What Did Joseph Know About the Structure of the Book of Mormon, and When Did He Know It?

The details of the translation process that gave us the Book of Mormon offer a variety of mysteries and challenges, but the greatest challenge is for theories based on Joseph Smith as author and fabricator. If he or friends of his concocted a manuscript, why go through the painstaking oral dictation process? Why not just bring forth the manuscript and declare the work done? And how could the dictation process be done by looking in a hat with no manuscript present, as confirmed by multiple witnesses, not all of whom were members of the Church? The details of the Original Manuscript and Printer’s Manuscript confirm the story as told by Joseph and witnesses: one document was created by oral dictation written down by scribes, and the other was created by copying from the Original Manuscript.

I’d like to highlight one aspect of those details today that are worth careful reflection: the division of the text into chapters. Here is an excerpt from Royal Skousen’s 1998 article, “How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon:  Evidence from the Original Manuscript” from the Maxwell Institute (here I used strikethrough instead of brackets to indicate deleted text):

The word chapter and the corresponding chapter numbers were not part of the revealed text

Evidence from both the original and printer’s manuscripts shows that Joseph Smith apparently saw some visual indication at the end of a section that the section was ending. Although this may have been a symbol of some kind, a more likely possibility is that the last words of the section were followed by blankness. Recognizing that the section was ending, Joseph then told the scribe to write the word chapter, with the understanding that the appropriate number would be added later.

There is considerable evidence in both manuscripts to support this interpretation. First, the word chapter is never used by any writer in the text itself, unlike the term book, which is used to refer to an individual book in the Book of Mormon (such as the book of Helaman) as well as a whole set of plates (such as the book of Nephi, meaning the large plates of Nephi).

Second, chapters are assigned before the beginning of a book. For instance, in the original manuscript, we have the following at the beginning of 2 Nephi:

         Chapter VIII

     second                Chapter I

The / Book of Nephi / An account of the death of Lehi…

Oliver Cowdery first wrote Chapter at the conclusion of the last section in 1 Nephi—that is, at the conclusion of Chapter VII in the original chapter system; our current chapter system dates from Orson Pratt’s 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon (which has 22 chapters in 1 Nephi). At this point, Joseph Smith had no indication that a new book was beginning. All he could see was the end of Chapter VII (namely, the words “and thus it is Amen” followed probably by blankness or maybe a special symbol). Later, when Oliver was adding the chapter numbers, he first assigned the Roman numeral VIII to this first chapter of 2 Nephi. But when he realized that this was actually the beginning of a new book, he crossed out the whole chapter designation and inserted (with slightly weaker ink flow) “Chapter I” after the title of the book, which originally was simply designated as “The Book of Nephi”. Later he realized that there was more than one book of Nephi, which led him to also insert the word second (with considerably heavier ink flow).

This system of assigning chapters also explains why the two manuscripts have chapter numbers assigned to the short books found at the end of the small plates (Enos, Jarom, Omni, and the Words of Mormon) as well as 4 Nephi. These books contain only one section, but at the beginning of each of these short books, Joseph Smith apparently had no knowledge that this was the case. This fact further shows that Joseph himself did not know in advance the contents or structure of the text.

Probably the strongest evidence that the word chapter is not original to the revealed text is that the chapter numbers are assigned later in both manuscripts. The numbers are almost always written with heavier ink flow and more carefully. In many cases, Oliver Cowdery took time to add serifs to his Roman numerals. On the other hand, his Chapter is always written rapidly and with the same general ink flow as the surrounding text. In the printer’s manuscript, at the beginning of Chapter XVII in Alma (now the beginning of Alma 36), the Roman numeral XVII was written in blue ink, not the normal black ink. This example clearly suggests that this part of the original manuscript itself did not yet have chapter numbers assigned to it when Oliver started to copy it, perhaps six months after it had been dictated.

Let that sink in. When Joseph finished First Nephi, he didn’t know he was done. He just said chapter, and then continued dictation. When he began Words of Mormon and other short books, he didn’t know there would be only one chapter and thus had no need for breaking it up into chapters at all. The evidence from the manuscripts suggests that as he was dictating his text, he was dictating something he was not intimately familiar with. He didn’t know the structure that was to follow.

Some have supposed that his “hat trick” of dictating text could be done by just memorizing sections of an already carefully worked out document. If he were the fabricator of the document or co-conspirator using someone else’s document, whether the document was memorized or just smuggled into the hat with a miraculous flashlight, he would at least have known when a book was finished and when a book was short without chapter breaks. The evidence from the manuscripts challenges theories based on fabrication by Joseph. 

A plausible theory for the Book of Mormon as a modern fabrication needs to account for witnesses–not only the numerous witnesses of the gold plates, but the witnesses of the translation process, and the surviving witnesses of the Original Manuscript and the Printer’s Manuscript. Those manuscripts witness not only of the dictated, oral nature of the Book of Mormon translation, but also of Joseph’s own ignorance of the structure of the text he was dictating. They also witness of Hebraisms and other artifacts of language that challenge any theory based on Joseph as the author. These witnesses need to be explained, especially the witnesses of ink and paper that continue to speak. Something fascinating is happening on those pages, and it merits further study.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

38 thoughts on “What Did Joseph Know About the Structure of the Book of Mormon, and When Did He Know It?

  1. "The evidence from the manuscripts suggests that as he was dictating his text, he was dictating something he was not intimately familiar with. He didn't know the structure that was to follow."

    Yeah, that'll happen when you're making stuff up on the spot.

  2. Your title about at what point Joseph knew the structure of the Book of Mormon is intriguing. Writing is a process and we rarely know when we start how the end product will look. Writing never happens in a vacuum and it usually draws on our thoughts and experiences. Clearly Joseph didn't make up the Book of Mormon "on the spot" as a previous commentator supposes. We do know that Joseph spent hours, and likely even years creating the Book of Mormon world with his family in nightly workshops:

    Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, wrote that after the first visits of Moroni, “Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every evening for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation of the same. … During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode [method] of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pp. 82–83).


    The "first visits of Moroni" occurred in September, 1823 and the translation of the Book of Mormon began in 1828 (if I recall correctly). That's quite a lot of time for an "uneducated country boy" to concoct, refine, and perfect his story (using his family for feedback) and draw on his constant religious education, both formal at local church meetings, and personal as he often references his own scriptural study sessions. You mentioned in a previous blog post that you were appalled by the grammar present in the original manuscript–the story was there but the presentation was a bit shoddy. He had time to perfect the story but not the ability to present it in a more refined language, which is something that would have required a more extensive education.

    Reading out of a hat, though difficult, would not be impossible, especailly if the person scribing was behind a curtain and unable to see you with your face pulled away from the interior of said hat to allow more light for reading.

  3. "If he or friends of his concocted a manuscript, why go through the painstaking oral dictation process? Why not just bring forth the manuscript and declare the work done? And how could the dictation process be done by looking in a hat with no manuscript present, as confirmed by multiple witnesses, not all of whom were members of the Church?"

    Did you ever think that maybe while concocting the manuscript they also concocted the dictation process??

  4. Well, Anon 919, since you don't know much about the language of the Book of Mormon, not having studied it, how do you know if it is or is not refined? You don't, but that doesn't stop you from issuing biased, useless opinions. A curtain was used early on with Harris. After that, no curtain.

  5. Anonymous:

    1) I'm not sure why you assume I haven't studied the Book of Mormon.

    2) I was referencing Mr. Lindsay's writing from his previous blog:
    "When I first examined the published text from the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, I was embarrassed at all the non-standard grammar."

    3) Opinions, by definition, are biased–my opinion reflects my biases.

    4) I thought my opinion was quite insightful. It may be useless to you, and as such, you are under no obligation to agree with it, but I'm not sure why you would take the time to point out it's useless unless it struck a nerve.

    I think it's useful in pointing out that, contrary to the popular belief of most Mormons, Joseph didn't just sit down one day and start translating with no previous thought given to the subject of his translation.

  6. So how does any amount of thinking and telling stories result in, say, accurate directions to Nahom and then Bountiful, nearly due from Nahom? How does any amount of thinking result in the ability to dictate complex chiasmus or create clever Hebraic word plays before he studied Hebrew?

  7. The analysis of the original manuscript, with words scribbled in at different ink densities, is very interesting.

    One skeptical theory to explain why Smith didn't seem to know when a book had ended would be, as the first comment above says, that you often don't know how the story will go, when you're making it up.

    Another skeptical theory is that if the narrator adopts a deliberate casualness, as if ignorant of what is going to happen next or when a story has concluded, then this will be a convenient cover for any glitches in the plot. Laying out everything too smoothly would be a mistake, because then the first screw-up would arouse suspicions. Blandly rattling along, and even professing surprise when the story abruptly wraps up or makes a sudden shift, would put a faker under much less pressure.

    So what interests me is not just how the divisions between books in the Book of Mormon ended up getting recognized, but how other possible divisions ended up not getting recognized. Is each book of the Book of Mormon clearly a coherent unit? Or are there many other places where one might conceivably have made a cut, and split one book into two?

    (I won't comment here on chiasmus, Hebraism, or eyewitness accounts. It's perfectly appropriate for Jeff to allude to those other issues in his own blog post, but they're not the main point of this post, and if we latch onto those familiar issues once again here, we'll never get to discuss this new one. That would be a shame. Those other issues have been kicked around pretty thoroughly already just within the other comment threads of this one blog.)

  8. Even just within a skeptical viewpoint there may be interesting things to be learned, from careful study of the original manuscripts, about the process by which the Book of Mormon came to be.

    Did everyone who was in on the scam just cobble together a text and then make up the whole spiel about dictation? That doesn't seem obviously likely, because it's hard to see the point of just inventing such an elaborate but prosaic scenario, with curtains and hats; if they were inventing a revelation scenario, surely they could have done better than that.

    Was Joseph a conscious or semi-conscious fraud, but were the scribes true or partially true believers? (A partially true believer would be someone who believed that Smith was indeed having some kind of revelation, but who was aware that the circumstances of the revelation were being dressed up in order to make the message more appealing to the public. A semi-conscious fraud could likewise be someone who believed they were getting some amount of true revelation, but who was also deliberately embellishing it.) In any of these cases, the dictation from the hat would have served a real purpose.

    So was a pre-written text read aloud from the hat? If not, was the story thought out in detail ahead of time and delivered from memory, or with the help of written cues? If not, was the story thought out in outline and the details improvised? Or was it made up entirely on the spot? Or were several of these methods, or even all of them, used for different parts of the final text?

    It would probably be impossible ever to be sure about any of these possibilities, but careful study of the text, in its original manuscript, might well expose clues that could tip the balance of probability in different directions. Even as a fraud, the Book of Mormon would be an interesting document. Mormons and skeptics will disagree about where the evidence really points, but they can find common cause in gathering it.

  9. If you take a look at intertextuality between the book of Mormon and the bible it becomes clear that details were not improvised on the spot. Whether you take a faithful or a skeptical perspective, you need to account for tight interweaving of biblical language in clear and organized fashion. By this I mean that there are often several phrases within a single book of Mormon passage that interact with multiple biblical passages on the same topic. These often contain exact or near exact phrase matches. Sometimes, the through a series of verses, the book of Mormon introduces interactions with a particular biblical passage, and these interactions all happen in sequence and in close proximity. This kind of detailed intertextuality suggests that exact wording was important to the text. Also, all of the early modern english that Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack are uncovering and publishing about via Yale Press in their upcoming volume suggest a text whose wording has been carefully worked out.

    If you're interested in reading about some of the intertextuality look up Nicholas Frederick's work. He has outlined many intertextualities between the book of Mormon and the New Textament in a lot more depth than most critics who just note that they exist.

  10. It's absolutely clear that the Book of Mormon was not "made up on the spot" as Joseph Smith was rattling along.

    The book is far, far too integrated. Consider: King Mosiah's abdication of Kingship also set forth what in retrospect appears to be the basic Nephite civil and legal codes that were then applied to hard cases, down to and including hundreds of pages of intervening text. Moroni ends the book of Mormon echoing Nephi's last words (and also cribbing from Omni a bit). Quite the trick, since Moroni was actually dictated before Nephi and Omni. Little details like going up to Zarahemla and down to the City of Nephi are consistent.

    Even stuff that Joseph Smith thought was a mistake turns out to be consistent: the Amlicites and the Amalekites; which Oliver and Joseph published as separate groups, upon examination of the original manuscripts turn out to be the same group. Which makes sense in the story, much better than the Amlicites suddenly disappearing and the Amalekites coming out of nowhere.

    Joseph Smith dictated what, 5-7 pages a day, on average? With as complicated and accurate as the Book of Mormon is, there is no way it was made up on the spot. Especially when you consider niceties like how much stuff like the Law of Moses runs in the background (Feast of the Tabernacles, the law on the destruction of apostate cities, death penalty for robbers, and so forth). There's no way Joseph could have just made up a story and incidentally gotten the details of the Law of Moses right–on the spot.

    No, the Book of Mormon isn't a stream of consciousness dictation–that much is clear.

    What I find interesting is that everythingbeforeus has given up on the Book of Mormon being an earthly production and now says the Devil inspired it. Which, incidentally, was one of the options I believe Brigham Young concluded of the Book of Mormon: "Either God or the Devil wrote it; but man had nothing to do with it" or words to that effect.

    Curious that a book that leads people to faith in Christ (and by the millions, no less) is labeled "Demonic" and "Satanic" by everythingbeforeus. Tell me, that part where Jesus explains His gospel and heals the children–straight from the Devil, correct? Jesus would never, ever heal children, right? Alma's discourse on being Born Again–pure lies, designed to seduce people to hell, right? When Alma talks about faith and the seed: surely it's nothing but false doctrine, correct? After all, a Satanic document must always lead people astray.

    So tell us, Everything: What parts of the Book of Mormon are straight from the devil, if not all of it?

  11. Perhaps the Book of Mormon was indeed not improvised on the spot; or at least, maybe some parts of it were, at least to some large extent, thought out in advance. And arguments like some of the above may be good evidence against immediate improvisation.

    And I myself expect there probably was a fair amount of prior preparation. So I'm not motivated by bias to attack arguments against improvisation, just on principle.

    But just as a matter of careful reasoning, I have to warn that it's not easy to make arguments like this conclusively. It's temptingly easy to make strong statements of the form, "Joseph Smith could not possibly have done X", which sound good, but which are really only appeals to poverty of imagination. "I can't imagine doing X, hence no human being could possibly have done it." There's a whole industry of fraud and illusion that exploits the fact that talent and practice can enable human beings to do many things that most people can't imagine doing.

    For example, making up something on the spot doesn't mean that you forget it right away. I've improvised stories for children, making them up as I went along, and then remembered them well enough to repeat them, pretty accurately, months later. So if King Mosiah's abdication speech gets used 'hundreds of pages' later, that's neat, but I don't see that it proves anything.

    It's also not that hard to be consistent on many simple details. If you just have a mental image of Zarahemla as a city on a hill, and Omni as a city in a valley, then you won't have any trouble remembering which one is up and which one is down.

    And maybe I've missed something, but if you call it impressive that Moroni echoes Nephi's last words even though Moroni was dictated before Nephi, then I have a suggestion. Maybe it's really Nephi who is echoing Moroni, because Moroni was written first, and you just interpret it the other way around, because Nephi comes first within the fictional timeline. You can do that kind of thing, when you're making up a prequel.

    I'm also puzzled by Ben Britton's concept of intertextuality. It's not clear to me that this is anything more than a tendency to inject Biblical snippets into the narrative, which would be easy to do on the fly, for someone who had grown up hearing the Bible a lot. Rappers use a lot of stock phrases. Frequent Biblical snippets might actually be evidence for improvisation.

    All of those counter-arguments are in one way moot, for me, because in fact I'm inclined to agree that there was advance preparation. I'm kind of playing Devil's Advocate, in pushing back against arguments against improvisation. But I think the exercise is worthwhile, as a kind of proving ground for general arguments about the text. It's worth checking whether your argument strategies are even up to the lesser job of confirming that Smith couldn't have made it all up right off the top of his head, before applying them to the more serious question of whether he could have made it up at all, with more preparation.

  12. Vance, If you hadn't noticed, I had not yet chimed in on this conversation. I was sitting this one out. But since you seem interested in what I have to say…

    I never said it was "demonic" and "Satanic" but I guess you can extrapolate those words from what I did actually write.

    The Jehovah's Witnesses also believe the healing miracles of Jesus and they also believe in the concept of being born again. They, too, believe in the idea of faith. But the Jesus they acknowledge they do not consider to be God. He is Michael the Archangel. He played a role in God's plan of salvation without actually being God.

    There have been many groups throughout history that have invoked the name of Jesus Christ in their worship, but who do not worship Jesus Christ as God.

    The Book of Mormon, as it stands alone, is a very Christian book. I have very little problem with most of what is written in the Book of Mormon. But despite what you may claim, the BoM does not contain the fullness of the Mormon gospel. It doesn't say anything about temple work (beyond the Law of Moses), eternal families, eternal progression, three degrees of glory, God being once a man, exaltation, etc. After Jesus arrives in 3 Nephi, it never again uses the word Priesthood, except in talking about the old Law of Moses…hmmmm….isn't that interesting. (Joseph Smith never used the word Priesthood, either, until 1831, several years after it was supposed to have been restored.)

    In fact, what it does say in 3 Nephi is that the doctrine of Christ is this: be as a little child, repent, be baptized. Anything more or less than that is of the devil. That most definitely is NOT the Mormon doctrine. The Mormon doctrine is so much more than that. The Book of Mormon itself condemns Mormonism as it is presently constituted. The doctrine of Mormonism declares that after baptism there are still more ordinances one must receive to be exalted. But the BoM says anything more or less than be as a child, repent, be baptized, is of the DEVIL!

    Think about that for a moment. If a person were to find a Book of Mormon having heard nothing about Mormonism, that person could read that book and never learn anything at all about the most significant aspect of Mormonism: eternal marriage/family. Nothing.

    The Book of Mormon, as Christian as it is, is bait. It pulls a person into a religion in which the deeper doctrines are not Christian in origin. So I don't care how much "Jesus" there is in the Book of Mormon. The BoM just puts Jesus at the door as a greeter. A person comes into the church seeing Jesus there, and they think they are in a Christian religion. But the deeper in they get, things begin to change quite quickly.

  13. Vance,

    If you really want to have a discussion, we can do it off of Jeff's site. Email or something. Click on my name above (everythingbeforeus). It will take you to my blog about Christian doctrine (no anti-Mormon stuff at all there, no Mormon stuff at all, actually). Make a comment on one of my posts, just to let me know you have arrived, and we can begin a discussion elsewhere.

  14. James Anglin, I love your "poverty of imagination" phrase. I have not heard that one before in anti-apologetic circles. I do have to admit that you do not suffer from such a syndrome. However, as usual, your rich imagination offers much in the way of innovative possibilities but suffers from a dearth of supporting evidence or real world examples.

    I thought you had given up on this.


  15. Real World Examples??!!

    Like an angel showing a farm boy where ancient artifacts are hidden, and the farm boy finds them and uses a rock to find out what is written on them, and then he gives the plates back to the angel.

  16. EBU said, "Like an angel showing a farm boy where ancient artifacts are hidden, and the farm boy finds them and uses a rock to find out what is written on them, and then he gives the plates back to the angel."

    The Book of Mormon is the evidence of that. And the Book of Mormon is what we are discussing. An analysis of the original text and some surprising grammar (in other blogs). But now how the text unfolded in its dictation.

  17. James, my point was that the intricacy of the intertextuality goes far beyond throwing in snippets of biblical phrases. One example off the top of my head is from Alma 18 (I believe) where a servant calls Ammon the title Rabannah. Doing a side by side comparison shows that this verse interacts with 2, probably 3, verses from John simultaneously. One is from John 20 where Mary calls Jesus Raboni. The other is from John 1 when some of John the Baptist's disciples first greet Jesus as Rabbi. If you compare the verses side by side you'll see that the verse in Alma 18 uses contrasting unique elements from each verse. It matches the verse from John 20 by using Rabannah, an analog to Raboni, followed by very similar language. At the same time it uses the phrase, "which is interpreted," which exactly matches the verse from John 1. Finally, it employs the term king which just happens to align with another verse in John 1 that employs the title Rabbi, and also happens to be the only other time the title is used in the book of john (Raboni is the emphatic version of Rabbi). This chapter in Alma has a number of other textual interactions with verses from John 1, including the phrase, "who believe on his name," which is entirely unique to the prologue of John (The proximity of these other interactions help establish each other which is why I'm bringing them up).

    So, in one Book of Mormon verse we have interactions with 3 disparate verses from John. It includes unique elements from all three, and it just happens to cover all 3 uses of the title rabbi (including the one Raboni) in the Gospel of John. If that wasn't enough the context of The verse from John 20 is a near perfect antithetical match with the verse from Alma 18. Ammon is being mistaken for God, while in John 20 Mary had just recognized Jesus after mistaking him for a gardener.

    My point is that this, and lots of other equally complex examples, had to be worked out. Obviously having the language on the tip of your tongue wouldn't lend this kind of thematic and complex coherence. My argument isn't against JS being able to work out something like this. It's just that it's not something most humans could improvise. From the interactions I've examined it seems like they would require some time to work out exact wording, etc.

  18. On the one hand I see some of what you mean, Ben; on the other hand, I'm not convinced that the 'interaction' involved in this kind of example is more than just hype.

    The verse you mention seems to be Alma 18:13, in which a servant of the Lamanite king Lamoni asks the hero Ammon to wait until the worried king figures out what he wants Ammon to do for him. The servant's salutation to Ammon is described so: "one of the king’s servants said unto him, Rabbanah, which is, being interpreted, powerful or great king, considering their kings to be powerful; and thus he said unto him: Rabbanah, the king desireth thee to stay."

    You're comparing it to John 1:39, which is part of John's version of the calling of the first disciples. Andrew and (presumably) John have just heard their leader John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God; they try to make Jesus's acquaintance. "They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?" (I quote John in the King James Version.)

    You also mention John 1:49, where Jesus has just impressed Nathanael greatly with some seemingly banal remarks. "Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel."

    And then there is John 20:16, where Mary Magdalene talks with Jesus outside his tomb, after the resurrection. She somehow fails to recognize him, mistaking him for the gardener, until he says her name. At that, it says, "She turned, and said unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Teacher."

    So, okay. In John 20:16 there's a title that sounds a bit like Rabbanah, and a mistaken identity, albeit of a quite different kind. I can imagine that Lamoni's confusion about who Ammon really was might have been enough to prompt Smith to insert a line reminiscent of what Mary said under somewhat related circumstances. It's a little far-fetched, but spontaneous associations often are. The blander 'which is to say' in John 20:16 is easily confused in memory with the more memorable "being interpreted" that is otherwise common in the King James New Testament, to explain non-Greek words. (I misremembered the verse this way myself.) So then we're left with the fact that John 1 contains two mentions of 'rabbi', which is another foreign word related to 'raboni' and that is also explained in the Greek text. And in one of those rabbi verses, Jesus is called king. Perhaps that association of rabbi and king influenced Smith to make up 'rabbanah' as a word for 'king'.

    But all I'm really seeing here is that Alma has a foreign word that sounds a bit like 'rabboni', and that is explained with the common King James Bible phrase for explanations of foreign words, "being interpreted". The King James Bible has an especially small lexicon (presumably as a deliberate translation policy, to make it accessible), so it repeats a lot of common phrases; and the Greek original of the New Testament repeats a lot of common phrases, anyway — it's mostly in pretty basic Greek. So 'Biblical snippets' salted into the story is exactly what this Alma example looks like, to me. Insert one snippet, and you are bound to have echoes of several other snippets automatically, because the Biblical text is like that.

  19. I'm afraid I'm kind of suspicious of the very concepts of 'intertextuality' and of 'interaction' among texts. Maybe these are standard terms, but I don't happen to have heard them used before, to refer to these kinds of echoes among phrases. I was into literary criticism for a while in college, but that was a long time ago now. Maybe these are just more recent buzzwords in general literary theory. Or are they jargon peculiar to Book of Mormon apologetics?

    I'm suspicious, firstly, because 'interaction' and 'intertextuality' just sound weaselly. They're the kind of word that you hear often in advertising, because they sound significant, but don't actually mean much. Do we actually learn anything from the echo of phrases? Can we call it an allusion, in which the associative evocation of one text changes how we understand the other? Not necessarily — otherwise one would surely have said "allusion" rather than "interaction". "Interaction" is more vague than that — it is noncommittal about what the texts actually do for each other. And 'intertextuality' seems to be an even vaguer blanket term for any sort of relationship between texts at all. As far as I can see, all you really need in order to claim 'intertextuality' is to have two texts written in the same language — and maybe not even that.

    The problem with noncommittal terms like that is that you can claim to have found them, and be technically right, even when what you actually have, concretely, is nothing more than tenuous or coincidental similarity. You can have parallels, or contrasts — and with a bit of ingenuity in how you identify which features of the text are being paralleled or contrasted, it's really not rare to find one or the other. So the terms are advertising hype, whose effect is to polish up trivial features and make them sound impressive.

    A second thing that bothers me about 'interaction' is that what it literally implies is that whatever you have found is something that the two texts are really doing together, all by themselves: the texts are interacting, objectively. In fact, though, what is happening is just that the reader is reading the two texts together. All the 'interaction' is really happening in the reader's mind. That's true about all reading, of course. But it means that there's an inherent likelihood that 'interactions' between two texts are really invented by the reader, and read into the texts rather than out of them. Of course one really can learn something new by reading two texts together, and sometimes one text really does use another text to enhance its own meaning. But calling any echoed word or phrase 'interaction' has the rhetorical effect of presuming that all echoes are meaningful allusions, and distracting attention away from the possibility that coincidental similarities are being over-interpreted by the reader.

    I don't mean to say that anyone who talks about 'interactions' between texts, or 'intertextuality', is being deliberately deceptive. It simply bothers me that these words seem to have a built-in aptness for deceptive rhetoric. If I wanted to try hard to avoid self-deception, I would avoid using those words.

  20. the term intertextuality is a standard academic term. From Wikipedia: Intertextuality is the shaping of a text's meaning by another text. Intertextual figures include: allusion, quotation, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche and parody.

    Interaction is a much less standard term. I'm in the habit of using that word from reading Nick Frederick's work. I would be comfortable calling what's going on allusion though I know that makes many other Mormons uncomfortable.

    Like I said there are several other allusions to John 1 and other chapters in John as well in the surrounding Alma text. For example Lamoni asks Who art thou? And Ammon responds I Am not. This is an allusion to the Jews wanting to know if John the Baptist is Christ. I have highlighted the two exact phrase matches that unfuld in sequence and in relative parallel. Here the context is even a better match as these Jews want to know if John is Christ. Lamoni wants to know if Ammon is God and the book of Mormon equates Christ with God.

    While Ammon is teaching he refers to "In the beginning" which could be thought of as just an allusion to Genesis, however with these other nearby John references it's hard not to see it associated with John 1's opening allusion to Genesis.

    In the next chapter after Lamoni has had a visionary experience and seen Christ he declares that Christ will redeem all "who believe in his name". This is an allusion to Iohn 1 which talks about Christ giving power to become
    Sons of God (born of God) to all those "who believe in his name." Like I said earlier this phrase is unique to the prologue of John in the bible. The context is also a perfect match. Lamoni has, by Book of Mormon standards, just been born of God. When alma the younger comes out of a parallel paralytic visionary state he declares exactly this. A passage in Alma 19describes the spiritual transformation being undergone. Also, this same allusion is repeated right at the close of the narrative segment (also end of chapter 19).

    Chapter 19 also has a super clear allusion to John 11 and the raising of Lazarus. As Ammon comforts the queen he says "he will rise again" and "believe thou this" and during the queen's response she uses the phrase "I believe that." These are all found in the same sequence in a parallel exchange between Christ and Martha. The context here is extremely similar. Male and female speakers with male comforting female
    About dead or supposed to be dead family member. Both males end assurances with "Believe thou this?" Narrative follows with family member rising. Other quick allusions include Lamoni stinking and sleeping and that he would be buried in a sepulcher which are all elements found in John 11.

    All of these allusions synergize and make one another more likely.

    As far as language goes. The BOM is clearly Intertextual with the KJV, so same language requirement met there.

  21. In connection with the John the Baptist / Ammon connection, Lamoni asks Ammon if he is "sent from God." Ammon's off reply is "I am a man," which I think is a word play on his name but that's besides the point. This is a second allusion to John 1 and John the Baptist. John 1 describes him as a "man sent from God."

    Also the Book of Mormon only use of the word guile can be found in Alma 18 among these other John 1 allusions. The famous Nathaniel
    without guile is from John 1.

    In Alma 17, Ammon says "Be of good cheer" to the servants who are at wits end because their flocks have been scattered. While Be of Good cheer is just a general Jesus phrase, there is a passage in John (can't remember the chapter off the top of my head) where he uses the phrase in connection with a prophesy that the apostles will be "scattered."

    One last John example… I hope I've convinced you of the "believe thou this" Alusion above. If so, you can see that Lamoni is a parallel to Lazarus and even has a similar name. This being the case, Lazarus' life is threatened in John 12. It says that the chief priest's planned "that they might" kill Lazarus or something to that effect. In Alma 20 Lamoni's life is threatened by his father. first he wants to know why Lamoni didn't attend the feast, which is an analog to the Passover (called a feast in John) immediately following Lazarus's rising. Then Lamoni's father draws his sword "that he might" slay Lamoni.

    Ok, so I'm just trying to show how deep the connection goes. I'm really only scratching the surface (I'm writing a paper on this so hopefully I can share that eventually), but you get the idea I think.

  22. A couple things I forgot to include. Sorry..

    Rabannah is an authentic Aramaic word from the same root as Raboni and therefore has a similar relationship to the word Rabbi.

    Second, a series of allusions similar to what I have described have been outlined in detail between 1 Nephi and the Exodus. Here is the article: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2015/09/nahom-and-lehis-journey-through-arabia-a-historical-perspective/, which this blog references in an earlier article as weep.

  23. Well, maybe you have something. I'm still not sure that Smith couldn't have put all these John 1 allusions together extemporaneously, just by having recently read through John 1. The stray bit from John 20 would be an easy association to add, since (as you remark) it's the only other place in John that mentions anything like Rabbi, and it's a famous passage. But I concede that it seems somewhat more likely to me, now, after your longer list of allusions, that Smith put some advance thought into John allusions in the Ammon-Lamoni passage, and perhaps even made a few notes.

    I wish you good luck with your paper. Allusions to the Bible in the Book of Mormon do seem interesting. The only thing I have against them is that they seem risky as an apologetic argument, because once you unpack a vague term like 'interaction' into concrete examples, it may be hard to find a safe middle ground between allusions that are trivial enough to be explained as mere chance, and allusions that look too much like deliberate copying by Joseph Smith. He could have been motivated to copy that way just because he was getting desperate for ideas for what to put in his story, and so he turned to a source of stories that was both familiar and likely to fit his chosen themes — the New Testament.

    After all, God could in principle inspire Nephite scribes to write anything whatever, but otherwise it's pretty hard to see how a Nephite writer of Alma would have had any natural access to the text of John's gospel. "God could have done it, being omnipotent" is not an argument on which any apologist wants to fall back, because God could have chosen to do anything at all, but a con artist whose imagination was flagging would be all too likely to make the one specific choice, and none other, of lifting details from the New Testament and slightly tweaking them around.

  24. In art history, intertextuality also carries with it a similar meaning as it would in other disciplines. I read an essay about intertextuality once in a art history class, but I don't think the term caught on in the field. Haven't heard it sense.

    Anyway, my the author of the essay was proposing "intertextuality" as a preferable way of dealing with the issue of influence in art. The traditional way of speaking of influence between one period or another or one style and another is to speak of it in chronological terms. Eg. Caravaggio influenced Nerdum; Caravaggio was painting before Nerdrum.

    The author of the essay was saying that intertextuality pulls the table cloth of chronology out from under art history, but leaves everything still in place. So now we can talk about the relationships between art works without being stuck in chronological time. So, Caravaggio and Nerdrum now share a new relationship that transcends chronology. Nerdrum isn't influencing Caravaggio, but we can talk about Caravaggio in terms of Nerdrum's work and vice versa. Something we couldn't do before when we were stuck in chronological time.

    So, this is all I know about intertextuality. It is a game you can play when looking at artworks. It is a way of comparing past works with later works and later works with past works without getting into the very restrictive discussions about influence, etc.

    However, it doesn't change the fact that the Bible and the BoM are still related to each other on a timeline. And they are also still related to each other in a geographical sense. The author of Alma would've had no ability to access the Gospel of John because, first….it hadn't been written yet, and second…even if it had been written, it would've been thousands of miles away.

    Thus, Ben, if the intertext that you perceive between Alma and John is legitimate, someone who wrote Alma would've had to have had access to John. Considering all physical evidence of the Book's origins stops at Joseph Smith, and considering Joseph Smith had John, he is the likely culprit.

    Ben…I recommend you study the conference talks. The GA's throw scripture verses all through their talks, and not only when they are quoting wholesale. Their talks are a great example of intertextuality.

    But yes….this kind of writing would be hard to make up on the spot, but not impossible. I know the Bible well enough I could sprinkle my improvised speech full of allusions.

    I teach art history. I sprinkle my lectures full of improvised allusions to Harry Potter, Star Wars, and all kinds of other pop culture things. It usually flies over my students' heads, because they aren't quick enough to catch it. But I do it. It is very possible to speak in a layered and rich way.

  25. You could argue that these are made up on the spot but I have a whole slew more that make a stronger and stronger case for a set wording, at least when it comes to the blblical allusions. They often share context and draw on blblical theology to make a point, such as the "who believe on his name" allusion. Anyways, I really can't take the time to write out any more for the moment, but please read the article I posted. That is very detailed outline from an Old Testament scholar Ryan Thomas, a 19th century Book of Mormon authorship proponent by the way.

    And yes, I agree, that there is no good physical process by which an American Indian could know the New Testament. I'm, in fact, not making any kind of apologetic argument. Instead, I'm presenting evidence for a text that's been worked out in detail. I should clarify that I do believe the text is inspired. However, because of Book of Mormon intertextuality with the New Testament, Talmud, and Narrative of Zosimus, I find it implausible that it is an actual historical record.

  26. Oops, I'd also include the Old Testament in my list there. As the author of that article I posted shows, the Book of Mormon makes allusion to Old Testament texts that were most likely written after 600 B.C. Jeff here on this blog addresses that with some contrasting scholarship, but I think the mainstream concensus is that the priestly strand of the OT is late and post Babylonian exhile. Anyways, in light of pervasive New Testament intertextuality, I think we might have to bite the bullet on the priestly strand post-Book of Mormon-departure date anyhow.

  27. The points you bring up Ben are inconclusive as to historicity. All of it is actually more reasonably explicable from the point of view of a divine translation that was not literal in terms of interweaving 1611 English biblical language into the BofM narrative, and especially in doctrinal parts. Otherwise we must imagine that JSJr was a master of biblical language in 1829 and that he could do this complex, felicitous intertextual work during a short dictation period.

  28. Actually, I'm not partial to JS as author either. I think neither hypothesis, Book of Mormon as literature from 600 BC and Book of Mormon as JS authored text, work very well.

  29. Otherwise we must imagine that JSJr was a master of biblical language in 1829 and that he could do this complex, felicitous intertextual work during a short dictation period.

    Why is it so hard to imagine that Joseph Smith could NOT do this? What evidence is there that he was such a backwoods bumbler? His grandfather was a Universalist preacher. His father taught school for a while.

    At what point did Joseph Smith the Hick become the Joseph Smith who penned the King Follett Discourse?

    Why does the Church need Joseph Smith to be an idiot in order for the Restoration story to be true?

  30. Was "idiot" mentioned in comment? No. An extremely knowledgeable biblical scholar during a steady dictation period. Blatant case of misrepresentation and twisting to achieve a certain end not indicated by evidence.

  31. Ben's line of argument seems reasonable to me, although I think there's going to be a fair amount of subjectivity in assessing how much it establishes, and how conclusively it establishes whatever it does establish. I could imagine that it might end up making a pretty good case against on-the-spot improvisation, at least for some parts of the Book of Mormon. I'm a lot more skeptical about how well it can prove that Joseph Smith could not have done it at all.

    There are an awful lot of echoes within the Bible; large parts of the Bible even repeat each other with minor variations, and many parts refer explicitly to older parts. Common themes and even expressions are repeated in many places. So it's fairly easy for a single allusion, which would spring easily to the mind of someone who had grown up with a lot of Scripture, to multiply into many as soon as one stretches things just a little bit.

    Would all such multiplied allusions turn out to be as deeply meaningful as the intricate allusive structure that only a genius could construct? Well, in fact, I think they might. A lot of deep meaning is in the eye of the beholder. The number of different ways to interpret an allusion can be great enough that finding meaning in an allusion is as easy as hitting the broad side of a barn. If you just hit the barn somewhere, you can paint a bullseye …

  32. I do think the allusions are beautiful but if a human can comprehend them than a human can invent them. My argument isn't that Joseph Smith couldn't have come up with these, rather its that some took careful thought and planning.

    I do have some reasons for not believing JS was the author. Not the least of these, correct me if I'm wrong, but no stylommetry study done by Mormon or non-Mormon has pegged JS as the author. As I've said in other comment threads on this blog I also find the intertextuality between JS texts, like the Book of Mormon or Pearl of Great Price, with texts that by all accounts were unavailable to JS including the Narrative of Zosimus, 2nd Enoch, 3rd Enoch (unrelated), and the Book of Giants at least suggest that JS isn't the author.

  33. Ben, the anonymous author RT (assumed to be "Ryan Thomas" but apparently not) as you mentioned looks at the allusions to the Exodus and cries foul since there seems to be intertextuality with the Priestly source, often said to be from long after Nephi's day. But there are several reasons for questioning this rejection, and good reasons for recognizing that the concept of the Exodus was not a post-exilic creation and was known in Nephi's day. See my response, The Nahom Follies, Part 2: Could Nephi Have Known the Exodus Story? Does the Documentary Hypothesis Trump the Arabian Evidence? at http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-nahom-follies-part-2-could-nephi.html. RT's rejection of the strong evidence from the Arabian Peninsula for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient text also suffers from several substantial problems, which I've discussed here.

    Intertextuality with the New Testament is interesting, but does not preclude historicity. It may point to some deliberate choices made in the translation process–not by Joseph, in my opinion–to make those abundant links for our benefit. I think the events happened, the dialogs happened, but the wording choice has been strongly flavored (more than just peppered with random phrases) to incorporate wording and concepts that integrate the Book of Mormon with our other scriptures. Some situations and themes repeat in life and history with no shaping required for strong parallels to be found, but other times there is conscious shaping to emphasize the parallels, as we certainly see in Nephi's carefully integrated allusions to Exodus themes, Goliath, etc.

  34. Jeff, I'll admit that I'm open to both possibilities. There are a lot more issues supporting and complicating both sides of the argument. I do have some heavy evidence up my sleeve that complicates both traditional historicity and 19th century fabrication, but I'd rather publish it all at once. Let's just say that there are multi chapter narrative parallels between the Book of Mormon and other texts that complicate both hypotheses. I know that's all mysterious, but I promise I'll deliver in the near future and then you can judge for yourself.

    RT did another post at FPR recently that linked to his Ryan Thomas blog, so that where I got that assumption. Maybe that's new to you or did I miss something else?

    On the OT priestly strand, I did like that you pushed back the dating on some passages, but even if you successfully pre-600 BC date the whole priestly strand you still have to deal with synthesis of all sources. Just saying it's pretty complicated. With other evidence like large chunks of exhile Isaiah and Moroni paraphrasing entire sermons by Paul, I just stay open to the possibilities. I do have a personal testimony and conviction about the book, but I don't have strong feelings on its origin having to be completely historical.

  35. To explain apparent allusions to the NT in the Book of Mormon, Jeff has raised the idea that God tweaked the translation process in order to bring out connections between the Scriptures of the two hemispheres, by taking advantage of a translator's freedom to choose between essentially equivalent expressions, in order to turn conceptual links into more explicit allusions wherever possible.

    Well, huh. I hadn't thought of that. It's a reasonable idea.

    I wouldn't buy it myself, because I just don't see God exercising that kind of tight control over revelation even in the Bible, so to me it would be far out of character for God to get that hands-on about links between the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

    But then Mormonism is really all about God being pretty hands-on with revelation, with gold plates and living prophets and all. So from a consistently Mormon perspective, Jeff's idea seems to make sense, as far as I can tell.

  36. Jeff/Ben, the RT of FPR (Faith Promoting Rumor blog at Patheos.com) stands for the handle "Roasted Tomatoes", who is Jason Nelson-Seawright, an avowed disbeliever of Mormonism. If I recall correctly, he requested name-removal from church membership. He has done interviews on John Dehlin's podcasts, as a critic of the church. In the past, he used to blog at Latter-day Liberation Front. He, or someone using the RT handle, posted comments on other posts here on Mormanity, with academic criticisms of Jeff's posts. RT/JSN is a university professor.

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