The argument from ‘Possible Textual Influence’ or ‘Literary Similarity’ IS NOT THE SAME as the argument from ‘Source Plagiarism’. Apologists dismiss the former by attacking the latter which is a ‘straw man fallacy’. I neither need to prove that Joseph Smith read any of the books included below before the publication of the Book of Mormon nor claim that these books and the Book of Mormon are exactly alike in order for my argument to have force. Equally, the charge of ‘parallelomania’ – a common criticism directed against LDS apologetics – has no validity here because I’m not attempting to argue that Joseph Smith actually used any of these sources to write the Book of Mormon, but simply show how they might have influenced Joseph or any one of his contemporaries in their own creative writing process. I would also claim that, unlike the so called ‘parallels’ that Mormon apologists identify, the textual similarities below are self-evident and require no ‘gymnastic-style interpretations’. The upshot is, all things considered, the Book of Mormon is EXACTLY the type of book we would expect to see published in 1830 in the New York area.
The following is an ‘Inference to the Best Explanation’ style argument, typical in scientific and philosophical reasoning:
- The Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient text written between 600 BC and 420 AD on gold plates, giving an account of an ancient American civilization the historical existence of which has not been established by either Mormon or non-Mormon scholarship.
- Along with the King James Bible (1611, 1769), there is good evidence of possible literary influences for the Book of Mormon that are 19th century in origin.
- The Book of Mormon was published in the 19th century.
- Therefore, it is most likely and indeed the best explanation that the Book of Mormon was written in the 19th century and influenced by contemporary sources – and not written between 600 BC and 420 AD, engraved on plates, delivered by an angel and channeled with a rock in a hat.
- The Book of Mormon contains highly similar language, phrasing, style, idioms and thematic content to several books either written in or available in the 19th century which may have influenced Joseph Smith.
- While there is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever actually read any of these books before 1830 (apart from the Bible), they all pre-date the publication of the Book of Mormon and demonstrate how an author might have been influenced by them in their own creative writing process.
- The Book of Mormon was published in the 19th century at a time when, along with the King James Bible (1611), The Late War (1816), The View of the Hebrews (1823), The First Book of Napoleon (1809), the theories of Dr Mitchill and numerous other works – were all in print and in circulation [(The Late war was written “for the use of schools throughout the United States” (when Joseph was around twelve years old) and The View of the Hebrews was written by Oliver Cowdery’s Pastor)].
- Just these books alone demonstrate how a single author, living in the 19th century New York area, could have soaked up the literature of their time either by directly reading or even indirectly being exposed to such material by their peers, and thereafter produced their own book with a language and style highly imitative of the King James Bible.
- We know that the source of the Book of Mormon text, whether it be Joseph Smith or God, plagiarized whole verses and chapters from the King James Bible, 1769 edition, and that it is, elsewhere, highly imitative of the King James in style, language and phrasing.
- Therefore, it is most likely and indeed the best explanation that the Book of Mormon was written in the 19th century and influenced by contemporary sources, and not written between 600 BC and 420 AD, engraved on gold plates, delivered by an angel and channeled with a rock in a hat.
Ethan Smith, The View Of The Hebrews:
“It is highly probable that the more civilized part of the tribes of Israel after they settled in America become wholly separated from the hunting and savage tribes of their brethren; that the latter lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family with themselves; that the more civilized part continued for many centuries, that tremendous wars were frequent between them and their savage brethren until the former became extinct. . . . These partially civilized people became extinct and what account can be given of this, but that the savages extirpated them after long and dismal wars?” Ethan Smith (pages 172-73), 1825 edition
Prof. Samuel Mitchill
Prof. Mitchill was one of the scholars to whom Joseph Smith sent Martin Harris to verify the characters on the now infamous ‘Anthon transcript’. It is quite probable that before the publication of the Book of Mormon, Joseph had come to learn of Mitchill’s theories about native American origins and that this was one of the reasons why he sent Harris to seek his confirmation.
“…Professor Samuel L. Mitchill, formerly of Columbia College, had concluded that two main groups of people once dominated the Americas—the Tartars of northern Asia and the Australasians of the Polynesian islands. Furthermore, they fought one another for many years, culminating in great battles of extermination in what later became upstate New York.”
The First Book of Napoleon, written by Michael Lining in 1809
There is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever read this book or that it was even in his possession. I do not include it here and argue that it was a textual source from which the Book of Mormon was plagiarized. I present the following simply as evidence of a POSSIBLE INFLUENCE upon the Book of Mormon and, furthermore, evidence of pre-Book of Mormon literature that:
- Directly imitates the King James literary style, exactly as the Book of Mormon does
- Is remarkably similar to the language, phrasing, and idioms of the Book of Mormon.
Excerpts from ‘The First Book of Napoleon’, 1809:
“And behold it came to pass, in these latter days, that an evil spirit arose on the face of the earth, and greatly troubled the sons of men, And this spirit seized upon, and spread amongst the people who dwell in the land of Gaul…” FBN, chapter 1: 1
“…And this man, though small in stature, was nevertheless vast in spirit, and he not only conceived unto himself, great and marvellous designs, but was moreover wicked, and cunning in council, mighty in deeds, and powerful in war…” FBN, chapter 3: 2
Brings to mind the language and phrasing used to describe Nephi as ‘large in stature’:
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God (vast in spirit), wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.” 1 Nephi 2: 16
“And it pleased the Lord, as a punishment for the wickedness and perverseness of the people, to deliver into the hands of this man the dominion over many lands, that they might be ruled as with a rod of iron, and chastened for the iniquity and wickedness of their ways, and brought back from the paths of sin and licentiousness, and the idolatry of the beast, to those of justice, moderation, and truth, and the fear of the only true and living God.” FBN, chapter 3: 21
Rod of iron… Coincidence I’m sure, but isn’t it interesting?
“Now when good king Albanus saw his brave and loving subjects of all ranks and conditions, rally around him in this manner, as never men had done before, his heart was moved with gladness, and he wept from the joy thereof. But behold the tears which he shed were not tears of sorrow, for they were mixed with gratitude to God, for his exceeding goodness, and love to his people, for their exceeding affection.” FBN, chapter 7: 4-5
Brings to my mind, Alma when he is reunited with the sons of Mosiah (Alma 17 & 26) or even the affection between King Benjamin and his subjects.
“And the power of good king Albanus continued to increase on the mighty deep, and no ship dared to appear, or be seen, on the face thereof, save by his permission; and when the Gauls, and the other nations upon earth, saw and beheld the greatness of the deeds of the captains and sailors of good king Albanus, they marvelled one with another, and were sore afraid.”
Reminds me of the war chapters in Alma, where one side, before battle, would look out at their enemy and be fearful of their armour and appearance.
“The measure of my happiness and ambition would thus appeal unto you to be full, but there is yet one king, and one people, that while he reigns, and they live, my rising up, and my down laying, my outgoing, and incoming, shall be unto me gall and bitterness.” FBN 6: 13
“Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.” Alma 36: 18
“…and it had pleased the Lord to convert the hearts of those few, and they repented them of their wickedness, and espied the danger and error of their evil ways, and rejoiced in their hearts, that the coming to pass of their foolish dreams, and vain imaginations, had been averted by the hand of God.” FBN 6: 1
“And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.” 1 Nephi 12: 18
“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men!” 2 Nephi 9: 28
“Brave captains of my numerous and invincible hosts, companions of my many and difficult battles, sharers of my victories, and my glory by means of your skill and courage in war, under my auspices, nation after nation, and people after people, have been conquered and overthrown; and many kings, princes, and potentates, once great and glorious, but now bled and fallen, have become tributary unto me, and have been delivered into my hand.” FBN 6: 12
“And also Limhi, being the son of the king, having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people, made oath unto the king of the Lamanites that his people should pay tribute unto him, even one half of all they possessed.” Mosiah 19: 26
Excerpts from ‘The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain’, Gilbert Hunt, 1816:
“…two thousand hardy men, who … fought freely for their country … Now the men of war … were … men of dauntless courage.” TLW 35: 5-6
“…two thousand of those young men … to defend their country. …they took their weapons of war, … were all young men, and they were exceeding valiant for courage, …”
Alma 53: 18-20
“…made partly of brass … with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a large ball.” TLW 50: 24
“…a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles” 1 Nephi 16: 10
“…And … weapons of war were of curious workmanship” TLW 19: 13
“…And … weapons of war … of exceedingly curious workmanship” Ether 10: 27
“…sent forth a Proclamation, … abroad … And it came to pass, that a great multitude flocked to the … standard of Columbia…they came in battle array against the …” TLW 6-7
“…sent a proclamation throughout … the land; … And it came to pass that thousands did flock unto his standard [of liberty] … they … went down with their armies … against the …” Alma 61-62
View of The Hebrews –
Prof. Samuel Mitchill –
The Late War –