This is a follow-up to my length post on “Curious Parallels” between the Book of Mormon and The Late War Against the United States.
While it’s hard not to yawn at many of the parallels from the latest, greatest smoking gun for Book of Mormon plagiarism, some of the parallels from that obscure book, The Late War Against the United States, are certainly interesting, at least on first glance at the way they are presented by the critics. That was the case for the parallels to a battle scene said to match a dramatic Book of Mormon scene in which a defensive ditch around a walled city was being filled up by the slain attackers. Turns out the smoking gun text wasn’t quite aiming in that direction, at least not with any sense of a ditch being filled. Another curious parallel appeared to be a direct hit for Lehi’s discovery of the Liahona, but when one notices that The Late War is discussing a naval battle in which the “balls” are tethered mines called torpedoes, the inspiration for Lehi finding the sacred direction-pointing Liahona outside of his tent in the desert seems a little less clear. If only Joseph hadn’t done so much work in revising nearly every plagiarized concept, we would then have a much more tell-tale account of Lehi and his sacred torpedo, blowing up enemies as they sailed along the Eastern seaboard. That would make life easier for the anti-Mormons.
One more parallel that stood out as being interesting involved the term “strippling warriors.” As with “curious workmanship,” it’s a phrase we just don’t use today unless we are quoting the Book of Mormon. So when critics pointed to a stripling parallel in The Late War, that got my attention. It gets especially interesting when some critics point out that The Late War mentions both strippling warriors and 2,000 soldiers, just like the 2,000 stripling warriors in the Book of Alma. Whoa, that sounds pretty compelling. So are these 2,000 soldiers associated with stripling warriors by chance? Young Indians who have joined the Americans as the youth of converted Lamanites joined the Nephites? And are these courageous striplings only able to fight because they were too young to be part of a covenant their converted parents made to bury their blood-stained weapons and never take up weapons weapons? In a word, no. That is the context that those who know the Book of Mormon think of when they hear “stripling warriors.” That is the content, the meat of an interesting story. The smoking gun of plagiarism gives us one word, “stripling”–not even the phrase “stripling warrior”–and there’s just one, not 2,000. In some other part of the text there is a reference to 2,000 soldiers, and many other numbers, including nice round ones that are found through war stories everywhere, no plagiarism required. This is not the sort of smoke that real smoking guns emit, in my opinion, especially when we realize that “stripling” was a much more common part of the vocabulary in Joseph’s day and is a reasonable way to convey the notion of a young person. Many examples can be offered, but here’s one: “stripling warrior” (both words, not just one) occurs in Jerusalem Delivered: An Heroic Poem, by Torquato Tasso, John Hoole, Samuel Johnson, 1764, vol. 1, p. 102. A quick glance reveals that several other Book of Mormon themes can be found there with, perhaps, more relevance (by chance) than typically occurs in The Late War.
Also see statistical data on the word “stripling” in old books, presented at ForgottenBooks. org. It takes a pretty creative plagiarizer to come up with so much Book of Mormon material that is so weakly related to its source. I think it’s more reasonable to suspect that The Late War had little or nothing to do with the Book of Mormon apart from the natural relationships you will get from being written in a similar style with some similar material (war). Otherwise, what plausible mechanism was used in crafting that work of plagiarism from that book and others? How does The Late War come anywhere close to explaining Book of Mormon origins, or, as one critic triumphantly announced to the applause of ex-Mormons, to destroying Mormonism? Wishful thinking, mingled with statistics.