowly, whole pages of text, but
that was his problem, not ours.  

4. The
Memoirs of Charles-Lewis, Baron de Pollnitz
by Karl Ludwig Freiherr von
Pöllnitz , 1738, which was at the top of the 2nd page of basic
Google results for my initial search on “curious workmanship,” has this on page
48: “Andirons being of most curious Workmanship” and then, later, this
sentence: “The Prince has a magnificent Garden in the Suburb of Vienna, which
has a Court before it, that is separated from the Street by an Iron Grate of
very curious Workmanship.” Again, we see curious workmanship in the context of
metal, as in the Book of Mormon. But we also have reference to royalty and
courts, as occur in the Book of Mormon, and it is in the context of Noah’s
court where we see iron being used as a precious metal in the Book of Mormon.
Further, we have reference to a Garden in the suburbs of a city, where a street
passes by it, associated with a prominent leader. Clearly this is a strong
parallel with the account of the leader Nephi in the Book of Helaman who had a
garden in a suburb of Zarahemla by the highway leading to the chief market. Certainly
we cannot disregard this book as one of several possible sources for the Book
of Mormon. 

5. A
View of All Religions
by Thomas Robbins, 1824, page 43, describes “a
crucifix, in alto relievo, on the altar; which is generally of curious workmanship.” Interestingly,
a sacred religious relic is the subject, as is the case in the initial instance
of this three-word phrase in the Book of Mormon. That is curious enough, but
then, on the same page, we find this smoking gun: “The altar is inclosed within
rails generally of curious workmanship,
the whole service is conducted with solemnity and great ceremony.” Wow,
not just four words, but in the context of sacred objects, of altars and
prayer, of religious services and a “great ceremony”–invoking King Benjamin’s
speech and other key moments in the Book of Mormon. And, yes, all done in a
book on religions, much as the Book of Mormon is a book on religion. Curious
and curiouser!

In fact, Robbins’ following sentence leaves other
fingerprints pointing to Book of Mormon origins: “the mist of antiquity” (as in
the “mists of darkness” in 3 Nephi), “ceremonies,” “vestments,” “priests” and
“solemn occasions.” That paragraph goes on to again mention ceremonies,
churches, “edification of the faithful,” “praying with uplifted hands, in
imitation of Moses” which “mystically expresses the elevation of our thoughts
to God,” and then “altars of mediation between heaven and earth.” Robbins’ work
appears to provide inspiration not only for the Book of Mormon but also the LDS
Temple ceremony. Please note that we find all this in a couple of adjacent
paragraphs, not scattered across hundreds of pages requiring statistical
analysis to fish out chance relationships.

In fact, it is known that Joseph was not a bookworm and read
very few if any books, so we should expect that his sources probably came from
a page or two that he casually or even accidentally glanced and digested for
subsequent regurgitation. Here we are uncovering the very bars and ingots used
to hammer out the gold plates, not a few gold flakes dispersed in tons of
worthless ore to be gradually extracted by a statisticians’ sluice. With the
level of “concept density” and direct relevance we find on pages 43 and 44 of
Robbins, surely this portion of that work must rate more highly than the
diluted sources previous scholars have proposed as a source for the Book of
Mormon, with the exception of the impeccably researched and well-document links
to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Not convinced? Then try the text that follows on the
remainder of page 44, where in the next paragraph we encounter “sacred
vestments,” “garments” (yes, garments!), “the offices of religion”, and then
specific elements of these sacred vestments such as the “cope” or cloak, the
frock, the stole, a mantle, a girdle which was a cord going around the body
(apron-like one might say), “white dress,” and the “alb,” described as the
“universal under garment.” In addition to the detailed description of what may
be called LDS temple clothing, the author then introduces another race with
darker skin as reference is made to the “Asiatics,” bringing us back to Book of
Mormon themes, shortly followed by a mention of clothing made from “the fur and
hair of animals,” an obvious source for the clothing of the Lamanites and also
the Gadianton robbers.

Then comes another paragraph mentioning “divine service,”
prayers, “holy lessons,” reading from sacred texts, clergy, “ordained,” the
church, and, completing the details needed for Joseph’s temple clothing
project, we encounter:

“the amice or head-cloth . . . compared to the protecting helmet of
spiritual grace and salvation. The long alb,
or white linen garment, was supposed to be emblematical of future glory and
immortality . . . and the chasuble, dalmatic, &c. to express the yoke
and burden of the gospel.”

Two pages from Robbins and a handful of pages from Whitman
gives us much of what was needed for the LDS Restoration. But there are other
sources that may have helped, so let us continue our brief survey.

At this point, we have gone through the relevant hits on
just the first page of Google results for the book search of “curious
workmanship.” One more sample:

6. Chapters
in the History of Old St. Paul’s
by William Sparrow Simpson, 1881 (see
page 64). This describes the “curious workmanship” of the monuments of “sundry
persons, some of worship, and some of honour” in a cloister at Pardon Church
Haugh. Ah, “curious workmanship” is used in the context of remembering and
honoring righteous people of the past, aligning with the role the Book of
Mormon’s curious relics, the brass plates and the Liahona.

Some of the hits further down the list in my initial search are
of rather famous works that Joseph might have at least heard about, such as
Edward Gibbon’s The
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
(1820), vol. 5, where a single
page, p. 310, not only mentions “curious workmanship” in the context of silver
and gold, but also refers to “ecclesiastical writers,” barbarians who have
attacked a city, a virgin, the service of the altar, conscience and awareness
of sin, defense, reverential awe, a king, treasure, a consecrated plate, and
“the church of the apostle.” That represents a fairly high density of potential
parallels to be drawn by a slightly creative mind, arguably more interesting
than many of the parallels normally found by critics in their quest to explain
away the ever uncooperative Book of Mormon.

Next comes The
Iliad of Homer
, translated by James Morrice (1809). On page 319 we find
“curious workmanship” referring to shields with “brazen folds,” associating the
workmanship with metals as in the initial occurrences of curious workmanship in
Book of Mormon, but also reminiscent of the curious workmanship of Moroni’s
defenses. The following line has a shocker, mentioning an “orb with studded
gold / Encircled shone, high polish’d, beautiful / Wrought by no common hand.”
And on the same page is a mention of “two spears,” much like the “two spindles”
of Nephi’s mysterious device. If you want to explain the Book of Mormon as a
work of plagiarism drawn from available sources in Joseph’s day, The Iliad might be a better candidate
than The Late War’s crude ballistic
“balls” in “explaining” the Liahona, that metallic orb of curious workmanship
definitely wrought by no common hand. And the Iliad is filled with scenes of
warfare in which, surprisingly, people attack, other defend, some are killed,
others are wounded, and some flea, etc., etc., all just like in the Book of
Mormon. Some critics, as I recall, have even suggested The Iliad as one of the
many sources Joseph may have “plagiarized.” But please, all these parallels, as
interesting and sometimes curious as they are, explain nothing about the Book
of Mormon and its intricacies and power other than the fact that it was written
in the English language (yes, with words and even phrases used by other
writers–many others!–because that was part of the language) and  has a realistic description of the details of

One more quick mention: next on the list is Plutarch’s Lives by Francis Wrangham, 1813, where “curious workmanship” on p. 54 of
vol. 6 describes a sword, fitting in well with the Book of Mormon and Laban’s
sword. Other curious parallels in that chapter are left as an exercise to the
reader. Note: Plutarch’s Lives was listed in
the Manchester Library
that Joseph could have accessed, but the edition of
the book recorded in its records wasn’t printed until 1834. But perhaps someone
could have smuggled a copy into his secret frontier library.

The results above came from my initial simple search. A more
efficient search strategy with Google is to search only on books of a specific
time period, such as from 1500 to 1830. The following shortcut will take you to
a Google search for the four-word phrase “of curious workmanship and” in books
from 1500 to 1830:
You can then adjust the date and search string as you wish.  Google finds 32 books, most relatively near to
Joseph’s time frame. Undoubtedly there are vastly more occurrences in
magazines, speeches, and the many other publications not included in Google’s

Special mention
is needed for of those search results near the top of this second search (at
least near the top the first time I did the search–results with Google can vary
depending on where, when, and even who you are). On page
275 of Robert Plot’s The natural history
of Oxford-shire
published in 1696, we have another reference to curious
workmanship in a religious setting, but there is much more. The searched phrase
occurs in this sentence: “There is an Altar-rail at All-Souls-College of
curious workmanship; and to this place belongs the Tomb of St. Frideswide,
still remaining at Christ-Church, and the Top whereof is Wood, and a fine old
piece of Work: But not comparable to the Tomb of fair Roasamun at Godflow, in
the Chapter-house of the Nuns there….” It is interesting that we have
references to an altar, souls, Christ, church, etc. But vastly more significant
than the weak parallels of The Late War,
the page begins with this fragment of a sentence: “what Quarter the Wind blows,
upon the 32 Points of the Compass, depicted on a Cylinder of Stone, was an
ingenious Contrivance.” A compass, a round cylinder, an ingenious contrivance,
all on the same page as “curious workmanship.” Could this old book have been
the source for the entire concept of the Liahona, that cylindrical compass of
curious workmanship, an ingenious contrivance, which was used to guide Nephi in
sailing his ship, very much concerned about “what quarter the wind blows”? Combine
this book with The Iliad and the plot
certainly thickens. Perhaps it’s even a, uh, Homer run.

Yet there is more. Plot goes on to write of “many lofty
spires about the Country as well as City, built of Free-stone, and of exquisite
Workmanship” followed by a reference to “the Battlements where were repaired,
and thus thick set with Pinnacles” and then a reference to “Towers … large and
well built.” Then follows “Orders of Pillars” and “the top with well
proportion’d Pinnacles.” Though taken from a single page of a 1696 work, this could
well be a page out of Captain Moroni’s defensive manual. Battlements,
pinnacles, towers… all that seems to be missing is a reference to timberwork.

Timberwork? Gasp! In the sentence after the description of
pinnacles, which is also the sentence immediately before “curious workmanship,”
we encounter this startling phrase: “Among the Curiosities in Timber-work, we
may reckon …” And then on the following page, we not surprisingly encounter the
word “fort,” cementing our suspicions of plagiarism. But that is still not all.
In the same phrase as “fort,” we also have a reference to a “Looking-glass”
(possible inspiration for the Urim and Thummin or seerstone of the Book of
Mormon?) and “ancient MS” (ancient manuscript), more key Book of Mormon themes.
The “looking glass” is not any ordinary object, but is described immediately
thereafter in more mystic terms by the above-mentioned ancient manuscript with
a Latin title, “Speculum in quo uno visu
apparebunt multae imagines moventes se
” or “mirror in which one sees many moving
images”–a reasonable description of a seerstone. Amazingly, two sentences later
we have this gem: “Take, says the Author, a deep Box, and place it in the
Bottom of …” It takes but little imagination, from the perspective of a
sufficiently dedicated critic, to see how this phrase could inspire Joseph to
write of Moroni, author of the Book of Mormon, who took his ancient manuscript
and Urim and Thummin, and placed them in a deep stone box in the bottom of a shallow
pit on the Hill Cumorah.

A natural history of Oxfordshire, England would not seem
like the kind of book to gather much attention in frontier New York, and I am
guessing that it is even less likely that Joseph could have bumped into a copy
of it or in any way been influenced by it, whereas there’s a more reasonable chance
of some kind of exposure to The Late War.
Yet Plot’s book on Oxfordshire offers a remarkably high density of interesting
parallels on a single page. Still not worthy of being called plagiarism, and
still doing nothing to explain the depth and intricacies of a distinctly
ancient, not modern, Book of Mormon. Plot’s book has the advantage of a pretty
concentration of intriguing parallels on one page in contrast to the widely
scattered and not especially shiny nuggets ascribed to The Late War. Those chance parallels in Plot remind us, as we have
learned from The Leaves of Grass,
that interesting parallels can happen by chance and that caution is needed in
making conclusions of derivation or influence. But if you’re duty bound to find
plagiarism to fortify or justify your dislike of Mormonism, go ahead and use The Late War, but be sure to add some
more interesting and fruitful sources such as Robert Plot’s delightful work on
Oxfordshire, neglected far too long by anti-Mormons (but I can’t blame them for
that: like The Late War, it has been
neglected by nearly all Americans, both today and in Joseph’s day). And for
best results, throw in some Homer, some Plutarch, some Thomas Robbins, a
handful of Walter Scott’s border antiquities and certainly a dose of J.S.
Hordan and his obscure history of the “royal abbaye of Saint Denis,” and
please, don’t forget that poetic gem and one of the best treasures for
“explaining” the Book of Mormon, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Give it your best, but don’t expect any serious
cooperation from the ever uncooperative and truly ancient Book of Mormon. Good

Update, Nov. 19, 2013: It’s not hard to find many other curious parallels in old books, including ones that probably never came anywhere close to Joseph Smith. For example, another source to consider is the poem Soohrab, published in 1814 in Calcutta, which could easily have made it to New York by 1827, especially if someone secretly working for Joseph special ordered a shipment straight from Calcutta to be added to his mysterious frontier library. Why not? The published text mentions “curious devices” of gold (p. 72), a “standard worked with curious art” (p. 106), and on page 50, there is reference to a ball and two portions of a cut spear (spindles in the Liahona?), weapons, armor, etc. And then most startling, we find the word “stripling” several times, including–hold your breath–the full phrase “stripling warrior” not just one, not just twice, but three times! There are many more parallels, of course. Better than the parallels the critics are finding, but not good enough to mean anything, though a little fun with literature is meaning enough, n’est-ce pas?

Author: Jeff Lindsay

9 thoughts on “Curious Parallels Between the Book of Mormon and The Late War Against the United States

  1. If you want one measure of how common a phrase is you can use Google's Ngram. You put in a word or phrase and it will search numerous books over a specific range of years to see just how common that word or phrase is compared to all the other words and phrases being used in books at the time.

    Here is a link to an Ngram search for "curious workmanship". (Hopefully the spam filter won't catch my comment!) Usage of the phrase peaked in 1780 and then was steady until 1820 and then declined after that. So it was not a common phrase but not unheard of.

    Interestingly enough Google's Ngram uses the same basic method of analyzing texts that the Johnsons used in making their case about the parallels between the Book of Mormon and The Late War. It should be noted that there are statistical subtleties involved with using n-grams that have to be taken into account. Some of the potential problems have already been address by Jeff and by others over at The Mormon Interpreter.

  2. Thanks for the post Jeff. I've been following this debate for awhile but haven't commented yet. I would point out Ben McGuire's comment to his article over at the Interpreter where he goes into much of the same detail as you about how the comparisons by RT are not objective or strong comparisons.

    As a military historian let me add my two cents as well. My impression was that these comparisons were very shallow. It is fairly easy to find people that are defeated and retreat into the wilderness for example. RT's observations remind me of something I read from Vogel a while ago, where he argued that Smith copied the BoM from what he knew about local Indian tribes. And on the military history side his argument was that they both had walls and fortifications. Again, it was so generic as to be useless for comparison.

    Finally, there is a certain irony in this, as me and others have been accused of searching for ancient parallels no matter how vague, and yet here we have critics searching for contemporary parallels, not matter how vague or forced, to prove their point. Of course I think both sides can be guilty of applying a flawed methodology, but I tend to think lists like these are more persuasive than some generic items presented by RT or Vogel:


    Thanks for letting me drop by and add my two cents.

  3. I'm sorry guys, I think you are missing the point. It doesn't matter (to me) how weak a parallel is in a side by side comparison. I have a strong testimony in the BoM, yet I take a pragmatic approach to how Joseph achieved this monumental work. Also, it seems that responses like this have a very threatened feel, as if the argument for finding legitimate parallels in a book contemporary to Joseph would actually destroy anything, let alone your testimony. This adds to the dynamic that was Joseph, and his capability as a "seer" who allowed revelation to flow through him.

  4. I'm all for "dynamic" comparisons but I'm sorry, I don't see these comparisons as qualifying. If Joseph Smith was some kind of literary genius that could weave in beautiful prose drawn from the best contemporary works on top of being a prophet, that would be cool and it could enhance our understanding of the text, (as Chris Smith at Worlds Without End has discussed.) But based on my study and research, on top of the statistical models and discussions found elsewhere, these phrases that supposedly prove dependence between the texts are not convincing. I already thought they were rather generic, and this was before I read comments from people like Ben McGuire that showed more problems with them.

    Additionally, I was at a conference a few years ago where I presented a paper on a generals application of a military text. And the commenter after my presentation simply asked, "where and when did the general read the text in question?" It was worthy of answering but I didn't know or have any indication that the general actually read it. I wonder the same thing about Smith. The book existing in that time period doesn't mean that Smith read it.

  5. I thought I had seen every argument against the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. I had not heard of The Late War book until a few days ago. And to be honest, I was pretty shocked. The way the information is presented on this website is striking: I've been looking for blog posts like this help me wrap my head around the similarities. I'm glad I found this blog post. I've always had a strong testimony. For some reason The Late War comparison hit me hard. I started having doubts that I had never had before. My brother in law and sister announced to the family three days ago that they are leaving the church after reading the CES Letter that has been circulating around. Their two biggest hangups are the Book of Abraham and how Joseph Smith obtained it and The Late War. They also heard that Joseph Smith would send men on missions so he could sleep with their wives. With the exception of The Late War, I had heard all of the other stuff before and didn't have a problem with any of it. Any information you have on those other subjects would be great. I think my sister is dead set on leaving the church but maybe I can help clarify a few things. Thanks.

  6. I have been researching this comparison lightly, and here's a thought: A) maybe Joseph Smith *did* read The Late War and it simply influenced his vernacular language. B) I've been taught that the Book of Mormon text was revealed to him in language that would be familiar to him, rather than word for word as if it had gone through google translate. So if words such as "curious workmanship" or "freemen" etc. are in the Book of Mormon, perhaps it's because those were the familiar words to Joseph that God chose to reveal to him.

  7. Its not just the late war, several verses and key phrases are just pulled straight up from the the old and the new testament, Koran, and various Apocrypha stories. Not to mention the heavy influence of View of the Hebrews, the Spalding Manuscript. It's essentially the way a dj samples mixture of clips from different song o create a new original beat or song. Sadly 60% of the people that leave LDS either become atheist/agnostic instead turning to the true Jesus the bible teaches.

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