Book of Mormon Overview: How It Was Composed
If you’ve been following the overview pages in order, you’ve now read fifteen overviews including eight specifically on the Book of Mormon and seven on biblical scholarship and Mormonism.
That’s a lot of different overviews and this is going to be the final one on the Book of Mormon, and in this one I want to take the information from the previous fifteen to explain how Joseph Smith could have authored the Book of Mormon.
As I began these overviews with Joseph Smith’s treasure digging, I had this quote from Prophet Ezra Taft Benson:
“The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. This was the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statement. He testified that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon). A keystone is the central stone in an arch. It holds all the other stones in place, and if removed, the arch crumbles.” (October 1986 General Conference)
This declaration from Benson is absolutely true, and I spent the last fifteen overviews explaining why that statement is so problematic for the church. The Book of Mormon is without question a 19th century production – this can be illustrated in many different ways as I have outlined, and is in no way an ancient, historical record.
Throughout the history of the church, many leaders have insisted that there is simply no way anyone could have produced the Book of Mormon without the power of God. I want to highlight a few quotes below to illustrate this point:
Tad Callister, author of the book A Case For the Book of Mormon: “..the current argument being made is that Joseph Smith was a creative genius who read numerous books, such as “View of the Hebrews” and “The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain” and then copied ideas and stories from them. This, of course, is a total flip-flop, a 180-degree reversal from the original argument that Joseph was incapable, too ignorant to write such a book. Now, all of a sudden Joseph is a skilled, creative writer with genius intellect. Why the flip-flop? Because all the previous explanations for a man-made book had failed." (Elder Tad R. Callister: The Book of Mormon - man-made or God-given?)
Jeffrey R. Holland: “If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.” (Safety for the Soul, General Conference October 2009)
Russell M. Nelson : “This appeal to all people must involve many languages and the work of skilled translators. The King James Version of the Bible, for example, was produced by 50 English scholars who accomplished their work in seven years, translating at the rate of one page per day. Expert translators today do well if they can also translate scripture at the rate of one page per day.
“In contrast, Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon at the rate of about 10 pages per day, completing the task in about 85 days! (Many of us feel good if we can read the book in that time.)” (Russell M. Nelson, October 1999 General Conference”
In this final overview on the Book of Mormon, I want to focus on a few aspects of how the Book of Mormon was authored, looking at the timeline of when it was written, how Joseph Smith pulled from surrounding ideas and materials to create the book, and an example from the Book of Mormon that shows exactly how Joseph Smith was able to pull from multiple sources in the Bible to create what is one of the more famous stories in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon Production Timeline
As Russell Nelson’s quote above illustrates, one of the areas where the church proclaims the Book of Mormon a miracle is the timeline of the translation. Nelson above states that the Book of Mormon was completed in just 85 days, which on the surface does seem quite amazing for a book that is over 270,000 words. When you take a deeper look, however, it becomes not just doable, but ordinary.
First, what Russell Nelson does not mention in his quote is that Joseph Smith began talking about the Book of Mormon in 1823 when he first began to speak about the gold plates during his days in treasure digging. During this time Joseph Smith claimed to receive visions from the treasure guardian who was described as Nephi originally, and then Moroni in subsequent retellings.
Over the course of the years following the story of the gold plates in 1823, Joseph Smith would tell the Book of Mormon stories to his family at night. Remember that in this time there was no TV, so families would often tell stories at night, which is a form of communication that might feel foreign to us today. Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recalls Joseph Smith’s stories about the Book of Mormon people before he even claimed to have the plates:
“From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time, and every evening we gathered our children together and gave our time up to the discussion of those things which he instructed to us… In the course of our evening conversations, Joseph gave us some of the most amusing recitals which could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, their manner of traveling, the animals which they rode, the cities that they built, and the structure of their buildings with every particular, their mode of warfare, and their religious worship as specifically as though he had spent his life with them… The angel informed him at one time that he might make an effort to obtain the plates <on> the <22nd of the> ensueing September.” (1845 manuscript of Lucy Mack Smith's autobiography)
While Joseph Smith was not dictating the Book of Mormon during this time, he was working out the details of the story through telling the stories to his family. This is important because it shows that even in the years before he even claimed to have plates, Joseph Smith was already working on the story down to the details of their clothes, mode of warfare, and even animals they rode. As a side note, they did not ride animals in Book of Mormon times in the Americas, but again that is what Joseph Smith would be familiar with as Native Americans in his time did ride horses.
After Joseph Smith claimed to retrieve the plates in 1827, he began the dictation process with Emma Smith and Martin Harris in 1828. As we covered in the lost 116 pages overview, Martin Harris took the manuscript and loses it in June 1828.
Following the loss of the 116 pages, Joseph Smith took about nine more months before restarting the translation process. During this time, Joseph Smith was able to think through and develop the story further, come up with a game plan to address the 116 pages if they could not be recovered, and got a “do over” for anything in the first 116 pages that he thought could be improved.
In other words, Joseph Smith had about 5.5 years from the moment he claimed there were gold plates in September 1823 until the Book of Mormon as we have it today was started in early 1829. During that time he would tell stories to his family about the Book of Mormon people, wars, and religious beliefs, and he was able to use the break after the lost 116 pages to further develop the story and become more efficient in dictation following that experience in dictating the story.
While the church always cites the 85 days that Joseph Smith ‘translated’ the Book of Mormon (some even like to move it to 75 days), Joseph Smith had been working on developing the story for 5.5 years prior to restarting the translation after the lost of the 116 pages, which is more than clear from Lucy Mack Smith’s retellings about Joseph telling stories about the Book of Mormon starting in 1823.
The Math of the Book of Mormon Translation
When you look at the math behind the translation process, it becomes even more explainable and ordinary. As historian of Mormonism John Hamer explained, the timeline of the Book of Mormon is really not that impressive once you do the basic math behind it.
The Book of Mormon is 273,725 words, which if we divide by the 85 days that Russell Nelson cites above, gives you a requirement of just over 3,200 words per day. This is including the large portions of the Bible that were copied into the Book of Mormon, which would likely go much quicker during the process since they could just be copied down with slight alterations.
Average speakers can dictate between 7,500 to 9,000 words per hour, but the limitation comes from the scribe’s ability to write legibly. For the most part, a scribe can write about 1,200 words legibly per hour, which means that Joseph Smith would only have to be dictating the text of the Book of Mormon for about three hours a day.
Even if we cut the dictation time down, the requirements still do not become overwhelming. If we say that Oliver Cowdery could only write 600 words per hour, which would be quite slow, that is still under 6 hours a day of work.
This would allow Joseph Smith the opportunity to dictate words to Oliver, take breaks to gather his thoughts, and then come back throughout the day for more dictation. There are accounts that Joseph Smith would go out for breaks and skip rocks, and obviously they would need to take breaks to eat, use the bathroom, and give Oliver’s hand a rest.
But the timeframe is not overwhelming in any way once you actually do the math, and is an area where the church frequently overstates the equation in order to make it seem more miraculous. Much like the church wants to make Joseph Smith look unintelligent during these years, they also want to make the timeline seem impossible for a mere human to do, when it fact it’s quite the opposite.
The point is that not only is the Book of Mormon’s timeline entirely explainable, but it’s not miraculous in any way once we put the proper context into how much work needed to be completed each day.
Furthermore, if you look at the original Book of Mormon manuscript the text becomes even less impressive. While the church likes to conclude that this work was done without any changes, the fact is that there have been over 100,000 changes to the Book of Mormon that help to make it look much better than the initial production.
Just reading through a section of the original manuscript is helpful in understanding that this was an orally dictated story, which accounts for the long sentences without any punctuation. This is important because it helps us to understand that Joseph Smith was dictating the story to his scribe, and that there is no reason to believe in any theory such as the Spaulding manuscript theory that he was plagiarizing another text.
To be clear, the only book that Joseph Smith is directly using as a source text is the King James Bible, which we have covered in many of the previous overviews showing direct use in the Book of Mormon.
How Joseph Smith Authored the Book of Mormon
The first thing I want to state in this overview is that no one can state with absolute certainty how Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon. While we have the accounts from those around him that he used his seer/peep stone in a hat, we simply do not have much more information beyond that.
The church readily accepts Joseph Smith’s claim that he translated the book by the “gift and power of God,” which is a catch-all phrase that is unfortunately indistinguishable from outright fraud as we discussed in both the tight vs loose translation theory as well as the “catalyst theory” for the Book of Abraham.
In this overview I’m not going to speculate on the exact method that Joseph Smith employed to author the book because no one can do that given the historical records we have regarding the dictation process that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery employed, but instead look at how we can know that Joseph Smith was the author by a process of oral dictation, which matches the accounts of the translation process as well.
What we can show, however, is that when you look at the text of the Book of Mormon, that you can see how Joseph Smith was pulling from a variety of sources to write the text. This is an area where we can see the fingerprints of the author on the text, which is a tool that scholars have long used to analyze any ancient text. A great example of this is how scholars can date the Book of Daniel to a very specific timeframe 167-164 BCE, because the author of Daniel is so specific in his prophecies leading up to 167 BCE and then becomes completely vague (and incorrect) with prophecies after that time.
With the Book of Mormon, we can see similar elements such as the prophecy of Christopher Columbus (1 Nephi 13:12-15) which happened over 300 years prior to the Book of Mormon’s creation and the prophecy of the American Revolution (1 Nephi 13:16-19), which was just 50 years prior.
Furthermore, as we discussed in our ‘Surrounding Influences’ overview, the Book of Mormon talks about events that are happening as Joseph Smith is both thinking about and writing the book. Joseph Smith explicitly writes the Martin Harris visit to Charles Anthon into the Book of Mormon, altering Isaiah in an attempt to fulfill prophecy.
We also see Lehi’s dream, which mirrors the dream of Joseph Smith’s father prior to the production of the Book of Mormon. This is another area that has Joseph Smith’s fingerprints all over the text, in addition to the sections where he prophecies of himself later revealing the book to the world.
Last, the Book of Mormon warns about the “secret combinations” of the Masons in Joseph Smith’s lifetime. This was particularly important to Joseph Smith’s milieu after 1826, when William Morgan disappeared after preparing to reveal the signs and tokens of the Masonic ceremony. On a side note, those signs and tokens would make their way into Joseph Smith’s endowment ceremony just weeks after Smith becomes a mason while living in Nauvoo which we will cover in a future overview.
The point is that the Book of Mormon does give us events surrounding Joseph Smith’s lifetime that help us to date the book to the 19th century, and the Book of Mormon includes prophecies and stories that are incredibly specific in many instances until Joseph Smith’s time, but incredibly vague following it. There is no mention of the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle for the LGBT community, women’s rights, etc. Just like the Book of Daniel, these clues help scholars date the creation of these texts because of when the details stop being directly tied to historical events and start becoming vague.
Overall, the Book of Mormon is a time capsule for the religious beliefs in Joseph Smith’s lifetime. We’ve covered this throughout these overviews, and I can’t emphasize enough how each overview is connected to the next when putting together the puzzle of how Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon.
As I’ve stated in many overviews, it is clear that Joseph Smith uses the King James Bible (KJV) as a foundational text for the Book of Mormon. This leads Joseph Smith to incorporate many errors in the Book of Mormon due to errors in the KJV, but it also helps us to see exactly how Joseph Smith was so gifted at aggregating sources to create a new text.
The Book of Mormon and the Parable of the Olive Tree
A great example of how Joseph Smith used the King James Bible and outside sources to create the Book of Mormon is the parable/allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5. In this famous story from the Book of Mormon, Jacob retells an allegory from Zenos that was recorded on the brass plates that were retrieved from Laban.
This chapter of Jacob is referenced by church apologists as evidence for the Book of Mormon’s divine origins, because there’s simply no way that Joseph Smith could have known about olive horticulture in his time, and Daniel C. Peterson writes the following:
“One of the single most famous chapters in the Book of Mormon is Jacob 5, which recounts a lengthy olive tree allegory that it credits to a pre-Lehite Old World prophet, unknown to the Bible, that it identifies as Zenos…
According to an article by several professional botanists:
“Nearly all of the allegory in Jacob 5 corresponds exceptionally well with both ancient and modern botanical principles and horticultural practices. . . . It is hard to imagine that its author was not personally familiar with the minute details and practices involved in raising good olives in a Mediterranean climate. (163)”
Moreover, although some very limited information about olive cultivation might be derivable through careful, focused study of the Bible and a few other books that were available during Joseph Smith’s early years (though likely not anywhere near where he lived), they contained only sparse details. And here’s another problem:
“Joseph Smith probably had little knowledge of olive trees in New York, as they will not grow in the northeastern United States. (163)”” (Some Notes on Olive Cultivation and the Book of Mormon)
What is great about this article by Peterson is that he is intentionally setting up the familiar concept of “how could Joseph have known” while also tucking in that little detail about “although some very limited information about olive cultivation might be derivable through careful, focused study of the Bible.” Put another way, Peterson knows that what we see in Jacob 5 can be found in the Bible, and yet the author of Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints is using his own word game to present Jacob 5 as impossible for Joseph Smith to have known.
I wanted to set that up first because Jacob 5 is a perfect example of how Joseph Smith was able to aggregate surrounding ideas to create the Book of Mormon, and how this also led to Joseph Smith making mistakes that are now identifiable by scholars.
From a very good write-up on the parable of the olive tree:
“There are two major Biblical passages that provided structural material for this parable, and a number of shorter passages that supplied secondary ideas. The primary passages are Isaiah's parable of the vineyard, contained in Isaiah 5:1-7 and Paul's discussion of the relationship of Israel to the Gentiles (Romans 11:16-24), in which he used the metaphor of an olive tree.” (The Parable of Zenos)
Right off the bat we can see that Joseph Smith is not only pulling material from the King James Bible, but that he’s pulling from the New Testament which would not have been on the plates of brass or knowable to Zenos or anyone in that time. That is a problem that we’ve discussed before, but again needs to be noted that any reference to Romans is entirely anachronistic. Back to the article:
“That these two passages provided the framework upon which Joseph Smith built his parable is evident from several sources. Firstly, both passages were quoted by Smith earlier in the Book of Mormon narrative. Isaiah's song of the vineyard is found in II Nephi 15; Paul was alluded to in I Nephi 10:12-14 and other passages.
Secondly, several ideas presented in Zenos' parable can be found in these two passages. The theme of a well-tended vineyard, which failed to produce good fruit, is also a major theme of Isaiah's passage. Likewise, the contrast between wild and tame (or natural) fruit is found in Isaiah. From Paul's discourse, Joseph Smith obtained the idea of wild and natural branches, as well as one of his other major themes, that of cross-grafting branches between trees. We even find a few verbatim quotes from Isaiah, specifically the landowner's lament 'What could I have done more for my vineyard?' (Jacob 5:41). This is echoed in Isaiah's parable 'What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?' (Isaiah 5:4)
The most telling piece of evidence, however, is that fact that the two passages are built on slightly different metaphors. Isaiah used a vineyard to represent Israel (Isaiah 5:7), while Paul used an olive tree. In the light of this, it is significant that the prophet Zenos appears to display some confusion about his metaphor. The parable of the vineyard begins with Israel as an olive tree located in a vineyard (Jacob 5:3). However, halfway through the narrative, the metaphor suddenly switches to the vineyard itself, significantly, just at the point that the Book of Mormon quotes Isaiah (Jacob 5:41). From this point on, the author repeatedly refers to 'the trees of the vineyard', apparently forgetting that the parable started out with olive trees as the primary metaphor, not grapevines.” (The Parable of Zenos)
To be clear, Joseph Smith is utilizing two main sources to create the parable of the olive tree, and we can see exactly when Joseph Smith switches between these two sources (Paul and Isaiah) due to how the metaphor itself changes from olive trees to the vineyard. Back to the article:
“There are at least three shorter passages that provided structural material for Zenos' parable. The concept of the Lord of the Vineyard and his servant, for example, is found in one of Jesus' parables, recorded in Luke 13:6-9. From this passage, we find the source of Smith's repeated reference to the useless branches 'cumbering' the ground and the trees (Jacob 5:9,30,44,49,66). It is from this passage, too, that Smith obtained the references to 'digging and dunging' (Jacob 5:47,64,76). We also here find the servant counseling his master against the wholesale destruction of the vineyard, a scene which is repeated in Zenos' parable (Jacob 5:26,27 and Jacob 5:49,50).
The concept of unfruitful branches being hewn down and burnt (Jacob 5:42,46,47,49,66) is found in Matthew 3:10 and John 15:6. Matthew 3:10 was quoted verbatim in Alma 5:52 (which was dictated before the book of Jacob, according to some theories). Verse 8 of Matthew 3, ('Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance') is quoted several times in the Book of Mormon (Alma 12:15;13:13;34:30).
As an interesting aside, it should be noted that Ethan Smith referred to several of these source passages in the View of the Hebrews. On page 62, we find a reference to Israel being "grafted in again". On page 254, the author quotes Luke "why cumbereth it the ground?". Ethan Smith also quoted and expounded on large portions of Isaiah, specifically with regard to Israel's restoration. He quoted Isaiah 5:26 on page 235, and Isaiah 5:13 on page 236. He also referred to the ripening of the vineyard as a sign of the end-times on page 243.
Thus we see that rather than representing an actual ancient parable, Zenos' story of the Vineyard is actually a conflation of several sources, some of which would not even be written for several hundred years.” (The Parable of Zenos)
I realize this might seem like a long example, but it is so critically important to understanding how Joseph Smith authored the Book of Mormon.
Above we see that apologist Daniel Peterson carefully stated “although some very limited information about olive cultivation might be derivable through careful, focused study of the Bible and a few other books that were available during Joseph Smith’s early years,” which we can then show through the text itself is exactly what happened.
Furthermore, it is crucial to understanding that Joseph Smith incorporated these passages earlier in the Book of Mormon, which shows that Joseph Smith both knew of these sources and was already thinking about them prior to creating this parable.
Not only can we see that Joseph Smith was aware of these passages in the Bible in the two books preceding Jacob, but we can see in the text of Jacob 5 exactly where Joseph Smith switches from using Paul’s writings to create the parable to Isaiah as the metaphor switches suddenly.
These are all fingerprints that help us to show that the Book of Mormon cannot be a historical record, and throughout the Book of Mormon they tell us that Joseph Smith is the author. This particular example shows us not just that Joseph Smith was using the KJV to produce the text, but that he was so familiar with the KJV that he was pulling directly from five sources in the parable of the olive tree.
Joseph Smith was not just pulling material from both Isaiah 5 and Romans 11, but he was using exact phrases from Luke, Matthew, and John. This is important to understand because a common argument is that Joseph Smith was uneducated and not literate in the Bible. Remember this famous Emma Smith quote:
“When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, ‘Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?’ When I answered, ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Oh! [I didn’t know.] I was afraid I had been deceived.’ He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.” (Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History, Jan. 1916, p. 454.)
This is such a great quote because it shows that Joseph Smith was gifted at creating confidence in his perceived gifts. I outlined this in great detail when looking at how Joseph Smith was able to sell his services as a treasure/money digger, but this quote is another perfect example of this.
It is beyond clear that Joseph Smith was extremely familiar with the Bible, so the idea that Jerusalem had walls would have been known to Joseph Smith. Furthermore, the idea that Jerusalem having walls would be the detail that would strike Joseph Smith as being deceived is simply ridiculous. But by making this comment (and we’re assuming here that Emma is not making this story up), he is creating more belief in his claims of divinity in the eyes of his first wife Emma. When you read this quote knowing just how well Joseph Smith knew the Bible, it becomes even clearer how he was able to build charisma as a treasure digger and, later, the founder of a church.
Inconsistencies Following the Replacement Text for the Lost 116 Pages
We’ve covered many of the instances where we can show through the dictation order that the Lost 116 Pages seem to know the ending of the Book of Mormon before the middle prophets, which is an indicator that Joseph Smith authored the Book of Mormon. Otherwise there is simply no way to explain the inconsistencies. A good example of this that I have not previously covered is the use of Malachi in the Book of Mormon.
Malachi was written in the “first half of the 5th century BCE, for it clearly presupposes the reconstructed Temple (dedicated in 516 BCE) but does not reflect the reconstitution of the religious community that took place under Nehemiah and Ezra about 450 BCE.” (Britannica)
This is important because the book of Malachi was written after Lehi left with the brass plates, and in this case the author of the Book of Mormon is aware of this issue. We know this because when Jesus visits the Nephites, He declares the following:
3 Nephi 26:2 These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations.
This verse is referencing the extensive use of Malachi in 3 Nephi 24 and 25. A key verse in the copying of Malachi comes in 3 Nephi 25:1
3 Nephi 25:1 For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
As the Book of Mormon tells us, this is a verse that was unavailable to the Nephites until Jesus revealed it to them. However, this verse works its way into both 1st and 2nd Nephi:
1 Nephi 22:15 For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.
1 Nephi 22:23 …they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
2 Nephi 26:4 Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble.
2 Nephi 26:6 …for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.
This is a clear example where the ending of the Book of Mormon tells us that these writings were inaccessible to the Nephites, yet in the replacement text for ‘lost 116 pages,’ which was written after the ending was completed, the prophets are suddenly aware of material that Jesus specifically said was unavailable to them.
Just as stated in the Lost 116 Pages overview, this is a clear example where the dictation order reveals fingerprints as to the author of the Book of Mormon. Remember that Joseph Smith composed the Book of Mormon starting with Mosiah until the end, and only then replaced the ‘lost’ text with 1 Nephi through Mormon. From historian Brent Metcalfe:
“Mosiah through 3 Nephi 23 betrays no knowledge of Malachi 3-4. Subsequent to Jesus’s 3 Nephi recital of Malachi’s prophecies, as the dictation proceeded, Malachi’s language is appropriated by other Book of Mormon prophets in Ether, 1 Nephi, and 2 Nephi.
Some Book of Mormon students argue that narrative patterns similar to the above can be explained by acknowledging the intervention of Nephite redactors Mormon and Moroni. Interpreters could thus hypothesize that post-Christ-advent Nephite editors embellished the replacement text with high christology or projected later prophecies back on their progenitors (cf. Epperson 1988, 80, 94-96, 98-99; Jorgensen 1981, passim; Ostler 1987, 86-87).
Such a theory can only be maintained at the expense of the redactors’ integrity. Mormon expressly states that the sole reason for inclusion of 1 Nephi-Omni was because they contained “pleasing … prophecies of the coming of Christ” (W of M 1:4[ff]). In this context, could the christological prophecies be the creation of Mormon? Also, why would Mormon or Moroni have inserted later, more developed elements into the narrative in some cases but neglected to do so in the homilies of Benjamin, Mosiah, Abinadi, and both Almas? And why would such inconsistencies of ancient redactors be so easily explained by Smith’s dictation sequence?” (Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon)
Again, these inconsistencies with the replacement text of the ‘lost 116 pages’ are only inconsistencies when the Book of Mormon is read in chronological order of the text today. When the Book of Mormon is read through the order it was dictated it as stated above, however, the puzzle pieces fit together exactly as you would expect. This is another area where you can show that Joseph Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, and in his need to replace the Lost 116 Pages he unintentionally revealed a lot of clues as to how the book was created.
Other Fingerprints from Orally Dictating the Book of Mormon
As I’ve pointed out in these overviews, there are many places where Joseph Smith leaves his fingerprints on the text itself. I agree with many scholars that the Book of Mormon was an orally dictated text, where Joseph Smith would speak the words to Oliver Cowdery, and thus could not just go back and make changes as he wanted because of the underlying premise that he was reading off the stone in a hat.
Because it was an orally composed text, there are many hints that tell us that Joseph Smith would sometimes misspeak, and thus need to correct himself immediately. This is important because we are being told that Joseph Smith is reading the text off of his seer/peep stone in a hat, and that the words cannot change until they are written down correctly.
That means in these cases that, from a faithful perspective, we have to believe they were engraved onto the metal plates with these errors, which they then to had to spend more time engraving the correction immediately after.
Here are some examples where I believe Joseph Smith made an error, quickly realized it, and then had to correct it in the following part of the sentence:
Mosiah 16:6 And now if Christ had not come into the world [Mistake], speaking of things to come as though they had already come [Correction], there could have been no redemption.
Helaman 12:15 And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still [Mistake]; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun.
Mosiah 7:8 And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted [Mistake], or rather commanded [Correction], that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.
Alma 43:38 ...they being shielded from the more vital parts of the body [Mistake], or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites [Correction]...
Alma 24:19 ...and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace [Mistake], or they buried the weapons of war, for peace. [Correction]
In addition to areas where Joseph Smith corrects himself immediately after realizing he dictated an error, we have multiple instances where you can see how Joseph Smith loses his train of thought while dictating and it leads to either awkward errors or the need to circle back to the original point. From the Mormon Stories essay on the Book of Mormon translation:
“In multiple places, the narrator appears to forget what he had previously dictated and is forced to resort to verbal circumlocution. If the words were indeed carefully abridged by Mormon, they are difficult to reconcile. However, such lapses are easily explained by a break in dictation for the night or simply a lapse in concentration.
“Alma 19:16 introduces a Lamanite woman named Abish, and informs that she “ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people” that the power of God had come upon the king and queen. A mere twelve verses later, the narrator forgets her name and clumsily refers instead to “…the woman servant who had caused the multitude to be gathered together.”
Similarly, Alma 1 introduces an Antichrist named Nehor, who teaches false doctrine, kills a war hero named Gideon, and finally recants his unbelief before his execution for murder. In the very next chapter, the author appears to momentarily forget Nehor’s name, and introduces a new character, Amlici, as “he being after the order of the man that slew Gideon by the sword, who was executed according to the law.” Later, in Alma 24, the author uses the much simpler description, “after the order of Nehor.”
On the other hand, we occasionally encounter more information just a few verses after it would have flowed most easily. In Alma 17:36, narrating how Ammon defended King Lamoni’s sheep from would-be thieves, Joseph dictates that, “with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them.” Two verses later, we are informed that “six of them had fallen by the sling..but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword.” (Mormon Stories, Translation Process)
Unique Names in the Book of Mormon
One common defense of the Book of Mormon is that it contains so many unique names and places that there is just no way that Joseph Smith could have invented them all and kept track of them throughout the book. A good example of this is a statement from Sunday School General President Tad R. Callister, who wrote the book A Case For the Book of Mormon:
“First, the critics must explain how Joseph Smith, a 23-year-old farm boy with limited education, created a book with hundreds of unique names and places, as well as detailed stories and events. Accordingly, many critics propose that he was a creative genius who relied upon numerous books and other local resources to create the historical content of the Book of Mormon. But contrary to their assertion, there is not a solitary witness who claims to have seen Joseph with any of these alleged resources before the translation began.” (October 2017 General Conference)
I’ve recently wrote about how Tad Callister uses strawman arguments to deflect critical arguments against the Book of Mormon, but this is another area where the church is intentionally framing what Joseph Smith did as miraculous when it is actually quite explainable when you take the supernatural out of the equation.
We’ve already discussed how Joseph Smith relied on books and surrounding events to create the Book of Mormon, and we’ve addressed the problems with Callister asserting that since no witnesses spoke of Joseph Smith using outside sources by simply outlining the literary reliance on the King James Bible.
But I want to briefly address the names before we wrap up, because it’s important again to understanding how we can show that this is an orally dictated book by Joseph Smith.
If you look at the names in the Book of Mormon, you will notice that many are only used once and most are only used within a very tight timeframe. In other words, Joseph Smith would orally dictate a section of the Book of Mormon and then move on to the next section, leaving most of the names and places he had created behind as the timeline continued.
Put another way, he’s not remembering “hundreds of unique names and places” in the Book of Mormon, which really undercuts the argument that he could not have done it. Because the Book of Mormon is continually moving through time, Joseph Smith can forget names after just a short amount of translation, and outside of the main characters, does just that throughout the book.
From a page that gives a frequency count of every word in the Book of Mormon, a few example of the frequency of mentions by name:
Jarom 20 (only mentioned in Jarom and Omni 1:1)
Anti-nephi-lehi 11 (only mentioned in Alma 24, 25, 27, and 43)
Gidgiddoni 10 (all 10 mentions between 3 Nephi chapters 3-6)
Lehi-nephi 7 (all mentions in Mosiah 7 and 9)
Amnigaddah 4 (only mentioned in Ether 1 and Ether 10)
Muloki 2 (mentioned in Alma 20 and 21)
I picked this list just browsing through a chart of word frequency in the Book of Mormon and I am no means saying this is an exhaustive list, but I hope the point is clear that outside of the main characters and places, all of those unique names are quickly used and forgotten. This is not like Lord of the Rings calling back characters throughout the book that are unique to Middle Earth or Harry Potter creating a universe that constantly calls back places and names – the Book of Mormon is a story that is moving through time and thus is constantly changing and replacing characters and places.
Finally, we can show that many of the names in the Book of Mormon are similar to other names around him. For example, Charles Anthon compiled a dictionary of ancient names in 1827 that has a lot of similarities with Book of Mormon names. Some examples are:
Morini → Moroni
Gaditanum → Gadianton
Marmarion → Morianton
Zamora → Zarahemla
Nepherites → Nephites
Egyptus → Egyptus (Book of Abraham)
Corinthium → Coriantumr
Teanum → Teancum (Surrounded by ‘c’ names ‘Sidicinum’ and ‘Campania’)
Memnon → Mormon (Memnon was a war hero who led 10,000 men to battle in the Trojan war and won, died in a subsequent war, and was known as a writer and inventor of the alphabet)
Cremera → Cumorah (An entire family line of 300 was wiped out there: They came to a general engagement near the Cremera, in which all the family, consisting of 306 men, were totally slain, B.C. 477. There only remained one, whose tender age detained him at Rome, and from him arose the noble Fabii. The family was divided into six different branches, the Ambusti, the Maximi, the Vibulani, the Buteones, the Dorsones, and the Pictores…)
There are also a lot of sections on Egyptian culture and Egyptian theology. Joseph Smith would by this book alone knew that the word Nephi was of Egyptian origin (page 520)
Please visit “Charles Anthon's Proper Names and the Book of Mormon” for a list of 32 names similar to the Book of Mormon with links.
As I’ve stated before, I’m not saying that Joseph Smith plagiarized the Book of Mormon or directly stole all of these names from Anthon, but I am stating that we can detail over and over again where he is pulling from outside sources. We also know that Joseph Smith was familiar with Charles Anthon’s work to the point of sending Martin Harris to him as a respected scholar of ancient languages.
We can also show many names are taken from the Bible, with Nephi coming from the Apocrypha which was well known in Joseph Smith’s time:
2 Maccabees 1:36, King James Bible: “And Neemias called this thing Naphthar, which is as much as to say, a cleansing: but many men call it Nephi.”
2 Nephi 5:8 “And my people would that we should call the name of the place Nephi; wherefore, we did call it Nephi.”
Again, I am not saying that these are being directly pulled as we’ve shown in other areas with the King James Bible, but to say that these names are not nearly as unique as the church wants to proclaim, and the number of names is not nearly as impressive once you realize that very few of them are used outside of very small sections in the Book of Mormon.
This is the ninth overview specifically about the Book of Mormon, and the sixteenth if we include the biblical scholarship sections about the scriptures of Mormonism. In a lot of ways this summary here is a summary of all sixteen overviews, because as I’ve said before I truly believe they are all puzzle pieces that work together to show us the complete picture in totality.
While it might feel like this summary is a bit long, I hope you’ll read it and understand just how deep these problems are and why they all need to be both looked at and answered in totality.
Throughout these overviews I’ve tried to show how the entire concept of the gold plates and Book of Mormon was an outgrowth of Joseph Smith’s treasure digging, which manifests itself in the story of recovering the gold plates, the translation of the plates, and the text of the Book of Mormon itself. I don’t think it can be overstated how important it is to understand how influential treasure digging is to the story of Mormonism, and why we have to accept treasure digging as being a real way of locating objects to accept the Book of Mormon as an ancient record on gold plates.
From that point we then have to believe that God would allow Joseph Smith to use the very same rock that he claimed to see this buried treasure with (which is why we have to accept treasure digging as a genuine practice that located lost items) to dictate the Book of Mormon instead of the interpreters the book itself tells us were preserved for the very purpose of translating. While some fringe apologists still contend that the “rock in a hat” was a hoax, the church itself now admits that is how the Book of Mormon was translated.
After you accept the rock in a hat for translation, you then have to accept that Joseph Smith could not replicate the ‘Lost 116 Pages’ even though he was claiming a tight translation, and thus needed revelation to create the idea of a second set of plates was preserved for this very purpose, even though the authors of the Book of Mormon are completely unaware of this second set of plates until the replacement text is created (which is after the end of the book is finished).
At this point we have the text of the Book of Mormon, so if you accept all of the above now we have to deal with the problems in the text itself. Because the Book of Mormon is literarily dependent on the King James Bible, we have to believe that God would allow for Joseph Smith to bring in translation errors into the Book of Mormon, even though it was originally written for the very purpose of providing us a book that had not lost its fullness through men translating it.
As I outlined in the biblical scholarship sections, the Book of Mormon requires that Adam and Eve are literal people who were the first humans ever, which is incredibly problematic by just looking at the text of the Bible itself. The Adam and Eve story was a late addition when the Pentateuch was compiled, likely after Lehi left with the brass plates.
From there it gets even more problematic. For the Book of Mormon to be true, we have to believe that the Tower of Babel was a literal event, with the languages of the world being confused after its destruction. Beyond the fact that there is no historical evidence for it, every secular linguist can explain why language development simply did not happen this way. Most religions can accept the Tower of Babel as an etiological myth, but the Book of Mormon requires it to be a literal event because Joseph Smith wrote it directly into the story.
Next we have to believe that the global flood occurred. Again, there is absolutely no evidence for this and ample evidence to show that a global flood that wiped out all living beings on land simply did not happen. But the Book of Mormon requires a global flood that baptized the Americas, leaving the lands uninhabited until God led the Jaredites here.
Even if we accept all of these problems with the Book of Mormon until this point, we still have many more to go. The Book of Mormon includes King James Bible sections that were simply unavailable to the Book of Mormon people, and yet they are included throughout the text.
The Sermon at the Temple, which is one of the crowning moments of the entire Book of Mormon, is a copy of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, making only superficial changes to problematic text while leaving in other errors and phrases that would have absolutely no meaning to the Nephites. Not only is this problematic because Joseph Smith is copying the text directly into the Book of Mormon, but scholars now believe Jesus never gave the sermon as written, but that the author of Matthew was using a “Q” or “sayings” source to weave the sayings of Jesus into a literary work.
We then run into these same problems with the “long ending of Mark,” where scholars do not believe that the ending of Mark was original to the author of Mark’s text because the earliest manuscripts do not contain it, which some Bibles even concede directly in the text.
More importantly, the Book of Mormon includes sections of Isaiah that scholars now believe was written by a second Isaiah known as Deutero-Isaiah. While some scholars still contend that there was only one Isaiah, there are many evidences for both Deutero and Trito Isaiahs, and yet the themes in Deutero-Isaiah are woven throughout the Book of Mormon.
At this point it is beyond clear that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient text, because it includes material not available in Book of Mormon times, and without any doubt includes large sections from the King James Bible which was not translated until 1611. It simply cannot be argued to be an ancient text, and at best can be argued as an ancient text that was expanded by Joseph Smith.
But the problems of being an ancient text expanded by Joseph Smith get more numerous once we dive into the Book of Mormon itself. The entire premise of the Book of Mormon is to bring the Lamanites back to Christ, and the concept of the Lamanites having a curse of dark skin is directly tied to the Native Americans being descendants of the Lamanites. Yet DNA has proven this to be untrue to the point where the church changed the introduction to the Book of Mormon.
Not only has DNA disproven the idea that the Book of Mormon descendents are Native Americans, but migration studies have also shown that the inhabitants of the Americas originated from Asia. Furthermore, we can show that these people arrived over 10,000 years earlier than the Book of Mormon timeline, and long before the story of Adam and Eve being the first people on Earth.
This means that for us to believe the Book of Mormon is a true record, we then have to believe that the Americas were populated with much larger civilizations than the Book of Mormon people, and thus they were swallowed up to the point where their DNA disappeared.
Again, much like the Tower of Babel story, there is not a single non-LDS geneticist that would argue that this is remotely possible, and the text of the Book of Mormon itself does not even allow for this argument. Apologists impose their need of a larger civilization onto the Book of Mormon to account for these problems, but the text of the book along with Joseph Smith’s claimed revelations from God are absolutely clear that the Native Americas are Lamanites.
Even if we set that issue aside, we then have to address that Joseph Smith is using a lot of material in the Book of Mormon that is all around him in the 1820s. As I discussed in the surrounding influences overview, Joseph Smith is incorporating the Moundbuilder Myth directly into the Book of Mormon, which was one of the prevailing beliefs in Joseph Smith’s time that there was an ancient, more civilized race that was destroyed by the ‘savage Indians.’ There is no way around the fact that the Book of Mormon mirrors this belief as I outlined with contemporary quotes about the Moundbuilder Myth, but this myth has been disproven since Joseph Smith’s time even as it heavily influenced the Book of Mormon text.
Joseph Smith then incorporated events that were around him directly into the text of the Book of Mormon, which is a problem if the text is an ancient record being revealed through the gift and power of God. I pointed out Joseph Smith’s references to his father’s dream as Lehi’s dream, the anti-Masonic feelings in the 1820s following the disappearance of William Morgan for threatening to reveal the signs and tokens of the Masons, the Charles Anthon visit from Martin Harris, treasure digging terminology, and other contemporary events that were all around Joseph Smith.
This led Alexander Campbell, the leader of the Campbellites (which will later factor into the evolution of the priesthood restoration), to state the following:
“This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in this book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decided all the great controversies;—infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free masonary, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to.” (Alexander Campbell, The Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 2:93)
To be clear, the Book of Mormon is written to answer the questions of the 1820s, but it fails to address anything that is uniquely relevant to our day nor does it include almost any of the later evolutions of Joseph Smith’s theology including the separation of God and Jesus as separate beings, the endowment ceremony, celestial marriage, polygamy (the Book of Mormon does address this, but is calls it an abomination), priesthood restoration, baptism for the dead, plurality of gods, that we can become gods, three tiers of heaven, etc.
The one issue that the Book of Mormon does address that is somewhat unique to Mormonism – non-infant baptism – is a hotly talked about issue in Joseph Smith’s time to the point that Campbell actually points it out in this statement. This is a very telling statement, and again helps to shine a light on the fact that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon using the ideas and questions around him to mold the text.
From this point we now have to account for the anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, including a Christology that is more similar to a 19th century Protestant viewpoint than an ancient understanding of Christ along with all of the plants, animals, and items that have been frequently debated such as steel, chariots, horses, wheat, barley, etc. As I explained in the anachronism section, scholars can date the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith’s time not just through the anachronisms in the text, but what the author is concerned about in the story itself.
This is similar to how scholars can date books such as the Book of Daniel by looking at where the author is very specific because they know the events had already happened against how the prophecies become very vague beyond the time it is written. The Book of Mormon provides the same clues with the prophecies about the Revolutionary War and Columbus ‘discovering’ America, but no specific prophecies beyond Joseph Smith’s time.
At this point we have to take all of these problems and find a way to explain them in a way that is both rational and faithful. This leaves us with the tight vs loose translation theories, where we can attempt to find ways to make the problems go away by claiming a loose translation where Joseph Smith was including his own thoughts and ideas, which explains the anachronisms, King James errors, and other problems in the text.
Unfortunately the history is quite clear that the Book of Mormon utilizes a ‘tight translation,’ and as such make the argument for a loose translation one that comes out of necessity rather than evidence. As we show in the overview, apologists want to allow for both a tight and loose translation of the Book of Mormon, when there is simply no reasonable way to argue for both happening simultaneously.
Which brings us here - the final summary on the Book of Mormon. As I outlined above, many church leaders and apologists claim that there is simply no way the Book of Mormon could be written by someone like Joseph Smith in the 85 days that it took. The problem, as we’ve outlined both in this overview and all of them, is that the Book of Mormon is not nearly as unique or impressive as the church wants to declare, and the timeline is not even remotely miraculous.
Using basic math shows us that Joseph Smith could have dictated the Book of Mormon for about three hours a day and completed it in 85 days, which would then allow him plenty of time each day to take breaks, map out the next section of the book, refer back to the manuscript as they create it, and study the Bible to include portions in the text.
From there we can look at the text of the Book of Mormon itself and show exactly how Joseph Smith was able to cobble together sources both in the Bible and his milieu to create the stories of the Book of Mormon. The parable of the olive tree that I outlined above is a perfect example of not just where Joseph Smith was pulling text directly from the Bible, but where you can see the exact moment where he changes the source he is pulling from.
This can be done throughout the Book of Mormon as I’ve noted in the previous overviews, where we can point to the events surrounding Joseph Smith that influenced portions of the text along with looking at where he came up with names and places as well.
The fact is that if the Book of Mormon was truly as miraculous as the church wants us to believe, non-church scholars would find value in it even if they did not believe it was divinely written, just as they do with the Bible.
But the reality is that the Book of Mormon is neither historical or miraculous which is very difficult to see as a believing member, but becomes inescapable once you set those predetermined conclusions aside and look at all of these problems in totality.
When I came to the conclusion that the church wasn’t true, it was not because of the Book of Mormon. It was because of polygamy, the racism towards blacks, and my experience in the temple. Until that point I just never looked at the Book of Mormon critically, because even as a convert it read so similarly to the Bible that I just accepted it as scripture.
In a lot of ways, that actually explains why the Book of Mormon was accepted by so many in the 1830s and beyond. The Book of Mormon is exactly what people in Joseph Smith’s time expected – an origin story about the Indians that had become dark skinned and a savage race after destroying the ancient, superior race of white people.
Many people would have been attracted to a book that answered questions of the 1820s, given that the revivals were happening all around the area and many people were excited about religion. The Book of Mormon provided them with a modern day Christology in an ancient setting, and it would have felt very compatible with the beliefs of the time.
If you made it through all sixteen overviews on the Book of Mormon and biblical scholarship, I tip my cap to you as I know they are all fairly long and get into the weeds at times. I hope they have been helpful, and I really hope that I have done a good job of trying to show just how these problems are connected, and why they cannot be taken in isolation but need to be addressed in totality.
Now that we’re done with the Book of Mormon overviews, it is time to move on to Joseph Smith, early church history, and Joseph Smith’s other works such as the Book of Abraham, Doctrine and Covenants, and the translation of the Bible. And there’s no better place to start that than the evolution of the different accounts from Joseph Smith of the First Vision.
Next section: Overview of the First Vision Accounts.