Parallels with The Leaves of Grass: More Insights

Many thanks to Ben McGuire not only for his painstaking
rebuttal of the “Late Great War Against the Book of Mormon,” but also for
responding to my inquiries about statistics of various texts. He kindly ran
some analysis on Leaves of Grass (using the text at and the Book of Mormon, since I have previously pointed to Leaves of Grass as a superior albeit impossible candidate for plagiarism compared to the sources critics have been offering as smoking guns. I was hoping that the techniques used by critics to
promote The Late War as the ultimate best modern source for Book of Mormon plagiarism
would make the Leaves of Grass look even better, but my hopes were not quite
fulfilled. Naturally, there is a huge difference in style that will result in
far fewer four-word matches in Whitman’s writing because he was NOT writing in
redundant scriptural style with Elizabethan English, but was writing fresh,
modern poetry loaded with fresh and original phrasing and built of a huge
vocabulary.  But the statistics are still

Here is what Ben reported from his analysis:

Word Count:

BoM: 269,551

LoG: 126,543


BoM: 5,638 (very small for a book
its size)

LoG: 12,399 (huge for a book its

Shared Vocabulary: 3,054
(marginally higher than expected – this probably helps account for some of your

Unique three-word Locutions

BoM: 141,342

LoG: 113,608

Shared three-word Locutions:

Unique four-word Locutions:

BoM: 202,830

LoG: 123,470

Shared four-word Locutions: 609

Of those 609 occurrences, 360 of
them are had in common with the KJV [leaving 249 four-word locutions shared
between Whitman and the Book of Mormon that are not also in the KJV].

Interestingly enough, only 206
four-word parallels show up between Whitman and The Late War. This in itself
wasn’t as fascinating as the other issue – of those 206, zero were in common
with the KJV. This is actually a fairly startling since Whitman has 1,243
parallels in common with the KJV – The Late War had 2,341 four-word phrases in
common with the KJV – but it was trying to imitate that text. So that is
certainly an oddity.

These are highly interesting, but The Great War has even more four-word and higher count shared
locutions, which is really not surprising since it’s using Elizabethan English.

Ben impressed me with his careful commentary and
observations. Instead, let me add mine, which are slightly more
tongue-in-cheek, to illustrate some of the dangers of looking too hard for
things that aren’t there. Here we go:

How curious that Whitman’s unique, modern poetic style would
give so much in common with the Book of Mormon. Is that just due to chance?
Well, sure, the Mormon apologist might say. But look at what we have.

Amazingly, 3,054 of the Book of Mormon’s 5,638 unique words
are found in the Leaves of Grass. That’s well over half the text! These words
aren’t all just randomly scattered, but often occur in lengthy phrases shared
between the two texts. There are 609 four-word phrases shared by Leaves of
Grass and the Book of Mormon!  If we
exclude phrases also found in the Bible (KJV), there are still 206 shared
four-word phrases, which is remarkable when one considers that Whitman was not
writing in Elizabethan English and was not trying to imitate the Bible. Had he
done so, the number would be much higher.

Of course, the parallels become much higher when one
examines the text directly, as we will do in a moment. The computerized method
might miss plain connections due to changes in spelling, poetic tweaks of word
(til versus until, etc.) and the differences between KJV language and Whitman’s
modern English (start changing “has” to “hath” and so forth, and watch the
stats pile up in favor of Walt).

I then asked Ben about phrases with even more shared words.
Here is what he found:

five words: 74 entries










































of _the_women_and_children

































six words: 7 occurrences








And of course, you need to look at the remarkable 7-word
occurrence I report in my Leaves of Grass
essay, though it was not found by his computer program.

Now one can begin to see how Joseph composed the Book of
Mormon. As he was writing, he recognized that he needed a chunk of text, maybe
3, 4, 5, or 6 words long to complete a sentence or something. So naturally, he
opened up a text, perhaps the Leaves of Grass, or some other text as he wished,
and snatched a handy phrase like “them and I will make” or “see that the word
of”. Rinse, lather, repeat, over and over. Tedious, I know, and perhaps harder
than ordinary plagiarism, but remember, when it comes to plagiarism, Joseph may
have had some kind of supernatural gift. Let’s grant him that much.

But that only accounts for chunks of text. How about the
story line?

We can better appreciate the power of chance (?) parallels
in works like that of Whitman by analyzing the text directly, rather than
relying on a computer to sift out random matching phrases with a statisticians
sieve.  I have done this to some degree
in my previous work, but allow me to provide some new material where we take a
passage or two and show how the art of parallel finding (also known as parallel
creating) can be done. I will leave it to the reader to determine if this
represents the kind of thing that can simply occur by chance, coupled with
creative twisting of the text to create the illusion of plagiarism, or if, in
fact, Joseph Smith plagiarized from Walt Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass,
perhaps aided by a bit of time travel or other miraculous means. First we turn to Book III, Song of Myself, and look at Section 33. This was selected rather casually because it was one of several passages using the word “ball,” but, not surprisingly, there was much more:


  Space and Time! now I see it is true, what I
guess’d at, . . .  as I walk’d the beach under the paling stars of the morning.

  My ties and ballasts leave me, my elbows rest in sea-gaps,

  I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents,

  I am afoot
with my vision.

Here is a reference to a journey on foot, walking to a beach
(that of Bountiful) in a trek that will reach a new continent, led by a vision.
It is in the morning when Lehi will find the ball, as hinted at with the word ballasts.

  By the city’s quadrangular houses—in log huts, camping with lumber-men,

  Along the ruts of the turnpike, along the dry gulch and rivulet bed, . . . crossing savannas, trailing in

  Prospecting, gold-digging, girdling the
trees of a new purchase

  Scorch’d ankle-deep by the hot sand, hauling my boat down the

      shallow river, . . .

They live in tents (huts) and camp as they march across the
Arabian Peninsula, ably described as “along the dry gulch and rivulet bed, . .
. crossing savannas.” They are experienced metallurgists, as many LDS scholars
have noted, here able to prospect and dig for gold and other ores, as Nephi
does. Then, after traveling across hot sand, they come to the “trees of a new
purchase,” a new, beautiful place where Nephi will soon be able to make and
haul his boat, “my boat,” down the shallow river or lagoon at Wadi Sayq, as
Mormon scholars have noted. In other words, they have come to Bountiful. It is
a beautiful, wonderful place with water, meadows, honey, and so forth, as Nephi
noted and as Whitman more ably wrote when he described that place:

Where the black bear
is searching for roots or honey,
where the

      beaver pats the mud with his
paddle-shaped tall;

  Over the growing sugar, over the
yellow-flower’d cotton plant, over

      the rice in its low moist field, . . .

  Over the white and brown buckwheat, a hummer
and buzzer there with

      the rest,

  Over the dusky green of the rye as it ripples
and shades in the breeze;

, pulling myself cautiously up, holding on by low

      scragged limbs,

  Walking the path worn in the grass and beat
through the leaves of the brush,

  Where the quail is whistling betwixt the
woods and the wheat-lot,

  Where the bat flies in the Seventh-month eve,
where the great

      goldbug drops through the dark,

  Where the brook puts out of the roots of the
old tree and flows to

      the meadow,

  Where cattle stand and shake away flies with
the tremulous

      shuddering of their hides, . . .

Where the pear-shaped balloon is floating aloft,

Yes, Bountiful is beautiful, and has a mountain that Nephi
will scale. It has water, trees, paths, honey, vegetation, and, again, a
reference to a mystical ball/balloon. 
Then, of course, comes the time to embark in a boat and travel across
the waters on unknown currents:

  Where the steam-ship trails hind-ways its long pennant of smoke,

  Where the fin of the shark cuts like a black
chip out of the water,

  Where the half-burn’d brig is riding on unknown

  Where shells grow to her slimy deck, where the dead
are corrupting below

  Where the dense-starr’d flag is borne at the
head of the regiments,

Lehi was nearly brought to death on the ship, and was about
to be sent below to a watery grave. Whitman’s idea, of course. And to where are
they sailing as they ride on unknown currents to a new continent? Of, course,
it’s the New World, as Whitman next describes, a place where they will
discover, of course, the horse. But on the way, there is trouble as Nephi’s
brothers engage in dancing, laughter, and drinking:

Approaching Manhattan
up by the long-stretching island,

  Under Niagara, the cataract falling like a
veil over my countenance,

  Upon a door-step, upon the horse-block of hard wood outside,

  Upon the
, or enjoying picnics or jigs or a good game of


  At he-festivals, with blackguard gibes,
ironical license,

drinking, laughter

  At the cider-mill
tasting the sweets of the brown mash, sucking the

      juice through a straw,


And again, a subtle reference to a ball, which plays a role
both in crossing the dessert and in sailing to the New World. Next Whitman
recalls the death and burial of Ishmael back at the ancient burial place in the
Old World, known to Mormon scholars today as Nahom or Nehem:

  Where burial
coaches enter the arch’d gates of a
, . . .

Whitman backtracks at this point and provides Joseph with
the inspiration for the First Vision, where the words of a preacher at a camp
meeting stir him to look for truth, to look toward heaven, and then to be
visited by two divine Friends:

  Pleas’d with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist preacher,

      impress’d seriously at the camp-meeting;

  Looking in at the shop-windows of Broadway
the whole forenoon,

      flatting the flesh of my nose on the
thick plate glass,

  Wandering the same afternoon with my face turn’d up to the clouds,

      or down a lane or along the beach,

  My right and left arms round the sides of two friends, and I in the
; . . .

Next we return to Nephi, who faces constant opposition and
dickering from his brothers and their families (truly a fickle crowd) as they
sail to adventure, aiming for an unknown port in the New World.  The problem with his brothers is so bad that
Nephi struggles with hatred for his enemies and feels alone, lost in thought,
as he writes in 2 Nephi 4. Whitman put it all this way:


  Voyaging to every port to dicker and

  Hurrying with the modern crowd as eager and fickle as any,

toward one I hate, ready in my madness to knife him,

at midnight in my back yard, my thoughts
gone from me
a long while,

Whitman’s next words again recall Nephi’s journey in the Old
World, the day and night travel across long roads. This takes us back to the
beginning–something of a chiasmus, I suppose, and also recalling the magnitude
of his overall journey. Then finally, plainly, he mentions a spectacular,
celestial ball, here likened to a heavenly “fire-ball” associated with travel,
and a sphere that helps him see vast numbers (quintillions!) of other things
(is this the Urim and Thummin as well?):

the old hills of Judaea with the beautiful gentle God by my side

  Speeding through space, speeding through heaven and the stars,

  Speeding amid the seven satellites and the
broad ring, and the

      diameter of eighty thousand miles,

  Speeding with tail’d meteors, throwing fire-balls like the rest,

  Carrying the crescent child that carries its
own full mother in its belly,

  Storming, enjoying, planning, loving,

  Backing and filling, appearing and

tread day and night such roads

  I visit the orchards of spheres and look at the product,

  And look at quintillions ripen’d and look at
quintillions green.

  I fly those flights of a fluid and swallowing

  My course runs below the soundings of

  I help myself to material and immaterial,

  No guard can shut me off, no law prevent me.

  I anchor my ship for a little while only,

  My messengers
continually cruise away or bring their returns to me.

  I go hunting
polar furs and the seal, leaping chasms with a

, clinging to topples of brittle and blue. . . .

Balls, spheres, and a pointed staff – the spindles within
the ball, of course. It is the famed Liahona. The messengers are the angels who
have visited or helped Nephi, and of course, he is the hunter who provides food
for the group in their travels. There is much, much more in this section. But
let us look ahead, still in Chapter 33, and note some parallels to the military
sections of the Book of Mormon, including battles, weaponry, forts,
entrenchments, damage and repair of defenses, wounded soldiers, use of
materials like stone, wood and iron- – these parallels to the Book of Mormon
are extraordinary (perhaps even the name Amalickiah or Amulon is found in

  I am an old artillerist, I tell of my fort‘s bombardment,

  I am there again.

  Again the long roll of the drummers,

  Again the attacking cannon, mortars,

  Again to my listening ears the cannon responsive.

  I take part, I see and hear the whole,

  The cries, curses, roar, the plaudits for
well-aim’d shots,

  The ambulanza slowly passing trailing its red

  Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable repairs,

  The fall of grenades through the rent roof,
the fan-shaped explosion,

  The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air.

  Again gurgles the mouth of my dying general, he furiously waves

      with his hand,

  He gasps through the clot Mind
not me—mind—the entrenchments.

Whitman ends this chapter much as the Book of Mormon ends,
with a terrible war of destruction and the tragic death of a great general,
General Mormon himself. From the journey across the desert and Nephi’s walk
that began in Judea with the aid of God, to the sailing to the New World and
the wars and chaos of later centuries, down to the final tragic death of the
great Nephite general, a few pages of Whitman has it all. This is the kind of
density of parallels that is sorely missing in the purported smoking guns
offered by previous scholars trying to explain the origins of the Book of
Mormon. Whitman, as I have shown, provides a much more sensible match. And as a
bonus, he prefigures the whole concept for the First Vision. Defenders will
offer the pathetic excuse that “Leaves of
came long after the Book of Mormon and is an ‘impossible source.’ The
parallels simply illustrate what chance can do when two people discuss related
broad topics.”

Those apologists always manage to come up with some kind of
convenient excuse, don’t they?

To add to their argument, the apologists may protest that while
Chapter 33 of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass
may have a few strong parallels to war stories and the Liahona in the Book of
Mormon, it still does nothing to explain things such as Book of Mormon name “Alma”
nor the many stories of the Book of Alma such as the hundreds of young
stripling warriors of Alma 53, the marching of prisoners of war, the ability of
young soldiers to take many times their number in enemy lives with their
matchless use of weapons, the use of defensive breastworks on key
fortifications, rites of surrender, and the giving up of arms. Yes, I must
admit they are right, Whitman’s brief Section 33 in “Song of Myself” does not offer obvious
parallels for all of these points to meet the unreasonable demands of
apologists. For that, we must turn the page to the even briefer Section 34,
where in the opening lines we immediately see further inspiration for much of
what is in the Book of Alma, or, shall we say, the Book of Alamo?


Now I tell what I knew
in Texas in my early youth,

  (I tell not the fall of Alamo,

  Not one escaped to tell the fall of Alamo,

  The hundred and fifty are dumb yet at Alamo,)

  ‘Tis the tale of the murder in cold blood of four hundred and twelve young men.

  Retreating they had form’d in a hollow square
with their baggage for breastworks,

  Nine hundred lives out of the surrounding
enemies, nine times their

number, was the price they took in advance

  Their colonel was wounded and their ammunition

  They treated for an honorable capitulation, receiv’d writing and

      seal, gave up their arms and march’d back prisoners of war.

  They were the glory of the race of rangers,

  Matchless with horse, rifle, song, supper,

  Large, turbulent, generous, handsome, proud,
and affectionate,

  Bearded, sunburnt, drest in the free costume
of hunters,

  Not a single one over thirty years of age.

Those stripling warriors of Whitman were matchless with
rifles, just as Whitman is matchless when it comes to smoking guns. Hey, that
looks like Hebraic parallelism that just fell from my lips. See how easy it is
to forge scripture when you’ve got Whitman for inspiration? And when you’ve got
a touch of imagination, a bit of persistence, and the kind of curious, furious
faith that enables one or drives one to see very big things that probably are not

Whitman, of course, does nothing to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon, though I feel it does it much better than The Late War

Author: Jeff Lindsay

4 thoughts on “Parallels with The Leaves of Grass: More Insights

  1. Well, on a closer reading, the Wiki article does lump the Elizabethan era and the Jacobean (King James) era under the heading of "Early Modern English".

  2. Good question, Bookslinger. But as long as people understand there is a different flavor of English in the era of the Bible that is being followed to some degree in the Book of Mormon and in The Late War, that should suffice.

  3. Another source to consider is the poem Soohrab, published in 1814 in Calcutta, which could easily have made it to New York by 1827. 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??), 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. Of course!

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