Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible - BYU Study on the Plagiarism of Adam Clarke's Work

Overview of the Joseph Smith Translation:

The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) is considered an "inspired" translation of the Bible that was done by Joseph Smith during his lifetime. The overview from the LDS website defines the JST this way: "A revision or translation of the King James Version of the Bible begun by the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1830. He was divinely commissioned to make the translation and regarded it as “a branch of his calling” as a prophet. Although the major portion of the work was completed by July 1833, he continued to make modifications while preparing a manuscript for the press until his death in 1844, and it is possible that some additional modifications would have been made had he lived to publish the entire work. Some parts of the translation were published during his lifetime." (lds.org)

The process was described in an Ensign article to say that "It appears that the work was to be a revelatory experience, through which Joseph would come to an understanding of things that he had not previously known." (Joseph Smith’s Inspired Translation of the Bible, Ensign 1972)

Apostle John A. Widtsoe on Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Version” of the Bible: "Joseph Smith accepted the Bible as far as it was translated correctly but felt that many errors which should corrected had crept into the work... he endeavored through inspiration from on high to correct those many departures from the original text. This was not fully completed when he died, but his manuscript exists in the original and in copies, and has been published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a remarkable evidence of the prophetic power of Joseph Smith. Hundreds of changes make clear many a disputed text. (Joseph Smith, Seeker After Truth, p 139)

Bruce R. McConkie, of the First Council of the Seventy, states: “The marvelous flood of light and knowledge revealed through the Inspired Version of the Bible is one of the great evidences of the divine mission of Joseph Smith.” (Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, 1958, p 352).

Recent BYU Study Discovers Plagiarism from Adam Clarke's Bible Commentaries:

As with many of the other scriptures that Joseph Smith's brought forth, there have been issues that have come to light about where the inspiration came from. A recent study from BYU "uncovered evidence that Smith and his associates used a readily available Bible commentary while compiling a new Bible translation, or more properly a revision of the King James Bible. The commentary, Adam Clarke’s famous Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, was a mainstay for Methodist theologians and biblical scholars alike, and was one of the most widely available commentaries in the mid-1820s and 1830s in America. Direct borrowing from this source has not previously been connected to Smith’s translation efforts, and the fundamental question of what Smith meant by the term “translation” with respect to his efforts to rework the biblical text can now be reconsidered in light of this new evidence." (A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation, BYU)

The finished paper is not yet available, but the BYU article outlining the research continues: "What is noteworthy in detailing the usage of this source is that Adam Clarke’s textual emendations come through Smith’s translation as inspired changes to the text. Moreover, the question of what Smith meant by the term translation should be broadened to include what now appears to have been an academic interest to update the text of the Bible. This new evidence effectively forces a reconsideration of Smith’s translation projects, particularly his Bible project, and how he used academic sources while simultaneously melding his own prophetic inspiration into the resulting text. In presenting the evidence for Smith’s usage of Clarke, our paper also addressed the larger question of what it means for Smith to have used an academic/theological Bible commentary in the process of producing a text that he subsequently defined as a translation."

"Our research has revealed that the number of direct parallels between Smith’s translation and Adam Clarke’s biblical commentary are simply too numerous and explicit to posit happenstance or coincidental overlap.2 The parallels between the two texts number into the hundreds, a number that is well beyond the limits of this paper to discuss. A few of them, however, demonstrate Smith’s open reliance upon Clarke and establish that he was inclined to lean on Clarke’s commentary for matters of history, textual questions, clarification of wording, and theological nuance.3 In presenting the evidence, we have attempted to both establish that Smith drew upon Clarke, likely at the urging of Rigdon, and we present here a broad categorization of the types of changes that Smith made when he used Clarke as a source."

Author of BYU Study Speaks Out:

Haley Wilson, the student who authored the study with her professor Thomas Wayment, recently recorded a podcast with Bill Reel of Mormon Discussions to discuss the findings ahead of the official release of her paper along with new research on Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon, Book of Abaraham, and other writings. 

In the discussion she hits a few of the key points about how Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke's work in the JST. Wilson says that "just speaking in terms of direct engagement, he plagiarized Clarke about thirty times in his New Testament translation and a little less in the Old Testament, but there's about ten parallels fifteen direct parallels in the Old Testament. There's a lot, and these aren't just like one word here and there - these were whole sentences."

Wilson then notes a specific change which is very peculiar given Joseph Smith's claims of being able to read and translate ancient languages such as his (now proven incorrect) translation of the Book of Abraham as well as his partial attempt at translating the Kinderhook Plates: "One that's been discussed in JST circles for a while and they wondered why JST changed it because it's unclear of his knowledge of Hebrew at this point when he's working on the JST, but in Isaiah 34:7 where the KJV reads "and the unicorn shall come down with them" the JST has "and the re'em shall come down with them" which is a very Hebrew word. But if you read Clarke it has re'em translated "wild goats by Bishop Loathe(?) the re'em so there's the word that Joseph uses Backhart(?) thinks to be a species of wild goat and it seems generally to mean the rhinoceroses."

Giving a bigger picture into the research project as a while, Wilson concludes that the works do not hold up to ancient text or revelation from God: "There's an article on the Book of Mormon that discusses the importance of moving towards the narrative of a nineteenth century text which I think is really important. There's also an article in there on the Book of Abraham and some discussion of maybe when and what went into that similar to our JST article, so I think these narratives are shifting and the church... is playing defense in a lot of ways and i think they just need to start moving into the space. All this narrative of the Book of Mormon is either true or it's not - if the Book of Mormon is true then the church is true. If i'm being completely honest and vulnerable here it's that narrative that led to my own faith crisis - this idea that the Book of Mormon has to be this this ancient perfect text. It was in doing this research that I realized that it wasn't and that lead lead me to my own crisis."

The entire podcast is a great listen to get a background on the research process as well as how the research impacted Wilson and ultimately led her to conclude that these scriptures are a creation of Joseph Smith and not from God or revelation.

Why It Matters:

This new study sheds light on a common problem with Joseph Smith's works as prophet: many of the scriptures and doctrines that 22the foundation of the Mormon church are heavily borrowed from other sources. The Book of Mormon borrows directly from the King James Bible with all of the translation errors intact, and even includes Deutero-Isaiah verses that could not possibly have been available to Lehi when he left Jerusalem. This alone presents a problem to the Book of Mormon's authenticity because there are verses that have no possible way of being in the Book of Mormon included, translation errors and all.

The Book of Abraham also suffers from the same issues. Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from the apocryphal book of Jasher and Josephus, and many of the astronomical concepts and phases are lifted directly from Thomas Taylor's book. All of these details are well documented in our Book of Abraham annotated essay.

Joseph Smith did not introduce the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods until almost 1835, and that is because he was unaware of them until Sidney Rigdon brought them to Joseph. Those two priesthoods were largely discussed by the Campbellite movement of which Rigdon was a preacher. (BYU Studies) The introduction of these priesthoods also coincides with the retrofitting in the Doctrine and Covenants of John the Baptist being involved, which was never discussed or recorded prior. These issues are highlighted on our Priesthood Restoration page.

While we will not publish the temple ordinances out of respect for believing Mormons, the temple ceremonies in both wording and signs are heavily lifted from the masonic ceremonies. This can be confirmed by searching elsewhere for those who want to compare.

In 1784 Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about his beliefs about heaven and the afterlife. Swedenborg taught that "there are three heavens," described as "entirely distinct from each other." He called the highest heaven "the Celestial Kingdom," and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the "sun, moon and stars." These writings were completed before Joseph Smith introduced the doctrine to the church, and directly parallels Joseph's vision on the degrees of glory as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76. And as with the JST, we now know that Joseph Smith was familiar with Swedenborg's work. Joseph Smith "apparently mentioned Swedenborg by name during an 1839 conversation with Edward Hunter, a student of Swedenborg-ianism who later became a Latter-day Saint... Joseph Smith stopped at this Nantmeal Seminary in Pennsylvania during a return trip from Washington DC, Hunter reported this exchange: “I asked him if he was acquainted with the Sweadenburgers. His answer I verially believe. ‘Emanuel Sweadenburg had a view of the world to come but for daily food he perished.’” (Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Section 76: Importance of the Bible in Latter-day Revelation, BYU)  Again the apologetic conclusion in this BYU article is that both Joseph Smith and Swedenborg  received revelation from studying the Bible with regards to the tiers of heaven, which of course begs the question of why is it that Joseph Smith claimed to be the only person authorized by God to receive such doctrine. How is it that so much of what Joseph Smith restored is either directly borrowed from other sources or completely mired in nineteenth century anachronisms/science?

 

The bottom line is that Joseph Smith's work over time has been found to be inaccurate in both the idea that the Book of Mormon is a historical record, or that the Book of Abraham was an ancient Egyptian story written by the hand of Abraham. Most of Joseph Smith's writings prove to be a product of his time by reviewing the anachronisms, inaccuracies, DNA evidence, language, and understanding of astronomy/America/nature. Why would God set Joseph Smith up to look like a fraud by having him incorrectly translate the Book of Abraham, lift passages from Adam Clarke in the JST, or copy passages from Deutero-Isaiah that were not even available to Lehi?

 

There is an apologetic argument that if Joseph Smith was proven correct there would be no need for faith, but that theory implies that God is so devious that he wants his prophet to look like a fraud incapable of doing any of the things he is supposed to be followed for doing in order to bring us closer to Him. Even if we are to entertain this theory, that would mean God wants a small church constantly under attack by the discovery of new evidence proving his chosen messenger is incorrect, which has led to a decline in growth as more and more research both church history and issues with the scriptures on the internet. We continually mention "Occam's Razor" in the annotated essays, and this is yet another instance where the most obvious conclusion is that these issues put together leave no other explanation besides these writings being a product solely of Joseph Smith and not of God.

This research also raises another concern that  extends beyond the JST: We have been told repeatedly that Joseph Smith did not use source material when working on translation, yet we now can point to many instances where Joseph Smith directly lifts from other sources in the material he has been responsible for: The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith Translation both now have direct use of text, which means the "tight translation" method that has been the LDS narrative is no longer possible. It also brings up another important question: Were the scribes lying when they claimed Joseph Smith never used source materials when translating the Book or Mormon and JST, or did Joseph Smith have such a photographic memory that he could recite these passages/phrases word for word hours/days after reading it without scribes present?

The reason this point is important is simple: If scribes never mentioned that Joseph Smith was using Adam Clarke's commentaries during the JST translation, how do we then trust the scribes that claimed Joseph Smith didn't use source material for the Book of Mormon when we clearly know the King James Bible was used repeatedly since translation errors were copied over? That issue is compounded by the fact that we know Joseph Smith directly copied King James Bible passages in Isaiah as well as phrases from Revelations, Acts, Matthew, Malachi, 1 Corinthians, and John.

It is important to take this new JST study in consideration with the other issues that stem from Joseph Smith's writings, and when combined together it is impossible to not see a pattern of deception with regards to his ability as a prophet. There is no source material that Joseph Smith has produced that has withstood the test of time, and even the Book of Mormon leaves a trail of issues even without having any of the 'gold plates' to compare to. The Joseph Smith Translation is now undergoing the same scrutiny and is adding another piece to the puzzle of how Joseph Smith created these writings during his lifetime.

As I have stated at the end of our annotated essays, I know it is very difficult to read these things that were previously unknown to almost all LDS members. I hope that you will continue to research this issue and that you will be willing to research from both LDS and non-LDS sources to get the full picture. Beyond the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, there are just too many questions that arise from the problems within the other materials written by Joseph Smith to believe they could be from the revelations of God. That is a painful conclusion to arrive at, but it is better to find the truth than to ignore it, as difficult as it might be at first. There are many resources to help those going through a faith crisis, so please email us if you would like any help. While the church tells us that we will be miserable without it ("where will you go?"), the reality is that people who do learn the truth and move on are just as (if not more) happy and healthy afterwards - that includes my own experiences as well (and I didn't run out committing sins as so many would like to tell you), so please email me if you would like any advice or to hear more about how life can be better after going through the faith transition.

Thanks for reading and please contact us anytime!