The Book of Mormon’s Command Performance: The Late War and Other KJV-Style Texts Don’t Help

Stanford Carmack’s discussion of the unusual grammar in the original Book of Mormon text creates a case that the unusual English of the original Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained if Joseph just created the Book of Mormon himself. The language of the King James Bible is actually quite distinct from the English that Joseph dictated. Carmack’s most recent work on the topic, as I previously discussed (“New Twists,” 1/08/15; also see my earlier “Joseph Smith’s Hick Language,” 8/29/14), takes up the use of the verb “command” in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon tends to favor archaic English constructions like “command Jeff THAT he SHOULD do something” instead of the standard modern form with “to” (the infinitive form), as in “command Jeff TO stop writing so poorly.” The King James Bible mostly uses the infinitive form, not the other “finite” form, when “command” governs another verb.

A commenter in my last post guessed that we would find similar language in one of the other books that Joseph allegedly plagiarized from. OK, that’s a testable hypothesis. So this week I looked at the texts of some of the leading books people have proposed as Joseph’s source material to see how they use “command.” I was not surprised to see that they provide no support for the Book of Mormon’s command performance. Of course, it will take generations to sort through the ever growing and highly imaginative collection of Joseph’s vast frontier library that nobody ever saw, Joseph included (though this could make a fun movie of the National Archive variety, complete with a huge underground Masonic temple lined with books), but this week I looked at the most popular recent “smoking guns.”

First on the list is Gilbert Hunt’s The late war, between the United States and Great Britain, from June 1812, to February 1815 : written in the ancient historical style. For background, see my “Another Fun Statistical Squabble,” 11/07/13 and “Curious Parallels,” 11/13/13, and especially see Ben McGuire’s commanding “The Late War Against the Book of Mormon,” Mormon Interpreter, vol. 7, 2013. Said by some critics to be the ultimate smoking gun that proves plagiarism, a delusional conclusion obtained with bogus statistical methods, this text was written in Elizabethan-style English in imitation of King James language. Occasional similarities also derive from its many scenes of war that describe the kind of things that happen in war, as the Book of Mormon does. So if this was Joseph’s secret source, now uncovered with the power of Big Data, it’s relationship to the unusual language structures of the Book of Mormon might be interesting, eh?

Courtesy of the remarkable online resource,, you can see a text file with the full text of The Late War at Other formats might be more enjoyable, such as the PDF file or the online reader. In searching, be sure to consider the occasional hyphenated form also (search for “command” as well as “com-“).

My exploration shows that Hunt’s use of “command” as a verb is dominated by “commanded by” in the sense of leading, as in an army or ship commanded by a captain, similar to its common use as a noun, as in “under the command of” a leader. These cases don’t apply to the current discussion. The cases where “command” governs another verb are relatively few for such a long text (over 300 pages), which already is a notable difference to the Book of Mormon, where command is a frequently used verb governing other verbs. Hunt has 10 instances of command governing a verb, by my count, while the Book of Mormon has over 100. Here are the 10 from Hunt, with the finite forms in bold:

2:3 And they commanded them to go forth from their presence, for that purpose, and return again on the third day of the same month.

3:25 Therefore, I command that ye go not out to battle, but every man remain in his own house.

4:16 But they were rejoiced that power was not given unto him to command fire to come down from heaven to consume the friends of the great Sanhedrim.

7:13 William . . . commanded the valiant men of Columbia to bow down before the servants of the king.

12:11 and commanded them to go to the island of the king which is called Bermuda.

25:15 After which the men of Columbia were commanded to go in boats, down to the strong hold of Kingston, in the province of the king.

29:11 Therefore, that your blood may not be spilt in vain, we command that ye give up the strong hold into the hands of the servants of the king, and become captives.

33:6 And he called together his captains of fifties, and his squadrons, and encouraged them, and commanded them to prepare themselves for the fight.

46:3 For the Prince Regent had commanded his servants to go forth into the heart of the land of Columbia, and separate the states of the east from the rest of the country.

51:28 They commanded the vessel called the Yankee to follow after them, towards the ship of the king their master ;

Here 8 of 10 instances use the common infinitive form (command … TO …). The other two use command + that + verb. So 20% of Hunt’s few uses are in the finite form, similar to what we see in the KJV Bible, according to Carmack, but quite unlike the high level in the Book of Mormon. None of Hunt’s finite forms use an auxiliary verb like “should,” which is common in the Book of Mormon. Doesn’t look like Hunt explains the Book of Mormon’s command patterns.

The First Book of Napoleon is another text that allegedly has statistical similarity to the Book of Mormon. again offers the full text, a PDF, and an online reader. You will find even less support for the use of “command” in that text. I find zero instance of “command” governing another verb.

The 1822 translation of the Quran is a little more interesting and relevant, but still fails as an explanation for Joseph’s unique Book of Mormon language. provides a text file, a PDF, and an online reader. Again, some of the important instances of command are hyphenated, so include “com-” in your search if using the text file. When “command” as a verb governs another verbs, 33 times it was in the modern infinitive form and only 8 times in the finite form. That’s 19.5%, very similar to the KJV and quite unlike the Book of Mormon.

One related structure in the Quran is related, but does not fit the finite usage of interest here. An example of this form is “it is also commanded us, saying, Observe the stated times of prayer.” The verb “command” here does not directly govern a second verb, but introduces a quotation. So I am not counting it as a finite “layered” form equivalent to “command X that X or Y should do something.”

Here are the 8 examples of command + finite verb that I found, listed by page number. Again, this is my preliminary count. I welcome comments and further analysis.

45. who also say, Surely God hath commanded us, that we should not give credit to any apostle, until one should come unto us with a sacrifice, which should be consumed by fire.

67. Wherefore we commanded the children of Israel, that he who slayeth a soul, without having slain a soul, or committed wickedness in the earth, shall be as if he had slain all mankind:

68. We have therein commanded them, that they should give life for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth ;

100. and command thy people that they live according to the most excellent precepts thereof

144. who hath commanded that ye worship none besides him.

173. Thy Lord hath commanded that ye worship none besides him ;

269. Nay, but the crafty plot which ye devised by night and by day, occasioned our ruin; when ye commanded us that we should not believe in God, and that we should set up other gods as equals unto him.

277. Did I not command you, O sons of Adam, that ye should not worship Satan ; because he was an open enemy unto you?

Five of the eight examples use “shall” or “should” as an auxiliary verb after “that,” which may make it more similar to the Book of Mormon in that regard than is the King James Bible. So in terms of the Book of Mormon’s command-related language, the 1822 Quran is certainly the best of the recently touted links found by bad Big Data (or Big Bad Data?), but is still not very helpful and, of course, rather implausible.

Just for fun, I also looked at Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Found (text file at, which proved to be a case of relevant command language being not found. There were 9 examples of infinitive forms but none in the finite form when command governed another verb. Yawn.

But wait, what about Shakespeare? Or Sir Walter Scott? Or James Adair and dozens of other authors? Dig in and let me know what you find.

So far, Carmack’s thesis stands: the archaic language of the Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained by drawing from the KJV or other books in Joseph’s day. I don’t really know why that early archaic English is there, but whatever the reason, it is a subtle data-rich indicator of something other than imitation and plagiarism by Joseph Smith. Or do you have a better fraud-friendly explanation?

Author: Jeff Lindsay

115 thoughts on “The Book of Mormon’s Command Performance: The Late War and Other KJV-Style Texts Don’t Help

  1. Other than the thesis that 15th Century usage of the verb "command" provides evidence that the Book of Mormon isn't a product of the 19th Century, I don't see what the significance is in this research at all. One solitary verb is isolated from the text, shown to be in a form not in use in KJV English or in Smith's day, and therefore the entire book can't be 19th Century. Never mind that their are most definitely 19th Century concepts within the book, such as the expression "infinite atonement," which isn't in the Bible, but shows up in the writings of 19th Century Unitarians and Universalists. Like the idea that dark skin is a curse, which again isn't in the Bible, but sure is a part of 19th Century Christian teachings. (Which the current LDS Church has now officially disavowed.) The infant baptism debate is another good example. Not in the Bible. But was a hot topic in Protestantism.

    But, we can ignore all of this, because the verb "command" is being used in 15th Century way.

    Well, now that we know that book isn't from the 19th Century. We have pushed it back as far as the 15th Century. Now we just have a few more centuries to go before we get it into the 1st Century.

  2. Thank you, Jeff, for identifying yet another 19th-century source in which Joseph Smith might have encountered EModE command syntax without ever having read any EModE texts.

    Of course, this syntax is found in the King James Bible itself ("Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?"). Why is it so far-fetched to think that Smith encountered this kind of construction in a 19th-century source, and liked the sound of it, and incorporated it into his style? Is that really so much harder to believe than your divine hypothesis?

    Smith's prose is also distinct from the KJV's in other ways, like, oh, I dunno, in the frequency of his use of "It came to pass." Whether it's "command that" or "it came to pass," all we have here is evidence that Smith had ready 19th-century access to certain constructions that he used more frequently than his sources did.

    Other than demonstrating he had his own distinctive prose style, that proves absolutely nothing. Well, it does suggest he did not plagiarize his contemporary sources, but the plagiarism argument is a silly one anyway (though it does set up an easy straw man for a certain lazy brand of apologetics).

    Also, this "command you that" construction appears at least five times in Doctrine and Covenants. Why would that be? Did God find his "little joke" so funny he had to tell it twice?

    Or did Smith write D&C, too?

    Which is really more plausible?

  3. "Infinite atonement" appears in the early 18c and arguably in the 17c:

    mercy enough for the greatest, the eldest, the stubbornest transgressor, the infiniteness of Grace with respect to the Spring or Fountain (the Deity of Christ) will answer all our Objections. What is our finite guilt before it? (How comes this guilt to be finite now? When we are so often told, that the demerit of every sin is infinite, as being committed against an infinite God, and requiring an infinite satisfaction for its Atonement) Shew me the Sinner, that can spread his iniquity to the dimensions (if I may so say) of this Grace.

    God had revealed himself to be such a God long before, yet still upon the Account of that Propitiation and Atonement which in infinite Wisdom and Grace he had provided.

    But in the Redemption we have by Christ, we may behold with open face as in a glass, all those things which we expect our Religion should do for us? For therein we find an Atonement infinitely sufficient to expiate the offences of the most guilty, and to satisfie the doubts of the most scrupulous, to silence all the clamours of an accusing Conscience

    Google Books:
    1729 Letters on various occasions, in prose and verse, by the author of … By Elisabeth Rowe, 23.
    "Am I the only distinguish'd Sinner excluded from the Benefit of that infinite Atonement?"

  4. Infant baptism:

    Thirdly, that all their disputes against Infants Baptism, because they cannot manifest faith and repentance, are but the same quarrels which might haue been picked of old against Infants Circumcision.

    The idea that these concepts were not discussed earlier is ludicrous. We cannot argue that they were strictly limited to Smith's era and cultural milieu.

    This phrasal, cultural evidence is weak. Syntactic evidence is strong because it is largely subconscious and because it changed and so knowledge of prior forms was lost. Patterns of use shifted completely and they were unrecoverable except by philological analysis.

    OK is putting forth the same unstudied complaint in his 2nd para. that I've addressed here and in the article.

  5. Take "exceeding great" in the KJB and BofM. The earliest text has 57 consistent uses of this syntax. The KJB has 9 or so. Talmage in 1920, like 1760s KJB editors did to spelling and word forms in the KJB, changed the last ones to "exceedingly great". That is because by the 20c "exceeding great" sounded ungrammatical and Talmage either didn't check biblical syntax or simply decided to make it sound grammatical to 20c readers. (Compare "exceeding(ly) _ADJ_" in Google's Ngram Viewer. You'll see the crossover around the year 1770.) So critics will say that Smith was a linguistic genius, imbued with KJB syntax, and consistently got it right, while better educated pseudobiblical authors like Hunt and E. Smith used "exceedingly great" and "exceedingly fond".

    At the same time critics scorn Smith for apparent errors in the Earliest Text of the BofM. They say he made many glaring errors in a failed attempt to imitate biblical and EModE language. So the critics obligatorily contradict themselves. They have to admit highly consistent usage in some respects, and chalk it up to savant status, but deny it elsewhere when their inexpert views on EModE grammar tell them that Smith made mistakes. However, now that we have searchable databases like EEBO, we can find virtually all the "bad" grammar that is in the BofM in the textual record of EModE.

    The correct view, the divine view, is not contradictory. But if you don't allow for a divine view, then you must look elsewhere to explain the BofM text, beyond the erroneous and weak views promulgated thus far.

  6. By bringing up "infinite atonement" and infant baptism, I wasn't necessarily ruling out the fact that they appear earlier than the 19th Century. I was just pointing out that they do appear in the 19th Century. Do you have anything older than 1675? Like something from Jewish writings back during the time Lehi left Jerusalem. Because then, you'd really have something good. Then, we can explain why "infinite atonement" shows up in the Book of Mormon. Otherwise, the only other sane conclusion is that Joseph Smith put it in the Book, because it was a part of the religious discussion of his day, and previous days as well.

  7. Champ, we don't need to argue that infinite atonement and the like "were strictly limited to Smith's era and cultural milieu." It suffices to show that they were (1) live issues for Smith, and (2) not likely to have been live issues for ancient expatriate Israelites.

    The key term here is retrojection. Secular scholars know that this happens all the time.
    The gospel writers retrojected Jesus's messiahship into the mouth of Isaiah. Later New Testament writers retrojected their contemporary concerns into the mouth of Jesus. Smith did much the same thing, retrojecting his own stance on the theological issues of his day into his story of the Nephites. Your observations that some of those issues date back to the 17th or 18th centuries are irrelevant.

    This stuff is all so obvious to those unburdened by orthodoxy — to those who do not accept that ol' burning in the bosom as a source of truth….

    And I'm sorry, but this is simply wrong: "Patterns of use shifted completely and they were unrecoverable except by philological analysis."

    Sorry, but it's totally plausible that the similarities between Smith's "pattern of use" and that of certain EModE text are a product of chance.

    The odds are not that long. They might seem so at first, but not if

    (1) we remember that the patterns of usage were inaccessible to Smith, but not the constructions themselves;

    (2) we remember Smith was deliberately aiming for an archaic-sounding style; and

    (3) we understand the barn door fallacy.

    You're making the fundamental creationist mistake, Champ. You can't see any obvious natural mechanism to explain your observations, and instead of thinking harder about what such mechanism might be (which is what a scientist would do), you jump to the conclusion that God must have done it (as the creationist does).

    William Paley redux.

    Again I say, get out of the apologetical sandbox. Run your theories past your professional peers in linguistics. Nobody's stopping you.

  8. There are dozens of examples of syntactic usage that point to inaccessible EModE. From what I know of the text I would be insane to think that Smith could've written the BofM.

  9. At this point I know the syntax of the Earliest Text of the BofM as well as anyone besides Skousen. I have also familiarized myself with EModE by searching extensively in the OED and EEBO for more than a year and analyzing a number of EModE texts. I have a PhD in historical syntax. I see dozens of good matches between BofM and EModE syntax, much of it arcane or obsolete. So what do I conclude on that basis? Rather reasonably I conclude that someone who had a masterful grasp of EModE, in all its variety, wrote the text. That someone was not Smith.

  10. Champ,

    Now you are suddenly getting very interesting. What are you saying here? Should we start scouring the written words of Sydney Rigdon looking for this EModE syntax?

  11. To my knowledge, neither Stanford nor anyone else has addressed the elephant in the room: The resources Stanford is using are not reliable indicators of frontier, rural, uneducated American English.

    Instead, the resources Stanford uses are created by analyzing past writings. Yet past writings were disproportionately produced by educated people in cities.

    The MOST that Stanford's analysis can hope to prove is that the Book of Mormon did not conform to writings sampled by the authors of the reference books Stanford uses. That's it.

    In addition – one should ideally analyze other writings of Joseph or his contemporaries to see if they have examples of EModE.

    Here are some other questions I posted in August on the interpreter website, which Stanford never really addressed:

    1) In the book “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon,” the author makes the point that in rural communities with less education, it would not be surprising to find older, non-standard variants of English being used. Why should the non-standard forms you’ve identified be attributed to the divine translation process, rather than as a by-product of less educated, rural 19th century America?

    2) Is it true or false that rural or less educated communities will tend to use older variants of English? Are there scholarly articles discussing this? Doesn’t the type of grammar that one uses depend heavily on the community one is in, the amount of contact that community has with other communities, the diffusion of language, etc.?

    3) How do you respond to the idea that any scholarly authorities that define what constitutes “Early Modern English” would have largely been based more on language used in cities and the better-educated (i.e. those who write books)–and that you are inappropriately applying these results to a language of a person from an entirely different community? (i.e., a result is applicable only for population A, but you are extending it to population B).

    4) Have other studies (outside of mormon scholarship) used English textual variants to date a text composed at an unknown date?

    5) What would falsify your theory? For example, if one were to find a different 19th century book that included Early Modern English in similar quantities to the Book of Mormon (but presumably with no divine intervention), would that falsify your theory? Are there any other ways can your theory be falsified?

    6) Do you have a statistical model for showing that your evidence is not due to chance? For example, in the biomedical sciences, a p<0.05 is often used. But to account for publication bias, many people really hope to see p<0.01 or less. How do we get a "p value" from your work?

    7) Have you done any case controls on your methods to other texts from the 19th century?

    8) It seems like a decent methodology for doing a study like this would be to assume that the date of authorship is unknown, and then to classify ALL the linguistic evidence by time period (so, for example, you might end up with some evidence in the 1500s, some in the 1600s, 1700s, some in the 1800s, etc.). I would expect you would find some evidence of 19th century English in the Book of Mormon. Is this the process you undertook? Quickly scanning your article, it looks like most of what you discuss relates to evidence for Early Modern English. But surely there must also be evidence for 19th century English. How much? How does the quantity of 19th century English compare to Early Modern English?

    9) Some authors (Metcalfe) have shown many similarities between BOM language and 19th century sermons – evidence that Joseph used the language of his day during the translation process. How does your theory account for this?

    10) Who are a few non-mormon scholars who would be qualified to critique your work? Are you planning on submitting your work to a peer-reviewed journal in the field of linguistics?

  12. This post answers the question, "Is there sufficient evidence to support the claim that Joseph Smith plagiarized portions of the Book of Mormon from available, contemporary literature?" Jeff Lindsay concludes "No."

    I would ask the same question of other books produced by other-worldly means, like the writings of Patience Worth. IMO there is less evidence to reject Patience Worth than to reject the Book of Mormon. I can't think of an argument against Patience Worth that doesn't also work against the Book of Mormon.

  13. I am convinced that there certainly is a lot of thought (and a lot to think about) concerning the language used in the translated Book of Mormon. I wonder if the Book draws as much similar attention in any of the other hundreds of languages in which it has been subsequently translated.

    All these discussions are enough to keep a person quite busy with the mundane – busy enough so that the real purpose of the book can be pushed aside or ignored for a long, long time (a lifetime, perhaps) until they, or the persons so engaged, can be completely exhausted.

    What is wrong with the likely possibility that the Book was translated into a language that Joseph was familiar with? What else even makes sense? If he had been Japanese, guess which language would have been used?

    Just so we don't all forget, there are a couple of passages "attributed to Nephi" in the Book that might explain the reason for the current discussion:

    1 Nephi 6:5

    Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.

    2 Nephi 5:32

    And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

    What are the things you are pleased with?

  14. bearby,

    If Joseph Smith were Japanese, of course the book would've been translated into Japanese, but from which era? Would the 1820 Japanese Joseph Smith translate it into the language of the 11th Century "Tale of Genji?" (A famous Japanese work of literature.)

    Having served a Japanese mission back in the mid-90s, I think you might find it interesting to know that the Japanese translation of the BoM in use when I started was not the same translation I used when I ended. In 1995, the Church issued a new-modern Japanese translation, because the existing translation was so obsolete few people could understand it.

    Joseph Smith didn't translate the book into the language he was familiar with. He tried to make it sound like 1611 English. Frankly, I don't have any problem with that. It was just a quirky thing to do. Nothing more.

    But here is the problem: There are large chunks of the book that are quoted verbatim from the KJ Bible. So, I am expected to believe that Joseph Smith had a Reformed Egyptian record from an ancient American culture which he translated into English. And when he did, it just so happens that his English translation matches word-for-word a pre-existing English translation that came out of the British Isles in 1611 by translators who were working with the Hebrew/Greek language of the original manuscripts.

    This is impossible. 100% impossible. No two translators are going to translate the same complex passage of text the same way. Especially not translators separated by time and space the way Joseph Smith and King James' committee are.

    When there is so much evidence pointing to the book being a product of the 19th Century while all the time Joseph Smith and every church leader after him has guaranteed the ancient origins of the book, one really has to question what exactly the purpose of the book is. Because it looks an awful lot like a fraud.

    I was a Mormon for 38 years. I did everything just the way I was taught. And I loved the Book of Mormon. I loved Moroni, especially, and his lonely courage at the end. It was hard for me to see that it can't possibly be what it claims to be. The book still has power. Why? It is just a really good Bible commentary combined with swashbuckling adventure tales. It sounds relevant to our day because it deals with Christian themes which we are still dealing with and with which Joseph Smith was dealing with. It gives very vague, yet foreboding, prophecies of coming destruction, so there is a little bit of the tabloid in there, too. Everyone gets at least a bit of an adrenalin rush thinking of the coming final conflict between good and evil. It teaches good principles that lead one to righteous life. But if it doesn't bring a soul to the true and living Christ when it claims to do just that, (or the church claims it), then it is possibly the most dangerous book in print. It is a hook. It brings people to an organization which has layered on doctrine that isn't found either in the BoM or the Bible. And this additional doctrine perverts the clear message found in the Bible about the role of Christ, salvation, grace, and faith.

    I have little to complain about, doctrinally speaking, with the Book of Mormon. It closely matches Biblical doctrine. But I am bothered that Mormons don't really believe the doctrine in that book.

  15. @muucavwon: Just looked briefly at Patience Worth's The Sorry Tale. About the same length as the BofM. Hers is faux EModE. One ex.: I searched an EModE db, came up with 10,000 hits of "they went", zero of "they went them", found about 40 times in PW's book. Faux EModE. BofM = real EModE. Causative stx very different in books. PW uses "and" 50% more than the KJB, which has tons, much more than typical English; BofM slightly below KJB in that regard. PW has "did" < 20% as often as the BofM, etc. Texts are very different syntactically and lexically.

    @kidsr: Wrong about text, a lack of understanding about implications of tight control (Skousen 1998), and a lack of knowledge about syntax and EModE. Tight control: God directed angelic translators who used the KJB (logical choice in the 1820s) throughout the BofM, altering it as God saw fit. KJB italics arguments made by some are without import or merit — ultimately silly. The xlation was xmitted word for word to Smith in the late 1820s. I suggest to all who are prone to jump to conclusions about the language of the book that they spend a significant amount of time learning about the intricacies and variation of 200 years of EModE. Then with that background they can profitably study the earliest text with understanding. Otherwise comments will be off-track. They will be inexpert judgments and pronouncements made without knowledge.

  16. @kids: Wake up. Smith and associates couldn't have authored the text. You must find an author who was a wide-ranging expert in nonbiblical EModE lx and lit in order to make a plausible naturalistic argument.