Students of the Book of Mormon have long noted that the brief book of Ether is quite different in its content and style than the rest of the Book of Mormon. Believers may argue that it’s because the origins of the book came from an ancient culture much different than the later Nephites, while non-believing scholars might argue that Joseph must have simply concocted it from scratch or drawn upon sources from his day that may not have been found yet.
An intriguing new publication on the roots of the book of Ether has taken the debate over its origins to a new level. Keri Toponce in “Book of Mormon Sources Project: What Inspired the Stories? A Focus on the Book of Ether,” proposes that an 1820 book, A Key to the Chronology of the Hindus by Alexander Hamilton — not the US Founding Father and statesman of Broadway fame, but an Englishman who had lived in India — may be the key to understanding how Joseph Smith fabricated the book of Ether. The book is available at Google Books. Volume 1 is at https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Key_to_the_Chronology_of_the_Hindus/N71OIo6yRPIC?hl=en&gbpv=0 and volume 2 is at https://books.google.com/books/about/A_Key_to_the_Chronology_of_the_Hindus.html?id=T0K_2ZGL9n0C. Both of these pages allow you to download a free PDF (click on the “Free Ebook” link and get a popup menu allowing you to download the PDF by right clicking on that link and choosing “save link as…”). You can also read it or download it at HathiTrust.org, including volume 1 and volume 2. Then you can personally experience what Joseph the valiant plagiarizer went through as he pored over hundreds of pages in these volumes, hour after hour, to capture a handful of concepts to place into a few spots in the book of Ether. One can only guess how many dozens of other large books had to be mined in a similar manner to fill in the other 99% of that short text. The story of the creation of the Book of Mormon can be so inspiring, if not miraculous.
At last we can see where Joseph got such concepts as a man named Jared having a brother, specific words such as “windows” and “clouds,” the concept of some people falling into apostasy, the idea of making an ark or ship and then having it experience or even be driven by “wind” and “waves” (and even face an environment with “whales”!), the old Jewish notion of glowing stones in the ark, the classic Book of Mormon concept of “tender mercies” (though without the “tender,” an inconsequential gap that barely weakens the shocking parallel), unusual zoological terms like “cattle,” and a few more surprising similarities.
While it is true that nearly all of these parallels can be found in the Bible or in texts related to the Bible, Toponce’s serendipitous find gives us a single source that brings so much together, with a mere 800+ pages of Hamilton’s text able to account for a great deal of the book of Ether, perhaps as much as 1%, surely making it one of the most compelling exposés ever of Book of Mormon plagiarism (to be precise, it would be better to say “derivation from a specific modern source,” for Toponce does not explicitly call her finds evidence of “plagiarism,” perhaps because so little of the book of Ether is related to the parallels she finds, but implies direct borrowing from this source as if there is clear evidence that specific elements and terms have been taken from Hamilton, obviously without giving credit [this parenthetical remark was added for clarity on 10/11/2020]).
As one of many examples unearthed by Toponce, Book of Mormon believers may be surprised to learn that the following passage was published in Hamilton’s book (p. 5 of volume 2) a full decade before Joseph dictated the book of Ether. Can you see the uncanny parallel? (WARNING: Please don’t share the following quote with others until you read my full response to arm yourself you with the necessary desperate spinning and ad hominem attacks from standard “LDS apologetics” to help keep testimonies intact in the face of such clear evidence!)
In that egg the Great Power sat incarnate, a whole year of the Creator; at the close of which, by his thought alone he caused the egg to divide itself.
And from the two divisions he framed the heaven above and the earth beneath. In the midst he placed the subtile ether, the eight regions, and the permanent receptacles of waters.
From the supreme soul he drew forth mind, existing substantially, though unperceived by sense, immaterial; and before mind or the reasoning power, he produced consciousness, the internal monitor, the ruler.
Those familiar with the Book of Mormon will immediately see the problem: there is the word “ether,” obviously the source for the name of the Jaredite prophet Ether and the title of a short but important book within the Book of Mormon. At this point, we’ve already accounted for one of the 27 names introduced in the Ether 1. As if that weren’t bad enough, the same source, a couple hundred pages later, mentions not only the Book of Mormon name Jared also found in Ether 1 (though to be fair, it’s the Jared of Genesis, the son of Mahalaleel) but also, incredibly, the claim that he had a brother. That’s right, there is an 1820 source which not only mentions “ether,” but also mentions “the brother of Jared,” one of the most prominent characters in the book of Ether. (Really, what are the odds of someone named Jared also having a brother? Coincidence? Please!) That might be enough to seal the case against the book of Ether, but there is more. Literally several things more.
Before giving you more of the evidence that may shake your testimony, let me apply some standard “LDS apologetics” tools to help spin this faithfully. The first desperate response from the standard toolkit of the apologist is to demand unreasonable “proof” that Joseph had access to the “alleged” source for his plagiarism. Sure, it’s a shamefully lazy and unreasonable demand, of course, but we’ve got to try something, anything, right? Unfortunately, refuting this objection is as easy as looking up some libraries or library catalogs and showing that the book was readily available in many locations near Joseph. For this, though, I may need your help. Yes, I’ve searched but so far have found no evidence that it was in the US while Joseph was alive. For example, to this day, the expansive Library of Congress still does not have Hamilton’s work in its vast halls, per a search at loc.gov:
The large Harvard Library in 1830 apparently did not have the book, though they have a copy now. The 1830 Catalogue of the Library of Harvard University has 3 volumes (I, II, and III), so they may have had even more books than Joseph Smith’s vast frontier library. But in my search of Vol. 1, there are no titles listed having the word “Hindu.” “Hindus” occurs once according to my search of Vol. 2:, but for someone else’s book:
A search in Vol. 3 returned a couple hits for “Hindus” but not Hamilton’s. Sigh.
Nor is the book to be found in the surprisingly large Rochester City Library of 1839 nor in the library today. (I discuss the history and significance of this library in my article “The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics” published in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 23 (2017): 161-235.)
So where is an ambitious plagiarizer to go to fetch such a promising book? Having struck out on multiple attempts to locate the book in the U.S., I finally found one clue in a New Hampshire publication that tells us something about the distribution of Hamilton’s book. From Notes and Queries: A Monthly of History, Folk-Lore, Mathematics, Literature, Art, Arcane Societies, Etc., vol. 20 (1902): 35, a brief entry shown below discusses some sleuthing done in the 1870s to track down the book and figure out who its originally anonymous author was. A Mr. S. R. Bosanquet in England contacted numerous institutions to learn more about the book, only finding copies in the British Museum and the libraries at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Bosanquet reported that “Hamilton’s work was a limited edition, and probably that many of the books were presentation copies.” (A “presentation copy” is a book that was presented or gifted personally by the author, typically bearing the author’s signature.) The editors of Notes and Queries state in this 1902 publication that they have finally obtained a copy for themselves, apparently after advertising their interest for 20 years. We can only conclude that the book was rare in England, at least in the first few decades after publication, and that it was still rare in the United States as of 1902, as the printed book is today.
Given that the book probably was not available at all in the US by 1829 or even much later, asking for “proof” that Joseph saw it is utterly unreasonable and a bit snarky, frankly. But doesn’t that pretty much demolish the argument that Joseph plagiarized from a rare British book? Not so fast! If I may step out of my dubious role as an LDS apologist for a minute, there’s a very powerful pro-plagiarism argument here that Toponce may have already considered: what better way to cover up one’s plagiarism that to steal from a book that appears to be completely inaccessible? We are already beginning to see some of the genius behind Joseph’s plagiarism.
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint have read Martin Harris’s quip about the first time he felt the mass of the covered gold plates: “I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead.” But few believers ask the next question: Why was Joseph so poor? Why couldn’t he afford a few dozen pounds of lead? Could the reason be that Joseph had spent all his savings for exotic research to create the Book of Mormon, even going so far as to send someone on his technical advisory team or from the staff of his vast frontier library all the way to England to fetch a rare book or two to cover his tracks for one of the most audacious acts of plagiarism ever committed? Though it would eat up his financial resources, by acquiring a rare book unavailable in the US and on the unlikely topic of the Hindus in India, nobody would ever suspect plagiarism. Brilliant! For nearly 200 years, Joseph got away with that crime — until now.
Amazingly, the genius of Joseph’s plagiarism goes far beyond selecting a rare and inaccessible book that may have required all his funds to obtain. As we look at how he plagiarized, we see a master adding level after level of deception to cover his tracks. We have already mentioned the masterstroke of turning the minor character, the apostate brother of Jared, into a prominent righteous prophet, or turning the metaphysical substance ether into the prophet who authored this book. But there is more brilliance in Joseph’s method to explore.
To set the stage, recall that in many cultures, plagiarism is viewed as a negative that reflects poorly on the character of the plagiarizer. We tend to think of plagiarizers as lazy thieves, seeking to steal the creative works of others to make it easy to quickly create a marketable work as if it were their own. But what we learn from Toponce is that Joseph went to great lengths to not only conceal his plagiarism, using only the slightest bits of text — a word or two here, a concept there, rarely more than one or two words at a time amidst hundreds of paragraphs of seemingly tempting text filled with rich stories and intriguing names that would be a feast for an ordinary plagiarizer. That makes Joseph’s plagiarism tedious and clever enough, but he then goes much further as he applies creative transformation to virtually all that he stole, obscuring the intellectual ties between his work and its source. What reader, upon seeing the title of the book of Ether, could possibly suspect that he plucked it from volume 2 of Alexander Hamilton’s A Key to the Chronology of the Hindus? Joseph embodied the great American value of hard work. His unique kind of plagiarism is something that we could very well celebrate.
What also makes the plagiarism of multiple items from Hamilton’s work so diabolically clever is that the Book of Mormon has no apparent connection to anything from the general thrust of Hamilton’s work, the idea that the ancient Hindus knew the story of Genesis and had religious views related to Christianity, with an emphasis on the chronology of the Bible and of events in Hindu mythology. There was so much Joseph could have borrowed from the vast information provided across over 800 pages in those volumes, but he brilliantly covered his tracks to leave no trace of a connection until Toponce finally came along and revealed Joseph’s subtle and tedious method to create the 15 short chapters of the book of Ether.
While Hamilton provides us with the vital words “window,” “cloud,” “records,” “kings” and “elephants,” one can only imagine what other rare and obscure books Joseph may have mined to come up with the thousands of other Book of Mormon concepts as “hill” and “camp.” It will take years of further scholarship, even with the most advanced computer search tools of our day, to settle this issue.
For now, it’s best that we focus on Hamilton’s work alone and let Keri Toponce guide us in exposing his methodology.
Keri first notes that most of the source material for Joseph’s plagiarism is found in Hamilton’s volume 2. Why? Of course! Joseph knew that few people get past the first volume of any book, so it’s best to plagiarize from later volumes when possible. Most clever of all is the choice of Hamilton’s book in the first place. But wait, wouldn’t any true-blooded American rush to read a book by the famed Alexander Hamilton? Ah, but as noted above, the truth is that this book was merely anonymous in Joseph’s day and anonymous books are much less likely to be read or acquired. Another stroke of genius! Of course, being unavailable (as far as I can tell) in the US was the key stroke of genius in the story of the plagiarism of the book of Ether.
So how did Joseph carry out his plagiarism when he began working with volume 2?
As we begin reading volume 2, we learn about the relationship of Hindu mythology to the Bible, with fascinating names like Rama-Swamy, Brahm, Semiramis, Narayana, Bar-Achmanes, Brachmen, Brahmen, Manaeva-Sostra, Oannes, Protogenes, Proclus, Sisuthrus, Nara, Ayana, all begging to be plagiarized (these would make wonderful names for Nephi’s siblings!) — and that’s just in the first five pages. We learn of concepts that I imagine Nephi or Lehi would have loved to discuss, such as the First Cause (p. 2) and the relationship between “I Am” in the Bible to the Hindu “OM” (pp. 2-3), the idea that Oannes and Sisuthrus represent Noah and the Orphic egg of Proclus is the ark (p. 4), the great egg that was the “Forefather of all spirits” (p. 5), the immateriality of mind (pp. 5-6), etc.
But from all these gems, from all this rich spiritual matter for a plagiarist to swipe, all that is plucked is one word, “ether” (p. 5), which is a metaphysical substance, not a prophet in a cave. The probability that Joseph plagiarized “ether” from Hamilton is increased dramatically when we realize it is used several times, making it more likely that he would notice this minor word. On 2:335, we have it in a poem:
Ere sphere beneath us roll’d or sphere above Ere earth in firmamental ether hung, Thou sat’st alone, till, through thy mystic love Things unexisting to existence sprung, And grateful descant sung.
If Joseph had missed the two prior instances of “ether,” he surely would not have missed it on p. 398, where it is even capitalized, surely suggestive of Ether as a name:
And we learn from Cornulus that the old European heathens considered Jupiter, not as the son of Saturn, but of Ether, or pure Spirit; having sprang to life without carnal parents.
Granted, “Ether” here is still referring to the same ether used twice before, the immaterial fluid or “pure Spirit” of the cosmos, but when capitalized, surely the knave Joseph would have thought of it as a name and built the book of Ether around this passage. Note that this passage also deals with other classic Book of Mormon concepts such as life, parents, and heathens.
As for the most dramatic evidence of plagiarism, the “brother of Jared,” increasingly desperate LDS apologists might throw up a smokescreen by saying that a man having a brother is not all that unusual (a retort that is an insult to single children and children with only sisters). But they cannot hide from the fact that the exact phrase “brother of Jared” is mentioned in Hamilton and in the book of Ether. The last hope for the apologist is to argue that Hamilton’s “brother of Jared” has nothing to do with the righteous prophet of the book of Ether, but is actually an apostate:
The error, of supposing them such, apparently arose from the too commonly received opinion that Osiris, or Meon, was intended for Mizraim, instead of Enoch. If we restore this prince to his proper place in chronology , all the rest follow of course. For admitting Osiris to be Enoch, Typho or Typhos, (the apostatę brother of Jared) one of the fallen giants was his uncle. But by Typho I should rather suppose the oriental Neptune to be meant: the Jupiter Marinus of the Romans, and Thor of the Goths. (2:385)
The phrase “brother of Jared” occurs at 2:303, 321 and 414, the first and last again describing him as “apostate.” Likewise at 2:313, we read of that son of Mahalaleel who disobeyed “his brother Jared.” Not as clearly plagiarized as “the brother of Jared,” but it’s giving us the same stunning detail: Jared had a brother. Granted, it was not a Jared who was a prophet who sailed to the New World, but a much earlier apostate son of a patriarch. But that’s the genius of Joseph for you, always adding creative content and major differences, sometimes even opposite concepts, to the tidbits he swiped to make his crime much harder to detect.
Here I must grant a slight weakness in Toponce’s documentation, who gives us this citation:
“But from the period, when Jarasandha , the apostate brother of Rama (aka Jared), formed a new dynasty at Magadha… the solar race never prosper.” vol.2 page 312
The quotation, actually from 2:311, not 2:312, does not mention Jared. The “aka Jared” is Toponce’s editorial insertion and while accurate, may confuse some readers. Brackets instead of parentheses might have been better. A similar statement is also found at 2:142:
For after the apostasy of the race of the Sun, who were headed by Jarasandha (a brother of Rama’s) the Solar racę are said never to have prospered.
Somebody seeing a passage about the brother of Rama might not be inspired to extract “brother of Jared” from it unless they had read the text carefully. No need for such embellishments: “the brother of Jared” has been established elsewhere, and in fact, occurs five times in Hamilton’s 800+ pages of text, while Joseph mentions him 44 times in the 15 chapters of Ether.
Again, that is part of Joseph’s genius, to make a barely noticeable minor character become a major character in his work, with a role that is completely different than, if not a polar opposite to, the role played in the source text. Such plagiarism takes a lot more work, granted, that just lifting text and concepts wholesale as less successful plagiarizers tend to do, but that’s one of the very clever keys to Joseph’s success. Meanwhile, all the major characters, themes, plot lines, stories, etc. of Hamilton’s work are ignored to create plausible deniability should Hamilton’s hard-to-find book ever fall into the hands of Joseph’s believers or his critics. Joseph was adept at covering tracks that nobody would ever guess needed to be covered.
The most interesting parallel that Toponce uncovers regards the common elements of glowing stones used to light up a boat. Students of the Book of Mormon are likely to already know that this concept in the book of Ether is related to a well-known Jewish and other ancient traditions, especially the tradition that Noah’s ark had glowing stones to provide light, which is what Hamilton alludes to. While we recovering LDS apologists used to think of that tidbit as a “friendly” ancient parallel to the book of Ether account, now that we see it came from a rare book on the Hindus, it’s much more troubling, somehow. But in any case, it’s something LDS writers have been discussing for a long time as if it were helpful, not hurtful information. For example, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Glowing Stones in Ancient and Medieval Lore,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 6/2 (1997): 99-123, DOI: 10.2307/44758823 and https://www.jstor.com/stable/44758823. Tvedtnes examined numerous linkages between the book of Ether’s stones, the Jaredite interpreters, the Urim and Thummim, and many ancient traditions, and felt that “the parallels to the Jaredite story are remarkable and suggest an ancient milieu for the book of Ether.” While the glowing stones in the ark mentioned in Hamilton’s book do not provide many of the interesting connections discussed by Tvedtnes, some of which occur in other parts of the Book of Mormon, it would be simple for Joseph to acquire the additional books — the more obscure the better! — needed for such linkages and daintily select and transform a few passages here and there to complete his work on this theme. Also see a recent article on glowing stones discussed as if it were Book of Mormon evidence by Book of Mormon Central in “Where did the Brother of Jared Get the Idea of Shining Stones?” One should now recognize that the correct answer to that question may well be, “From a rare book about Hindu mythology and Genesis that Joseph must have secretly imported from England — which is why he couldn’t afford a box of lead.” Everything is starting to fit together now.
But Toponce isn’t finished yet! Let’s consider more of the specific smoking guns she uncovers. Much of what she uncovers is based on clearly similar concepts and specific words, such as “windows,” “records,” “kings,” and glowing stones. But some things she recognizes may not have explicit parallels, but still “just sound Smithish”:
This just sounds Joseph Smithish- “‘Chryser exercised himself in words, in charms and in divinations.’ Ravan had recourse to magic in all his contests with Rama” vol. 1 page 202
While Joseph missed the name Chryser (later to be plagiarized by an automobile manufacturer) and never uses the nouns “divination” or “charm” (though charm is used once as a verb), nor mentions “contests,” Toponce astutely recognizes that his passage is “Smithish” and implies that it may have influenced Joseph. One of her related parallels is that the personal name Rama is very close to the name of a Jaredite hill, Ramah. And magic is mentioned as well. Definitely Smithish. Given how many books have such obviously Smithish elements, one can easily see what an incredibly voracious reader and voracious but delicate plagiarizer Joseph must have been.
Now let’s consider her list of similarities beginning on p. 3 of Toponce. We’ve already discussed the first two. For the others, I’ll add brief comments (temporarily turning off the tongue-in-cheek remarks).
1. “Both speak of a man called the brother of Jared.”
2. “Both speak of a stone that is placed in an ark/vessel to give light (vol. 2 page 28, Ether 6:2-3).”
3. “Both speak about Nimrod (mentioned several times throughout both volumes, Ether 2:1, 4 & Ether 7:22).”
Comment: Nimrod is a biblical name and Hamilton is referring to that person (“Nimrod the son of Cush” at 1:352, as in Genesis 10:8-9) as he discusses parallels between the Bible and Hindu traditions. The Valley of Nimrod in Ether 2:1,4 is named after the same Nimrod from Genesis. Much later in Ether 7:22, a king names his son Nimrod, with no connection to Hamilton. There is no reason to see Hamilton as the source for this name.
4. “Both speak about God guiding the vessel through the storm.”
Comment: Toponce fails to recognize that most of her parallels are from biblical material in Hamilton’s book, especially the story of Noah and the ark. God guiding Noah as He guided Nephi’s ship and the Jaredites does not require anything from Hamilton, nor does it require “plagiarism” from the Bible, but certainly Book of Mormon writers were keenly aware of parallels to the Bible in divinely led journeys and other themes. That should be no surprise and does not detract from the historicity or antiquity of the Book of Mormon.
5. “Both mention records.”
Comment: No argument here. Like literally millions of books, letters, legal documents, etc., records are mentioned. No surprise there. This padding is not the least bit interesting or informative.
6. “Both mention the word ether (vol. 2 page 5, 335, 398, Book of Ether).”
Comment: Yes, like numerous books in Joseph’s day. But there’s an important difference between the metaphysical “subtile ether” of Hamilton and a man’s name, just as there is a difference between the food called “ham” and the biblical name. A source talking about one is not necessarily a plausible source for “plagiarism” of the other.
7. “Both mention the word windows.”
Comment: Yes, just like the Bible and countless other sources in Joseph’s day. Interestingly, Hamilton mentions the window of the ark (2:28) while in Ether, we read that the Jaredite barges could not have windows (Ether 2:23), so at best it’s a case of some creative transformation for the use of one word rather than the easy work of plagiarizing material directly.
8. “Both mention the ark/vessel moving due to wind/waves.”
Comment: Long ago Hugh Nibley in The World of the Jaredites wrote about ancient traditions of strong winds driving the ark. Genesis 8:1 also mentions a wind going over the water near the end of Noah’s time in the ark, though not necessarily driving the ark. But the concept of ships being driven by wind and waves is not exactly a novel innovation, but one of the most basic aspects of being in a vessel of any kind on the ocean. There’s no case for influence from Hamilton here.
9. “Number 8 is significant (8 vessels/ 8 people in ark & Noah is the 8th king / 8 corners of the world)”
Comment: Grasping at straws here. On p. 7 of her paper, Toponce gives us more detail:
This quote from A Key to the Chronology of the Hindus could have definitely been the inspiration behind the eight vessels. Very similar! The description of the barges in Ether 2 also sound like they would fit the description of a crescent shaped float.
“During the churning of the milky ocean were thrown up eight great blessings.” The first is a float that is crescent shaped, is an emblem of the ark but is frequently mistaken for the moon. (vol. 2 page 22)
A phrase is found mentioning “eight blessings.” That’s supposed to “definitely” be possible evidence that Joseph Smith turned to Hamilton to get the idea of eight vessels? Is there any number between 1 and, say, 100, that is not mentioned in Hamilton’s massive work? If there had been, say, 24 or 80 vessels, could Toponce not have equally well pointed to Hamilton at 2:63 which has “twenty-four days before the waters were dried up, and eighty days before the earth was dry” to find numbers associated with the flood story (like much of vol. 2)? What does Joseph gain by reading about and using the passage about “the churning of the milky ocean were thrown up eight great blessings”? To take the lengthy section containing this passage and to extract only the number 8, not even the idea of 8 ships, and to turn that into 8 vessels for the book of Ether seems like an exhausting way to pluck a number out of the air. Why could he possibly gain from turning to Hamilton at this point?
10. “Both mention seeing God.”
Comment: Toponce might have even more success in her work if she were to spend some time reading the Bible, and then any of the thousands of books in Joseph’s day that also mention this ancient concept, one found in the Bible and many other ancient sources. More padding.
11. “Both mention destructive serpents (vol. 2 page 105, Ether 9:31, 33).”
Comment: Again a glance at the Bible might be helpful here, and any book describing the occasional but very real problems that many parts of the world have faced from venomous snakes. Not that the Bible or any other source mentioning the trouble serpents can cause is needed to explain a tiny detail in Ether 9:31–33. An abundance of venomous serpents can be a real problem in some parts of the world, especially Mesoamerica which appears to be the most plausible candidate for the Book of Mormon.
Further, the cited portion of Hamilton’s text has nothing that could have assisted Joseph in writing the account in Ether where large numbers of poisonous serpents begin to cause trouble for some of the Jaredites. Hamilton describes the future end of the world when “the great serpent Ananta will pour forth flames from his several mouths, for the destruction of the world; after which the universe will be re-created.” A divine serpent with multiple heads spewing fire that triggers the destruction and rebirth of the universe has absolutely nothing, apart from the word “serpent,” that could have helped Joseph write the book of Ether in any sensible way. (Google Books has a garbled page for 2:105. Instead see 2:105 at HathiTrust.org.) More grasping.
12. “Lord seeing Moses/Moroni “face to face” (vol. 2 page 128, Ether 12:39).”
Comment: The Bible has several references to people encountering God face to face. Hamilton’s text is obviously referring to the biblical account of Moses seeing God “face to face.” No need for plagiarism from an inaccessible English source about the Hindus if Joseph were plagiarizing. But expressing related spiritual events in related biblical language is what we expect from the Hebrew writers of the Book of Mormon, just as New Testament writers often used language straight from the Old Testament. No surprise here and no evidence of plagiarism.
13. “There is a veil that covers deity (vol. 2 page 84, Ether 3:6, 19-20 & Ether 12:19, 21).”
Comment: There is a parallel here, with Hamilton speaking of a “veil of golden light” that hides the face of the “true Sun,” which is Deity. The Bible also has references to sacred veils. Paul in Hebrews 9 and 10 speaks of the veil in the temple as a symbol of the veil that Christ passed though for us and that we should pass through at least symbolically to obtain redemption through His sacrifice. But the whole idea that we can’t normally see God is pervasive in the scriptures. What Hamilton lacks is the concept of humans passing through the veil (or having the veil as a barrier be removed in whole or part) to see God or be in His presence, rather than removing the veil of light that masks God in Hamilton.
14. “Man created in God’s image (vol. 2 page 90, 95, Ether 3:15).”
Comment: Again, Book of Mormon writers are said to be Hebrews who have brought Old Testament writings with them. The basic idea from Genesis 1 of being created in the image of God ought to be part of their faith. The fact that Hamilton also refers to Genesis 1 does absolutely nothing for the case of plagiarism. Senseless padding.
15. “Elephants (vol.1 page 15, 230 & vol. 2 page 173, Ether 9:19); ‘Mr. Wilford adds, “elephants were called oxen in the west.”'”
Comment: This might be a more reasonable parallel if the book of Ether noted that elephants, “also called oxen in the west,” were among the Jaredites. Then we’d have some evidence of the kind of plagiarism that real plagiarists do, borrowing more than just a verb or a noun or two, but text that provides something creative and interesting to reduce the work load, not make more work.
16. “Phrase ‘curious workmanship’ (vol. 2 page 16, Ether 10:27).”
Comment: Toponce is late to the dance on this one. “Curious workmanship” has already been used by various critics citing a number of references to argue that Joseph plagiarized this term. They have a lot of potential sources to choose from, I have to admit, because this was a relatively common term in Joseph’s day, but not in ours. Today we might say “fine workmanship,” but look at how the relative usage of these terms has changed over time according to the Google Ngram Viewer, which examines how frequent word groupings were over time in their database of digitized books. Here’s the result for “curious workmanship” versus “fine workmanship” (click to enlarge, or view it directly at Google Books):
So this is a matter of translating a text into the English of Joseph’s day (or even much earlier, getting back into the Early Modern English era, if you’re curious). This word choice gives no evidence of a link to Hamilton, apart from both being in English. For more on the charges made about “curious workmanship,” see my “Book of Mormon Plagiarism Theories and The Late War: Smoking Gun or Smoke and Mirrors?”
17. “Negligent on [sic] worshipping [sic] God (vol. 2 page 29, Ether 2:14-15).”
Comment: The Bible and countless other books have this concept. Can you find any book advocating the worship of God that doesn’t criticize those who neglect God? Here Hamilton’s text would offer a more plausible parallel if it looked like the Book of Mormon actually used something from his text, which reads: “so little mindful were mankind of this blessing that the divine cow became totally neglected” (2:29), which does not seem like much of a source to inspire the account in Ether where a prophet is chastised by God for three hours because he “remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.” Toponce takes a passage that mentions “neglect” and equates that basic idea with “remembering not.” Yes, it’s neglect, but as far as finding a smoking gun for plagiarism, it would have been more convincing if the Book of ether stated that the brother of Jared had “totally neglected the divine cow” or was criticized by the divine cow, giving us the kind of thing that plagiarists do. Going from “neglect” of the divine cow to “remembering not” to pray to God is a big enough transformation that one has to wonder what good plagiarism does for the plagiarizer when so much creative work is needed and so little benefit is reaped from the rare patches of text that are allegedly snatched.
18. “Faith and good works both mentioned (vol.2 page 35, Ether 12:4).”
Comment: Yes, of course, just as you find in numerous books dealing with Christianity and the Bible. A mention of very common words or concepts does not constitute evidence for plagiarism.
19. “Both speak about destruction/ bad things happening followed by rain (vol.2 page 36, Ether 9:30-35).”
Comment: If you think about it, just about everything that happens on this planet is eventually followed by rain, and often right away. And some of the bad things that happen are caused by rain. Hamilton’s lengthy discussions of the Flood do not create the slightest evidence for plagiarism.
20. “Praying because of mercies shown to them (vol.2 page 40, Ether 6: 12).”
Comment: Toponce still has not noticed that Hamilton’s book is all about the connections between Hindu tradition and the Bible and Christianity in particular. People praying in gratitude is not a novel idea that points to Hamilton as the necessary source. It’s really getting hard to see how Toponce could be “BLOWN AWAY” by these similarities.
21. “Confusion of tongues and Tower of Babel (vol. 1 page 380, 398, vol. 2 page 126, 308 are just some of the references; Ether 1:3, 5, 33.”
Comment: In writing his translation of Ether, Mormon is keenly aware that future readers will be aware of the record in Genesis about the tower and the confusion of languages. The Bible and numerous religious books mention this. Hamilton’s reliance on Genesis does not contribute to Toponce’s case for plagiarism.
22. “Both speak of a “contrite heart” (vol. 2 page 188, Ether 4:15).”
Comment: Yes, as does the Bible. This is biblical language being used in the Book of Mormon, as it is in Hamilton. Does not mean Joseph had to bring a book from England to the Sates to swipe a phrase that had already become common in religious discourse.
23. “Both speak about attacks of monsters of the sea/ocean and shark/whale (vol. 1 pages 60 and 61, Ether 6:10.”
Comment: As does the Bible and countless tales from sailing. Traversing the ocean is dangerous. No plagiarism required.
24. “Jaredsandha’s (brother of Rama Chandra aka Jared) race didn’t prosper due to apostasy (vol.2 page 141/142).”
Comment: The Bible and many religious books tend to suggest that God blesses the righteous and that wicked apostates sooner or later face consequences. This goes back to the Torah and beyond. It’s no surprise that Hamilton would point to his apostate brother of Jared as one who was not blessed richly by the Lord, quite unlike the righteous brother of Jared in Ether. No need for plagiarism here.
25. “Both mention cattle (several times throughout both volumes, Ether 9:18) and bees (Vol. 2 page 68, Ether 2:3).”
Comment: Ouch! I thought I was going to breeze through this list without being totally stymied, but Toponce finally got me on this. OK, now I’m stymied — completely unable to understand why stray mentions of cattle and bees would count as evidence of plagiarism, when mentions of water, goats, silver, hair, hands, trees, and tents would all get a pass. And what about verbs like “see” and “read” and “eat,” or conjunctions like “and” or “or”? There’s a world of spurious evidence out there being overlooked. I’m looking forward to a more consistent approach in the next edition.
Speaking of the next edition, there is one relatively more impressive parallel that Toponce missed: the idea of sacred lost books that needed to be recovered/restored. Now that’s getting closer to home, a very Book of Mormonish/Smithish concept if ever there was one. OK, the mention of lost books of scripture is something one can find in many verses of the Bible and in other writings, but not with the piquant pizzazz found in Hamilton’s book. From 2:31, we have another smoking gun for Joseph’s clever transformative plagiarism:
Under the Matsyu Avatar he [Mr. Maurice] writes “the first incarnation of Vishnu, in the form of a fish, to recover the sacred books, lost during the deluge.” that these sacred books were emblematic of the true religion being lost in idolatry, and the period stated at the four hundred and twentieth year of the world, has been fully proved in a former Letter.
I’ll try to find some desperate apologetic spinning to cope with that little shocker later. I’ll just say this version is much easier than if Vishnu had been a salamander.
There are a few more points scored in the latter part of Toponce’s document. She mentions two “races” being destroyed. But Hamilton refers to all peoples as “races” and here refers to the descendants of Cain and the descendants of righteous Seth as the two “races” that were destroyed in the Flood, except for one survivor descended from Jared. This has nothing to do with warring Nephites and Lamanites or the destruction of the Jaredites in a war between two armies.
One final topic Toponce raises is “tender mercies,” and when I got to this part of her argument, I finally thought maybe we had something interesting. “Tender mercies” is a very “Book of Mormonish” concept that has not been widely used outside of our own Church literature–including the KJV Bible, where it occurs 11 times such as in Psalm 25:6, 40:11, 51:1, etc., and Proverbs 12:10, so there’s no need for any obscure book to provide this. [The observation on the Bible’s use of tender mercies is an update from 12/10/2020.] Before recalling that “tender mercies” is already in the Bible, I thought that if Hamilton were using that phrase in a similar way, it would be interesting, though this kind of parallel can always happen by chance or, in this case, because it is a known phrase in the English language from the Bible and one we might expect ancient Hebrew writers to use.
Here, though, I was gravely disappointed to see that the source for “tender mercies,” according to Toponce, is this:
“The first action recorded of this patriarch after the deluge, is raising an altar to the Lord, and pouring out prayers and thanksgivings for the mercies that had been shewn him, and his family.” vol. 2 pages 39-40
Here I have to cry foul. “Mercy” and “mercies” are not rare words. It’s the “tender” that makes the phrase interesting, and Hamilton completely lacks it. Not just in the cited passage, but anywhere in volume 1 or 2, according to my searches. Had it even been somewhere in volume 1, Toponce could at least have displayed “tender … mercies” in the time-honored manner of some of our most dedicated critics. To imply at all that “tender mercies” is derived from Hamilton is reckless and deceptive, more so than most of the arguments presented here. She admits, of course, that the cited passage doesn’t exactly have “tender,” but people will see the header and not notice the details. That needs to be fixed in the second edition.
There are a few more last-ditch attempts to pad the list of parallels. “Lots of talk about kings” and “Lots of talk about war.” Again, what does one expect? How many historical or even fictional works fail to mention rulers and have nothing but peace? Certainly not the Bible. Maybe I’ll treat the rest of these weak attempts later. Nothing very interesting. Three Vedas = the three Nephites? Sigh. Yes, 2:101 has the phrase “three Vedas,” but Vedas are not disciples, prophets, or holy men. They are scriptures, sacred writings, an inanimate object. The number three in front of a noun occurs in millions of publications, but if plagiarism is at play, we would expect to find a passage that could help Joseph with his story line, not just with a number between 1 and 12. For that, any poorly educated farm boy could handle that task in a jiffy without having to turn to a rare book and spending time reading about Hindu scriptures to just extract a lone “three.”
Returning to my initial thoughts (and again turning off my more serious mode), while Toponce’s work may be weak in terms of its specific details, its real value lies not so much in trying to explain around 1 or 2% of the book of Ether, but in explaining the incredible way Joseph Smith must have conducted his audacious plagiarism, if plagiarism were indeed his approach. Toponce, like other accusers of Joseph, shows us (implicitly) a brilliant, dedicated, almost manically obsessed plagiarizer who spared no cost in time, effort, or book and travel expenses to pursue an arduous course that was vastly more difficult than just fabricating stories. Genius-level strategies were used to cover his tracks, obtaining books that apparently were not available in the United States, and then mining them for just a few dainty pieces, never the meat they seemed to offer — seemingly little things like the numbers three or eight, words like “windows” and “bees,” the idea of ships facing waves, arcane concepts like praying to God, and Nephi’s memorable trademark term “tender mercies,” brilliantly hiding his plagiarism by using a book that didn’t even mention “tender” anywhere — spending hours per verse using who knows how many other books for each line, making it nearly impossible for anyone to ever detect his plagiarism or provide a semi-coherent theory for how he did it.
While witnesses seem to recall Joseph putting his head in a hat and spewing out vast amounts of revealed text at a breakneck pace while “translating,” it is clear that they erred and that many man-years if not man-decades from Joseph as well as his overworked technical advisory team must have been required for this masterpiece of “plagiarism made harder” — vastly harder to write, and also much harder to detect, largely due to the general lack of any real relationship between the texts. We are indebted to the careful sleuthing of Keri Toponce and anxiously await the next edition on the origins of the book of Ether. (Hint: Don’t overlook Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Yes, technically, it was published 25 years after the Book of Mormon — but what better way to disguise a key source for plagiarism?)
Update, 9/16/2020: In Toponce’s defense, the approach she has taken is actually quite understandable, though fatally flawed. Imagine a student of the Book of Mormon, skeptical of its origin, picking up an obscure book and suddenly finding a Book of Mormon name in it. Wow! Then after further reading, maybe a few dozen pages later you find some philosophical concept discussed that sounds like Lehi preaching. Then you notice the book talks about fortification, cattle, ships, prayer, and other elements. Have you found the smoking gun? It’s only when you do some tests with clearly impossible sources like the names of craters on the moon or the poetry in Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that you discover just how easy it is to find random parallels and just how little of the work of writing the Book of Mormon is explained by, say, a source of 800 pages with a couple dozen vague parallels and one or two interesting ones.
If you insist that plagiarism is behind the Book of Mormon, show us how these alleged sources would make life easier for Joseph, not vastly harder. Toponce, unfortunately, has fallen into the parallel-o-mania trap that has led many other critics of the Book of Mormon to feel they have one of Joseph’s sources, when upon closer inspection the proposal lacks merit and is likely based on random scattered parallels without a cohesive theory to connect them to the work of writing the allegedly plagiarized text. It’s understandable and many intelligent people have been misled by enticing parallels that do nothing to explain the Book of Mormon. But I agree that it can be fun to piece together an article like Toponce’s and play with the uncovered parallels, as I have done with Leaves of Grass and features of the moon. Fun indeed, but the shallow parallels do nothing to explain the Book of Mormon, though I don’t think any of our critics has come up with more impressive parallels than we find in Leaves of Grass.