New Twists in the Debate Over Book of Mormon Origins

Book of Mormon has long been a controversial book to the world, but
we must also recognize that it is increasingly controversial within
the Church. The
debate over its origins — is it an authentic ancient document
or modern fiction concocted by Joseph Smith? — occurs not just
between Mormons and non-Mormons, or between the faithful and those
losing their faith, but has also extended among the ranks of those
who consider themselves faithful Mormons.

are some who respect the Book of Mormon yet feel it is not derived
from an ancient text but somehow stems from Joseph Smith’s mind and
his environment. That may seem bizarre to many faithful Mormons, but
especially among academics, there are strong pressures to humanize
the roots of our religion and the “keystone” thereof,
seeing such things from a purely naturalistic perspective.

However inspiring and “truthy” the Book of Mormon may be, from that
perspective it must ultimately be fiction. It is a perspective I
reject and find inconsistent with my personal experience and with
abundant evidence, beginning with the witnesses of the gold plates
and the extensive evidences from the text itself and beyond.

But I feel it is vital to understand the debate if only to avoid being
blind-sided and caught off guard when one finds occasional fellow
Mormons teaching something quite surprising.

recent publications give insights into the ongoing debate over the
origins of the Book of Mormon. One of these comes from the Mormon Interpreter,
the publication edited by Daniel Peterson that is a leading source
for scholarly investigation into LDS issues pertaining to our

In apparent contrast comes an article from BYU’s Maxwell Institute,
once the banner carrier for LDS apologetics, which has gone through
significant shape-shifting since casting out Dr. Peterson and
distancing itself from apologetics. (However, the controversy over this article may be unnecessary, as I observe in an update below.)

The first article is “What
Command Syntax Tells Us About Book of Mormon Authorship

by Stanford Carmack in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture
13 (2015): 175-217. This is a highly technical and challenging
article, but one that adds important new evidence to previous recent
scholarly observations showing that the English language dictated by
Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon was not
simply derived from the language of the King James Bible nor the
English of Joseph’s day.

there is a compelling case that the translation was somehow given in
language predating the KJV by roughly a century or more. I mentioned
this in my previous Nauvoo Times
post, “The
Debate Over Book of Mormon Translation: Loose or Tight?
” Brother
Carmack’s latest contribution looks at the complex ways in which the
verb “command” is used in the Book of Mormon, and multiple
issues point to usage patterns that are surprisingly close to English
around 1500, and significantly different from the statistical
patterns of the KJV.

However this was done and why, it severely undercuts any theory that relies
on Joseph Smith as the source of the translation. Carmack offers
plausible reasons why these long-unnoticed characteristics of the
original English point to a process outside of Joseph’s abilities —
in other words, evidence for detailed divine intervention in at least
some aspects of the translation.

controversial Maxwell Institute article comes from an LDS scholar who apparently embraces
Mormonism but appears to be has been viewed  as casting at least some doubt on the
historicity of the Book of Mormon. The
article is “The
Book of Mormon and Early America’s Political and Intellectual Tradition

by Benjamin E. Park, Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies
23 (2014): 167–75. Dr.
Park, an associate editor of the Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Studies Review
(the successor of the FARMS Review that Dr. Peterson edited from 1988 through June 2012) reviews
David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America
(2011), and Eran Shalev, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to
the Civil War

his essay, Dr. Park appears [at first glance, anyway] to endorse the notion that the Book of
Mormon is a product of Joseph Smith’s environment and not a truly
unique and miraculous book, as would seem to be required for any
ancient New World text translated by divine power. He
approvingly observes that the academic works he reviews help to “chop
away at Mormonism’s distinctive message” and shed the
“shackles” of “Mormon historiography’s
exclusive nature.”

Update, Jan. 10: Dr. Park has made a statement at Times and Seasons that I just saw which seeks to address the controversy that has ensued. Here is part of his statement:

When I spoke of the methodological limitations of past discourse, I did
not mean that viewing the Book of Mormon as an ancient text is a
mistake. I simply meant that the important scholarly work on questions
of central importance to an internal, predominantly Mormon
audience has paved the way for a broader scholarly conversation about
ways that Joseph Smith and his religion connected with other streams of
nineteenth-century thought. I in no way expect or want scholarship that
explores an ancient setting for the Book of Mormon and other questions
of vital importance to Mormons to cease—indeed, the very first page of
my review notes that these past discussions are both important and
should continue. There is nothing about this new work that precludes
continued attention to questions surrounding the text’s ancient origins.
I was pleased to see that the very issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
in which my review appeared featured several articles that explored the
Book of Mormon’s ancient setting, a form of scholarship that the
Maxwell Institute continues to support. I regret that the talk
surrounding my emphasis on the nineteenth-century context has
overshadowed the primary point of the last few pages of my review: that
even the contextual frameworks ably provided by Holland and Shalev don’t
fully capture the breadth and depth of the Book of Mormon, as the book
continues to elude narrow categories of contemporary analysis.

This is a helpful statement, but I don’t think this removes the controversy or eliminates the grounds for debate. I am glad to see that Park does not reject the ancient roots of the Book of Mormon. Perhaps Dr. Park in his role as a scholar addressing a broad audience did not realize how his words would be taken as undermining the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient book. And perhaps some readers like myself fail to fully appreciate the value of contextualizing the Book of Mormon and the roots of Mormon religion in light of related nineteenth century trends using modern scholarly tools and paradigms.

Indeed, it is fair to recognize that at least some aspects of the Book of Mormon, especially the language and the work of preparing a text, obviously had to be influenced in various ways by the linguistic and cultural environment of Joseph Smith. But as noted below, there may still be some serious surprises in that area that challenge all of our prior assumptions about the translation of the text. The purpose of this post is not to criticize Park but to point to some of those new but still very tentative surprises that might need to be considered in future debate, and which can be interesting areas for ongoing research.

a publication coming from BYU’s Maxwell Institute, this can easily be viewed as
controversial material worthy of debate and response. Daniel
Peterson briefly summarizes the controversy and challenges Park in
his LDS blog at Patheos in the post, “Recovering, at long last, from the plague of Mormon exceptionalism.”
The comments there help reflect the depth of the controversy and the
divide that can occur among LDS thinkers on both sides of the debate.

I’d like to call attention to is the issue of the language of the
Book of Mormon translation, which is an issue raised in Shalev’s book
and in Park’s review. Here is an excerpt from Park, making reference
to Shalev:

The book’s third chapter attempts to, as announced in its title, chart the “cultural origins of the Book of Mormon.” More particularly, the chapter examines the growth of what Shalev calls “pseudobiblical literature,” which used Elizabethan English and a biblical message in order to add a divine grounding to the nation’s message. During the early republic, Shalev explains, a preponderance of texts sought to imitate the Bible’s language and message while validating America’s destiny and purpose. “By imposing the Bible and its intellectual and cultural landscapes on America,” American Zion explains, “those texts placed the United States in a biblical time and frame, describing the new nation and its history as occurring in a distant, revered, and mythic dimension” (p. 100). These texts sought to collapse the distance between past and present—making both the Israelite story relevant as well as the ancient language accessible. This republicanization of the Bible possessed significant implications for American political culture. Beyond merely expanding their historical consciousness and placing America within an epic narrative of divine progress, the Old Testament added a pretext for such actions as those supposedly provoked by manifest destiny.

Ironically, the Book of Mormon appeared after the apex of this literary tradition. By the time Joseph Smith’s scriptural record was published, texts written in the Elizabethan style were on the decline, and most works were presented in a more modern, democratic style. On the one hand, this made the Book of Mormon the climax of the pseudobiblical tradition; on the other hand, the book acts as something of a puzzle. Shalev writes that the text “has been able to survive and flourish for almost two centuries not because, but in spite of, the literary ecology of the mid-nineteenth century and after” (p. 104). While this may be true—and Shalev is persuasive in showing how the Book of Mormon appeared at the most opportune time to take advantage of its linguistic flair—his framework overlooks the continued potential for creating a sacred time and message through the use of archaic language. Not only did other religious texts replicate King James verbiage throughout the nineteenth century, but so did varied authors like the antislavery writer James Branagan, who used antiquated language in order to provoke careful readings of his political pamphlets. Yet despite this potential oversight, Shalev’s use of the linguistic environment in order to contextualize the Book of Mormon is an underexplored angle that adds much to our understanding of the text.

Shalev is at his best when comparing the Book of Mormon to other pseudobiblical texts from the period, such as “The First Book of Chronicles, Chapter the 5th,” which was published in South Carolina’s Investigator only a few years before the Book of Mormon, as well as “A Fragment of the Prophecy of Tobias,” published serially in the American Mercury. The latter text is especially fascinating for Book of Mormon scholars, as the editor claims to have found this work that was hidden away in past centuries and that required a designated translator to reveal its important meaning for an American audience. These contemporary accounts are not meant to serve as potential sources for the Book of Mormon’s narrative—indeed, Shalev admits such an endeavor would be impossible—but they reaffirm the important lesson that the Book of Mormon is best seen as one of many examples that embody the same cultural strains and that its importance for American intellectual historians is best seen as part of a tapestry of scriptural voices that speak to a culture’s anxieties, hopes, and fears….

Shalev’s book offers a new context and asks new questions concerning the Book of Mormon’s linguistic and political context—issues that will certainly be taken up by future scholars

Elizabethan language of the Book of Mormon is widely assumed by
critics, non-LDS scholars, and some LDS people as evidence of Joseph
Smith’s authorship of the text, while those believing in the
authenticity of the book have often defended that language as a
reasonable stylistic choice for the divinely aided translation.

is interesting now is that this entire debate may have been based on
a faulty assumption, the assumption that the language Joseph dictated
is KJV Elizabethan.

recent work of Carmack, building on Royal Skousen’s detailed analysis
of the original text of the Book of Mormon, reveals a surprise that
may turn the tables on the critics and some scholars: it isn’t
Elizabethan dating to the 1600s, but Early Modern English from a
century or so before.

would the translation of the Book of Mormon somehow be dialed into an
earlier version of English than that which Joseph knew from the KJV?
I asked this question of Brother Carmack in the comments section at
the Mormon Interpreter, and obtained this interesting response:

Book of Mormon contains old, distinctive syntax that is nevertheless
plain to the understanding. In view of Moses 1:39, the Lord wants us
to take the Book of Mormon seriously. Many have begun to doubt the
historicity of the book in part because they have decided that Joseph
Smith is the author of the English-language text.

syntactic evidence tells us that he could not have been the author. I
am confident that the Lord knew that we would eventually find this
out, and that we would learn about it at a time when we had a strong
need for solid empirical evidence that the book was divinely
translated, which points ineluctably to historicity.

on the distressing turn of events I see at the Maxwell Institute, I’d
This new evidence about the non-KJV origins of Book of Mormon
English may be coming just in time. The timing, in fact, may be
rather providential. But more research is needed on the linguistic relation of the original Book of Mormon text to Early Modern English and texts of Joseph’s day. This could be quite interesting to see where this pursuit leads.

thing I especially agree with in Park’s essay and in Carmack’s
comments is the need for further scholarship in this area. It is a
puzzling but intriguing vein that needs to be mined much more deeply
using the tools and knowledge we now have that simply was not
available a few years ago.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

61 thoughts on “New Twists in the Debate Over Book of Mormon Origins

  1. And, hopefully, as new evidence surfaces (in those specific academic venues) for the BoM's history none of it will be hidden under a bushel.


  2. I don't know either of these authors. I haven't read any new MI stuff, but I read the Interpreter. I read your post because I wanted to learn more about the latest research in Book of Mormon origins, but I was let down. Perhaps you could do a substantive review of Carmack's article in the future?

    Making a scandal about Park's review of someone else's book, which apparently requires a lot of reading between the lines, is really unhelpful. It also comes across as uninformed and petty given Park's December 2014 statement on the matter at Times & Seasons.

    Steve M.

  3. Considering we know Smith plagiarized from multiple sources, perhaps the early syntax can be found in one of those sources. That is where an opened minded scholar would first look.

  4. If Carmack is correct, doesn't that imply a "tight" rather than "loose" translation? In other words, God didn't just give Joseph the meaning and let Joseph choose how to translate it, but rather God told Joseph what language to use in translation. If so, doesn't that then imply the need to abandon apologetic arguments that say word X in the Book of Mormon may really mean word Y? Doesn't it also create difficulty explaining why Joseph would use the KJV to translate Isaiah, the sermon on the mount, and other biblical passages found in the Book of Mormon, when a form of even earlier English was allegedly used to translate the rest of the book?

  5. Anonymous (8:30 AM, January 09, 2015),

    The typical source often asserted for plagiarism is the Bible. You mention that "we know Smith plagiarized from multiple source." Do you have a reference for this statement?


    PS – Here is a definition of plagiarism from Wikipedia:

    Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work.

  6. Gideon reminds us of a legitimate question about theories of loose vs. tight translation. Arguments centered on Early Modern English, chiasmus, etc. presuppose a tight translation. Arguments explaining away anachronisms presuppose a loose translation.

    If I understand Jeff correctly, he believes we don't need to choose categorically between tight and loose translation; in his view, some parts of the Book of Mormon might use one while other parts use the other (see, e.g., here, where we read that "Neither school insists that the translation was only done one way…."). Needless to say, to the skeptic this sounds a lot like "Any port in a storm."

    The skeptic will also say that what evidence there is in the historical record points toward tight translation.

    The skeptic might add that translators typically strive to follow a single principle of translation. That is, once a translator has decided to work for, say, "dynamic equalivalence," he's not going to switch here and there to a mode of formal equivalence, and now and then just wing it with some of their own paraphrasing.

    Why in the world would Smith take such an eclectic approach to translating the BoM? It hardly seems like the way to produce "the most correct book on earth."

    And if for some reason Smith were taking such an approach, wouldn't he have told someone, perhaps even explained why? Wouldn't those assisting him have noticed, and remarked upon it at some point?

    AFAIK, there's nothing in the historical record supporting the idea that God or an angel told Smith, "OK, for this part you must transcribe the exact words you see in the seer stone in your hat, in the exact order in which they appear. But for this next part you can paraphrase however you see fit, and for the section after that, just copy from the Book of Isaiah."

    Then there's this bit from Carmack:

    "I am confident that the Lord knew that we would eventually find this out, and that we would learn about it at a time when we had a strong need for solid empirical evidence that the book was divinely translated."

    Here Carmack modestly presents himself as a sort of linguistic hero of the faith, arriving just in time to untie Sweet Sue from the railroad tracks of apostasy.

    Just when the evidence against divine origins became so great as to shake the faithful, we learn that God has planted a linguistic pattern to reassure us.

    How deviously clever of God! He couldn't simply have allowed Smith to hang onto the gold plates so that they could later be scientifically dated and proved ancient. That would be too simple. The Joker can never simply pull out a gun and shoot Batman in the head; instead he must suspend the hero above a vat of boiling acid, hanging only by a rope slowly being nibbled by a hungry mouse….

    It's all very entertaining, but everyone knows that's not really how the world works.

    As a theory, tight AND loose translation, depending on what you're trying to explain away seems on par with the creationist claim that God layered the fossils in an evolutionary sequence in order to test our faith (or that Satan did it to lead us astray, take your pick).

    Mormon apologetics looks more like creationism every day.

  7. Steve M., thanks for the link. I missed that, and in light of that information, I've updated the post. I think his statement does not remove the basis for the controversy, but it helpful.

  8. Orbiting, I think you raise some legitimate questions. A loose translation is what naturally makes sense. Oliver Cowdery's attempt at translation and the process of receiving inspiration discussed in Sections 8 and 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants require work on the part of the translator and seem to speak of concepts coming to one's heart and mind, so for me the bias is to assume some degree of looseness, but not so loose as to obscure chiasmic structure. A loose translation does help in dealing with apparent anachronisms, for example. But now we have to grapple with the evidence showing that not only do we have bad grammar that turns out to be good Hebraisms, but this newer evidence suggesting that once seemingly bad grammar that had to be corrected now turns out to be good grammar 100 years before the KJV, and that this EmodE stuff is deep and persistent in ways that just don't fit the theory of Joseph drawing upon the KJV to craft the text. I don't think we can be comfortable with this yet and a lot more investigation is needed to really understand what this means. One guess for now, assuming Caramack's analysis stands, is that there was a pre-translated EModE core that was used to convey concepts and language to Joseph, who, as human translator and editor, then constructed a text for printing in which loose and tight aspects can both be present.

    Let's dig into those contemporary sources Joseph allegedly plagiarized and see if things like the BOM command structure patterns can be found.

  9. I agree with Steve M. that there's really not much of a scandal here. Let me use an analogy to try to explain why:

    Mormon doctrine considers people to be both spiritual and physical. An eternal spirit in a temporary body, etc. (I might not have said this exactly right, but for our purposes here that shouldn't matter.)

    A medical researcher, in the course of doing medical research, adopts a rather different view of the human being. The medical researcher, qua researcher, sees the human being as one primate among many, as a collection of cells and organs, made up of chemicals, etc., most of which are similar to the cells and organs of chimps and gorillas etc.

    The researcher might or might not also believe that the human possesses a soul that radically distinguishes it from all other animals, but for the purposes of his medical research, that doesn't matter. In the lab, the believer and the atheist can work side by side and discuss their shared work in terms that never bring them into theological conflict. (And that's a very good thing, right?)

    Obviously, this limited, highly reductive understanding of what a human person is (a collection of chemicals) will not pass muster theologically, but it is tremendously useful to the researcher and can help us discover some very useful medical truths.

    Now suppose that a devout Mormon is reviewing some new medical-research book. For the duration of the review, the reviewer will probably write from the narrow perspective of the medical researcher. He will set aside his belief that we are eternal spirits going through our earthly probation, etc. He will assume within the review that we are collections of cells and organs made of chemicals. He will set aside his own assumptions and adopt those of his academic discipline.

    This is common book-review practice — so common that the reviewer will assume the reader understands it. Thus he will not feel the need to preface every statement with a disclaimer ("From the narrow perspective of medical science….").

    Now switch to another field of academic research: Book of Mormon studies (or maybe 19th-century literary studies).

    To the devout Mormon, the BoM is not "just another voice in a rancorous [nineteenth-century American] chorus." (I'm quoting Peterson quoting Park.) Well, of course it's not, just as a human being is not just another primate. But for the purposes of certain kinds of academic research, it is useful to bracket orthodoxy and treat the BoM more reductively as a book that shares many of the same features as other 19th-century American texts. Treating it this way might not be fit for Sunday School, but it might nonetheless yield up some useful truths. It would definitely be appropriate in an academic context.

    (At this point, one might ponder whether Journal of Book of Mormon Studies aspires to be an academic journal or an instrument of apologetics. Park seems to lean toward the former, Peterson toward the latter.)

    This reductive approach (treating the BoM as just another text) also has the advantage of opening up BoM studies to non-Mormons, whose work, even though secular, might well produce truths that orthodox Mormons will find interesting or useful.

    Just as in the medical research lab, if orthodox matters of the spirit are temporarily set aside by the believer, then the believer and non-believer alike can work together on the academic questions confronting them without getting bogged down in irrelevant theological debate.

    So what I see happening in Park's review is that he's temporarily bracketing his own religious beliefs and adopting the narrower view of the academic researcher. That's all.

    Steve M. understands this. Peterson seems not to. Peterson seems so eager to defend the faith (or maybe just so cantankerous) that he's unable to set that faith aside, even when doing so would be appropriate and useful.

  10. Jeff –

    The longer you countenance Carmack's theories, the more I lose respect for your apologetics. You didn't seem to accept much from my prior critiques of this approach, so I'm not sure what more I can say.

  11. IMO, "loose and tight translation" is simply another ace LDS apologists (including mormanity) play when needing to explain mistakes (anachronisms) or for support (chiasmic structure) similar to the on/off "speaking as a man/speaking as a prophet" switch.
    And speaking of creationists, we find the same tactics within evolutionary thinking. Gradualism is constantly swapped with punctuated equilibrium whenever necessary, isn't it?

  12. One of many anonymous voices said, "The longer you countenance Carmack's theories, the more I lose respect for your apologetics. You didn't seem to accept much from my prior critiques of this approach, so I'm not sure what more I can say."

    Of the many responses Carmacks; work has had, it's hard to know which you are referring to. Some of the best came from Gideon, who observed that some of the usages Carmack had listed as obsolete based on the Oxford Dictionary could be found in Joseph's day. Excellent point, as in the case of "extinct." This weakened the case for some of Carmack's statements, but has little bearing on the statistical analysis here. Some of these structures can be found in the KJV and other texts Joseph could have seen, but the statistical occurrence in the BOM is far different and much closer to much earlier English.

    The other objections that I recall tend to fall in the "Huh? That's silly!" category. I can sympathize. But it's the data we are staring at, and it demands something more tham just copying KJV language to explain the Book of Mormon.

    Note: This line of pursuit did not begin as a desperate apologetics ploy. It began with the data observed by Skousen, the leading expert on the language of the original BOM manuscript. Let's look at the data, folks.

  13. The information that is being provided by the ongoing research can be helpful to those who are having some doubts about the Book of Mormon and are seeking some kind of temporal evidence to support the claims of the book. But none of the evidence that has come to light will (nor should) convince a skeptic that the Book of Mormon is true. That is the realm of the Holy Spirit.

    I, myself am astounded how learned, how erudite was the young Joseph and the huge, eclectic library from which he cherry picked his information and how adroitly he assembled the information from all of those disparate sources into his offering. More amazing still is the fact that no one has been able to find evidence on how he perpetrated his fraud, leaving us with no choice to engage in endless rounds of speculation about how he might have doen this or that part of it.


  14. Better yet, Jeff, let's have Carmack submit his work to an academic journal so that people who actually know linguistics can "look at the data."

    Carmack can easily snowball us amateurs, if in fact that is what he's doing, but he won't be able to fool his academic peers. If he's really got something, what's to stop him from submitting it for professional publication?

    The fact that he's publishing this work in Mormon Interpreter instead of, say, International Journal of Linguistics should give us pause. (Of course, if we're dealing here with apologetics instead of real research, it all makes sense.)

    And let's all remember to think about what the data might mean. In addition to signifying "God's little irony" and "The BoM is ancient," I can think of a couple of other possibilities:

    (1) Carmack is looking only at printed material. But our linguistic competence is shaped first, and most profoundly, by what we hear, not what we read. Archaic structures sometimes persist in nonstandard spoken dialects much longer than they do in print.

    The classic example is ain't, which was an acceptable, standard form used in formal printed English until the nineteenth century. Now it's considered nonstandard and has disappeared from print, but is still widely used today in spoken discourse in nonstandard dialects.

    If "ain't" can persist in spoken discourse for centuries after it disappears from print, then why not formations like commanded…that? The appearance of either form would not be evidence of ancientness, especially in a case where the writer was deliberately trying to make his writing sound ancient.

    Unfortunately, unless someone like Mark Twain is transcribing it into print, spoken discourse tends to disappear from the archive, so this possibility might be hard to check out.

    (2) If I'm reading Carmack correctly, EModE command syntax had not disappeared completely from written material available in the 1820s; it was just uncommon compared to newer forms. If so, it's quite possible that Smith encountered it in one of its uncommon occurrences, and liked the sound of it* (or thought it sounded appropriately "ancient"), and thus incorporated it into his writing. Every writer develops these kinds of idiosyncracies.

    Another point: Carmack occasionally cites the Oxford English Dictionary in determining when certain forms stopped being used. The OED, however, is a work in progress, with new lexicographical data being uncovered all the time. Also, of course, the OED is derived solely from print sources and thus cannot be used to determine the totality of a writer's linguistic environment.

    Really, though, the key here is peer review. Professional linguists could doubtless do a far better job than you or I of vetting Carmack's work. If he doesn't submit his findings to the professional linguistics community for review, then he's just doing apologetics, and non-Mormons have no reason to take him seriously.

    * Carmack suggests that EModE command syntax is appropriate to the BoM because it is "emphatic, versatile, and precise." I would suggest instead that Smith used it because he loved prolixity and bombast.

  15. @Orbiting Kolob: If something has to be published in peer reviewed journals to qualify as being accepted as evidence either way then much of the skeptical arguments will fail on those grounds also.

    Just deal with the data. Find someone who can rebut it or maybe show why it isn't applicable, or whatever.


  16. Carmack here. The data stand on their own and can be verified by any interested, intelligent person with some grammatical understanding. If you wanted to do the spadework that I did, you’d come up with the same numbers, give or take, that I did. I triple checked all of the BofM data, double checked the biblical data, and when I had the methodology down I analyzed Caxton 1483, double checking it. I made Excel databases at least three different times in order to make sure I got the numbers close to accurate. I looked at Skousen’s latest grammatical variation work (vol. 3 of his critical text project) and caught some more errors. Sure, there are still probably errors, but no more than a few, and they aren’t fatal to the analysis. It’s how you choose to take the data that’s up for grabs.

    Apologetics can involve real research. Critics can fail to do sufficient research just as apologists can. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry under Linguistics and the Book of Mormon and you will see under the grammar section some bad critical research. I did painstaking textual research and found it led naturally to some apologetic conclusions. You disregard the highly principled use of command syntax in the BofM that shows sensibility to EModE tendencies that we can see in Caxton translations like the first printed book in English and his Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Some of these tendencies are in the KJB, some are not, like the passive one that you ignore. No one in Smith’s situation would be aware of the nuances because many of them are known only after database work. But I suspect you will blithely say he could have. To me you are deluding yourself if you believe that.

    Your example of ain’t is too simple to pose a reasonable counterargument to complex command syntax with its complementation options and passivization distinctions and layering and negation and embedded complexity and person differences and auxiliary usage, etc.

    I accounted for your item #2 in the paper. Layered syntax was certainly obsolete by the 18th century, kept alive only because of the KJB, so as mentioned in the paper you must assume Smith was enamored of it, but then without linguistic competence he would not have used command syntax in dozens of varied syntactic contexts like a native EModE speaker, as the text shows, but he would have done so awkwardly and mechanically, as anyone does with a foreign language. Instead, in at least half a dozen ways the text shows native EModE usage. Smith wasn’t a writer in 1828 and he wasn’t reading Caxton 1483.

    I didn’t suggest that EModE command syntax was appropriate to the BoM because it is "emphatic, versatile, and precise." Your scorn is misplaced. I observed that layered finite command syntax was emphatic, versatile, and precise, as it is in the KJB, and as it is in Caxton 1483. I said nothing about appropriate.

  17. OK then, Champ. It sounds like your research is solid enough to survive peer review. Certainly the implications are highly significant and worth sharing with linguists everywhere, so why not publish it in an academic journal? Why share it only within the LDS community?

  18. People are under the wrong impression about BofM language. It is not a monolithic text, but it is certainly a tightly controlled text. Pervasive past-tense with did tells us that definitively (mid to late 1500s). So, there is a tiny bit of late Middle English in it (like "it supposeth me" or "if it so be", a lot of first half EModE (like command and cause and suffer syntax and thou ~ ye alternation and Nephi's brethren rebelleth), a lot of second half EModE (like has/hath variation and the partially levelled past participial system "had smote"), and a little ModE like auxiliary selection with unaccusative verbs (very little "were nearly all become wicked").

  19. No, definitely not a monolithic text. A little this, a little that…not to mention a little bit of newer constructions, like "or, in other words," that grate on the biblically attuned ear.

    Is the Book of Mormon the only text that features both if it so be that and or, in other words?

    Nope. Oddly enough, we find that same strange combination in Doctrine and Covenants.

    Who is actually speaking in these works, anyway? Are we to believe that Nephi, Alma, and Mormon all used the same combination of EModE and 19th-century English as God did in speaking to Joseph Smith? Why are the same linguistic oddities found in works with such (supposedly) different histories and sources? How is it that the rock in Joseph Smith's hat produces something so similar to what God gives him in D&C via direct revelation?

    It all sounds so monotonously similar. It is so much the same that surely it is the same voice. Isn't it more straightforward simply to say that both works had the same source, the mind of Joseph Smith?

    And again, when can we expect submission to a peer-reviewed academic journal? Why leave the light of your research hidden under a bushel?

  20. OK, please explain to me how hundreds of thousands of books without 16c high-rate do/did syntax were published between 1600 and 1830 and then the BofM appears with it (27+% did), and then nothing since. And the BofM matches obscure texts very well, and the KJB doesn't (<2% did).

  21. This one seems too appropriate to pass up:

    1585 EEBO

    THE THIRD and last impediment, that I purpose to handle in this booke, is a certaine affection, or euil disposition in some men, called by the scriptures, Hardnes of harte, or in other wordes, obstination & obstinacie of minde.

  22. You don't need to be obtuse about tight control. The Lord was in charge of the translation, and anyone's foreign language writing could be recast into one form of English or another, or into any other language had that been indicated. The base language is irrelevant.

  23. And again, when can we expect submission to a peer-reviewed academic journal? Why leave the light of your research hidden under a bushel?

  24. That's a red herring, and that will come in due course. Look, I've had papers published in historical syntax and verb morphology in reputable journals. In one form or another the command syntax article could be published elsewhere. And the same for the forthcoming past-tense paper. When I began to analyze the former a year ago I had no preconceived notions. I thought it would line up with the KJB. I found that it didn't in significant ways, with real discernible patterns.

    From an apologetic standpoint the data are compelling. We're not dealing with soft, inconclusive evidence that can be batted around endlessly. No one in Smith's era could've written the book. It is what it is; deal with it constructively.

  25. "tiny bit of late Middle English…a lot of first half EModE…a lot of second half EModE…and a little ModE"

    What you've demonstrated is that the BOM is a mish-mash that proves anything but tight control. How else would italicized added words found in the KJB make there way into it?

  26. I haven't demonstrated any such thing. That is a canard. As is the italicized word argument. Please see Lindsay's write up on that at his LDSFAQ and do some analysis before you off-handedly throw out misleading statements.

  27. Let me clarify that. I haven't demonstrated any such thing about tight control. So hundreds of years of English were drawn on to make an off-earth translation. That in no way rules out tight control. And in fact, all the elements in the text that were inaccessible to 19c English speakers points directly to tight control.

  28. "the italicized word argument. Please see Lindsay's write up on that at his LDSFAQ and do some analysis before you off-handedly throw out misleading statements"

    Isa.2:7-2Nephi.12:7, Isa.2:22-2Nephi 2:22 and Isa.3:16-2Nephi 13:16 demonstrate the exact same added italicized words in the BOM. That's fraud.

    Moroni 7:45, is a KJV quotation of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and another example of fraud. In citing this verse, the translator included the italicized word “easily” (“…is not easily provoked”). However, the word “easily” is not in the original text, but was placed there (incorrectly) by
    the KJV translators. It is omitted, (correctly), from later versions. That Smith (or whomever) included this word shows that Moroni 7:45 was copied from the KJV.

    3 Nephi 20:23-26, dated at A.D. 34, refers to Moses’ prophecy about the Christ (Deuteronomy 18:15,18-19). However, 3 Nephi used Peter’s New Testament paraphrase of this prophecy (Acts 2:22-26), which was not written until around A.D. 63. How is this possible?

    These are actual examples, how am I misleading?

  29. That is all inconclusive evidence. Lindsay has already pointed out that fraud (or plagiarism) is the wrong term to use here. It's quoting, and the Bible is full of it.

    Tight control can explain everything you have just mentioned. I haven't studied this, but Lindsay has pointed out that some italicized words are different in the BofM, and some are the same. So what. The off-earth translators may have deemed that some italicized words, even if they were errors, were acceptable, and sometimes they changed them. It's possible, while Smith using lost past-tense syntax that no one had used for 250 years and that was ungrammatical in 1829 is impossible.

    Christ directed angels as late as 1829 our time to fashion an English-language text, understandably using the dominant English-language Bible of the preceding century to do so. So NT paraphrases are used anachronistically for BofM participants. It wasn't anachronistic between 1611 and 1829 our time for the BofM translators to use that biblical phrasing to convey uttered/intended notions that were expressed in AD 34. Again, inconclusive, while the past-tense syntax is conclusive the other way because it deals with the subconscious and there was no knowledge of it any more beyond the rare specialist, mainly in England. I could give you dozens of examples of nonbiblical syntax and lexis used in the BofM that were inaccessible to anyone in Smith's era who wasn't an expert in EModE linguistics and literature.

  30. Champ, my request for peer-review is not a red herring at all. It's a reasonable request that you have your work vetted by those qualified to do so.

    Data never speaks for itself. This very dispute is an excellent illustration of the way underlying assumptions determine the interpretation of data.

    For those not precommitted to Mormonism, your data does not at all prove that "No one in Smith's era could've written the book." It proves at best that Smith, in his efforts to sound old-timey, chanced upon some EModE constructions.

    The bulk of the evidence still points to 19th-century composition. I'm talking here about all the usual stuff: the popularity in Smith's culture of the Israelite theory of Native American origins, the racism, the concerns about Masonic influence, the rehashing of 19th-century Protestant theological controversies (by a bunch of ancient Jews!), the desire to integrate the U.S. into the Christian mythos, etc.

    We both know that pseudo-biblical language was used by writers in Smith's day to enhance their rhetorical authority. We both know that books like View of the Hebrews were circulating in Smith's vicinity in the 1820s. We know that Smith was a gifted raconteur. We know that even after founding the Church he was prone to making up some rather amazing stuff on the fly — e.g., Zelph the white Lamanite, valiant warrior under Chief Onandagus, etc. — even though the Church itself cannot tell us today whether the BoM is set in the northeastern U.S. or in Mesoamerica. (This is strange; if the setting is MesoAmerica, then what does that tell us about Smith's veracity in describing Zelph?) We both know that as a young man Smith was something of a ne'er-do-well who went around trying to convince the gullible that he could peer into his magic seer stone and locate gold treasure buried in the earth.

    We also both know that we have no physical artifacts that back up Smith's claims. In the case of the BoM, we do not have the gold plates, nor do we have archaeological evidence of vast Nephite and Lamanite civilizations.

    (In the case of the BoA we do have artifacts, but they fail to back up Smith's claims. Oddly enough, secular scholars are unanimous that the papyri have no relation at all to the text Smith supposedly translated from them. Perhaps he erred in not having the papyri spirited away by an angel like the gold plates.

    So either there's no material evidence supporting ancient origins for these texts, or, when there is evidence, it mitigates against ancient origins.

    Doesn't this even begin to make you suspicious?

    Against all these facts you counterpose your linguistic data. Yet what does that data tell us in the case of an author like Smith, who is deliberately trying to make his prose seem archaic? Is it so hard to believe that in the course of doing so he might hit upon some phrases that turn out to correspond to EModE, and that he liked the sound of them and used them repeatedly?

    Had Smith chanced to like the sound of some slightly different faux-old-timey phrase, perhaps you'd be crowing about the BoM's "miraculous" channeling of Samuel Johnson, or Thomas Hoccleve, who whoever. If it hadn't been one linguistic oddity, it would have been another.

    Isn't it more likely that we're dealing here with the operation of simple chance, inflated post hoc into something divine via your deft use of the barn-door fallacy?

    Do you have any idea how crackpot that sounds? At best, you've established that certain non-Jacobean language in the BoM matches EModE phrases. From this you conclude divine origin, because only God could have hit such a bullseye. But had the non-Jacobean text happened to look like something else, you could have just as easily drawn the bullseye around that something else, and still proclaimed, "Bullseye!"

  31. "It's quoting, and the Bible is full of it"
    The problem is nowhere in the Bible or any other literature does someone from the past quote someone in the future.

    It's incredible that angels fashioned a 1611 English-language text for use in 1829 (for reasons unknown besides God's amusement) and yet still managed to deem erroneous KJV italicized words as acceptable.

  32. Quite so, Anonymous. And this is already stronger evidence against ancient origins than all the evidence adduced in favor.

    The real "miracle" here is the power of faith to trump reality.