Thank you for the thoughtful response and reading through some of the documents I posted.
True that my choice of the word ‘originate’ is incorrect. The original claims of the Book of Mormon being written by Joseph Smith were from critics during his lifetime.
While this is true and I appreciate the concession, I don’t think it fully acknowledges how little the work I’ve referenced relies on Brodie in any direct way. If we are simply talking about environmental theories for the creation of the Book of Mormon, then, as you point out, most non-LDS scholars have adopted some variant of that model. There was certainly the idea that the book was based on some other manuscript and not authored by Smith (Callister goes through some of this, for instance the Spaulding theory), but all non-LDS scholars see the book as a product of its milieu and the vast majority of non-LDS historians/scholars today believe it was composed by Joseph Smith. If there is dependence on Brodie in some ways then perhaps that’s unavoidable?
Brodie recycled those claims and they reappear in many of your arguments (copied from the KJV, …):
At what point do these simply become theories and not “recycled” from Brodie. For instance, FairMormon also invokes a model where Joseph copies from the KJV and they claim that many LDS scholars likewise do this. FairMormon writes (emphasis added):
When considering the large quantity of KJV Bible quotations in the Book of Mormon many LDS scholars have proposed a scenario like this:
As Joseph was translating the text of the Book of Mormon, he would find himself translating something that he recognized as being roughly similar to texts from the Bible. This would occur most prominently when Nephi quotes from Isaiah. Instead of translating Nephi’s quotations of Isaiah, Joseph, deferred to the KJV translation of those chapters. This may have been done to save time and to respect the quality of the KJV Bible. The chapters of Isaiah that we find in the Book of Mormon were taken largely by Joseph Smith from the KJV Bible, instead of being translated from Nephi’s version of that text. In other words, why reinvent the wheel when the work has already been done?
Would you describe LDS scholars as simply “recycling” Brodie when they create models where Joseph either copies from the KJV (FairMormon) or the Book of Mormon is strongly alluding to the KJV, particularly the NT, in many instances (Skousen)?
Brodie recycled those claims and they reappear in many of your arguments (…, other sources of his day, etc)
My understanding is that critics like Brodie postulated that Smith was closely referencing other works (e.g., View of the Hebrews). If you go through all the sources I’ve listed, you’ll find almost unanimous agreement among modern historians and researchers that Joseph likely didn’t directly copy from anything (other than perhaps the Bible for some large chunks). Vogel discusses this in his introduction here (“I have, of course, tried to include all sources which would have been available in the area where Joseph Smith grew up and later worked. These sources do not prove but merely suggest Joseph’s exposure to the subject”). The authors of the Late War analysis describe it as a “remix” (meaning, the Book of Mormon was influenced by ideas in the environment but wasn’t a direct plagiarism [again, besides perhaps the Bible]). And frogontrombone is making the argument that the Book of Mormon fits within the theory of componential creativity which suggests that “creativity is a novel combination of pieces taken from ideas that an individual has been exposed to (domain knowledge, in this case, the intimate knowledge of the cultural and religious milieu)” rather than simply copying sources.
Anyway, I am suggesting that these ideas transcend Brodie and whatever shortcomings she had as a scholar or historian.
You next offer a short critique of the model that Joseph Smith composed the Book of Mormon. I want to walk through the specific data and arguments which seem to best address each of these. They may not be persuasive to you, but hopefully they will offer some insight into why a person might adopt the modern origin model (and in my case when I was very well-informed on the apologetic position).
They rely on the assumption that JS was a well-read scholar
Here’s Joseph’s earlist description of his youth, written in 1832. I have bulleted the key phrases which suggest a deep familiarity with both the Bible and the religious arguments of the day (I don’t view these as definitive but at least suggestive). They are followed by the manner in which I am interpreting the phrase between parentheses:
- “…Parents who spared no pains to instructing me in the christian religion” (well instructed in the Christian religion by parents)
- “…my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul…” (deeply interested in religious issues)
- “…led me to searching the scriptures…” (he not only read but searched the scriptures)
- “…thus applying myself to them [the scriptures]…” (not only reading but applying ideas in them)
- “…and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations…” (on some non-trivial level he was interacting with those from, and hence ideas, from different denominations)
- “…led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul…” (he understood scripture well enough to decide that various religionists were acting contrary to them)
- “…from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divisions the wickedness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed…” (he’s searching the scriptures and also pondering the differences [“contentions and divisions”] between denominations and interpreting their stances as “darkness” probably since they did not conform to his understanding of scripture. This wasn’t a mere pasttime, his mind became “exceedingly distressed” from this reflection)
- “…for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world…” (his understanding of the Bible was deep enough to convict him of his fallness and also that the various societies aroudn him varied from the Bible)
Hence, we have two data points available with which to draw a straight line: his reminiscences about his scripture searching and religious questioning as a 12-15 year old and his incorporation of Clarke into his own Bible Translation shortly after the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon fits neatly between those two points in relative sophistication, I think.
Finally, William Davis’s dissertation (it’s a bit of a slog but well worth it) makes a strong case for the kind of scholarship that we might have expected someone like Joseph Smith to have been capable of and also how it was very common for communities trying to emphasize the miraculous nature of their prophetic figure to downplay the figure’s educational attainments (e.g., John Bunyan author of Pilgrim’s Progress).
a genius wordsmith
The Book of Mormon seems simplistic in comparison to much of what he wrote and dictated immediately after the BoM and also later in his life. See a couple of examples here.
This may have been a component of older models (Brodie?), but neither Hamer, Vogle, the Johnson brothers, ImTheMarmotKing, frogontrombone, or myself are arguing this. Many of his associates did claim that his was a singularly extraordinary intellect (see Intellectual powers).
could tell oral stories consisting of complex civilizations (comparable to JRR Tolkien)
See William Davis PhD dissertation for a discussion on this.
without notes or repetition,
Again, Davis discusses how this kind of thing could be done.
edit to add: I also discuss how Emma may have not been present when the Bible was directly consulted here.
that ancient texts were written on metal plates,
I discuss how writing ancient texts on metal plates was in fact an idea floating around Joseph’s milieu and ways in which what is described about the Golden Plates is in tension with what we know about writing on metal plates from the ancient Middle East and ancient America here:
fabricated plates to show to 11 others
Examples of ancient looking plates with ancient looking inscriptions that were created roughly in Joseph Smith’s time period are the Kinderhook Plates and the Voree Plates. Surely the knowledge of how to construct such an object would have been present in a frontier community (if not directly with Joseph then among one of the people he knew)?
Are you aware of Vogel’s theory on this? The general concealment of the plates in a metal cloth suggest that the plates may not have been able to pass visual inspection except under controlled circumstances. And the fact that it was necessary for an angel to take back the plates also suggests that close inspection of the plates was undesirable. It goes without saying that none of this discussion would even be necessary if we simply had the plates and could analyze them as was done with the Kinderhook plates.
formulated doctrinal answers to questions posed by preachers and religious scholars of the day
[discussed in the section above about Joseph being a well-read scholar]
all by the age of 24
Just to re-emphasize points from above: according to his own 1832 handwritten account, by the age of 12–15 he had already determined that the various religions were false by his study of scripture. Do we have evidence suggesting that he stopped being interested in the Bible and religious questions of the day between 15 and 24? And did he suddenly become capable of consulting and weighing sophisticated Bible commentaries just after the dictation of the BoM but not before?
while spending most of his time farming or performing other physical labor
Vogel identifies 18 treasure digging sites Joseph participated in. Regardless of whether he was farming or treasure digging, remember that they did not have many other forms of entertainment (e.g., television), so reading from the Bible, debating, and telling stories, etc, were major pasttimes. Again, this is detailed in William Davis’s dissertation.
That story is much more fantastical than the claim that Joseph Smith was inspired by God to translate (sometimes referred to as “interpret”) an ancient text.
My argument is that it’s impressive but not fantastical once you fully appreciate his abilities and the milieu he lived in. You are welcome to consider it fantastical, of course. The original facebook poster wanted to know how we explain its origin, and I’m simply explaining the best naturalist model as I understand it.
As a foreign language teacher, I have no problem with phrases used in the Book of Mormon translation that are also found in other sources. The nature of translation is that words and phrases used are influenced by knowledge and experience of the translator.
I think if Joseph were only borrowing phraseology from his environment, then I would agree.
But every time we closely examine the text of the Book of Mormon it appears to be reliant on the early 1800s milieu and not merely using phraseology from the early 1800s, I think.
For instance, Bible scholars suspect that the ending of the Book of Mark was a later addition cobbled together from multiple distinct sources. This wasn’t known in Smith’s day and the KJV Bible was based on a small fraction of the manuscripts that Bible scholars are in possession of today (you may disagree with Ehrman on a lot of things, but his presentation on the KJV Bible explains this fairly well). We just don’t expect ancient native Americans to be quoting long sections of the end of Mark, but we would expect to see that if the author is simply working off the KJV:
This exceeds choices in phraseology, I think. And for many additional examples of these kinds of dependence (that I think exceed choices in phraseology), see this post:
And Colby Townsend’s very detailed intertextuality studies on the Book of Mormon:
- Appropriation and Adaptation of J Material in The Book of Mormon (Honors Thesis)
- Malachi in the Book of Mormon (Dialogue 2018)
- Rewriting Eden with the Book of Mormon (MA Thesis)
Finally, there is the issue that as far as I can tell every doctrine found in the Book of Mormon was well-represented in the early 1800s religious milieu. I could understand one or two doctrines and maybe some phrases, but were the ancient American natives having all the same theological discussions in all the same ways as those in upstate New York in the early 1800s? That probably overstates the case, but it is meant to convey that the problem is not just with it happening, the problem is also in the quantity. I would point to Skousen’s list as another way of saying that there appears to be a lot of discussion in the BoM that seems predicated on protestant thinking and theology and that we would not necessarily anticipate occuring among native Americans, even if they were Christian.
And for one more example, Callister advances doctrine that he views as a unique contribution from the Book of Mormon and hence unlikely to have been derived from Joseph or his miliue. I walked through all of his points and have shown representation for each of those ideas in the early 1800s to varying extents.
I’ve read a lot of your links (thank you for sharing).
Thank you for considering.
Here’s one I suggest …
I’ll take a look. Thank you for sharing.
Original facebook comment to which I am replying, posted on January 4, 2020
True that my choice of the word ‘originate’ is incorrect. The original claims of the Book of Mormon being written by Joseph Smith were from critics during his lifetime. Brodie recycled those claims and they reappear in many of your arguments (copied from the KJV, other sources of his day, etc). They rely on the assumption that JS was a well-read scholar, a genius wordsmith, had a photographic memory, could tell oral stories consisting of complex civilizations (comparable to JRR Tolkien) without notes or repetition, knew that ancient texts were written on metal plates, fabricated plates to show to 11 others, formulated doctrinal answers to questions posed by preachers and religious scholars of the day, all by the age of 24 while spending most of his time farming or performing other physical labor to help keep his family out of poverty. That story is much more fantastical than the claim that Joseph Smith was inspired by God to translate (sometimes referred to as “interpret”) an ancient text. As a foreign language teacher, I have no problem with phrases used in the Book of Mormon translation that are also found in other sources. The nature of translation is that words and phrases used are influenced by knowledge and experience of the translator. I’ve read a lot of your links (thank you for sharing). Here’s one I suggest that describes further the intellectual and spiritual process of translating (interpreting) done by a seer.
Also a link describing his early education and intellectual growth over time.