The Book of Mormon

Introduction

Whoever wrote the Book of Mormon knew what they were doing. The Book of Mormon origins argument is as follows:

P1. Either the Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith as the sole author, by contemporary authors, or ancient authors. 

P2. Joseph Smith was not the sole author

P3. It was not written by contemporary authors

C. Therefore it was written by ancient authors

It follows that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient authors unless it is even more implausible than its competitors. 

P1. Either the Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith as the sole author, by contemporary authors, or ancient authors. 

This trilemma is reflective of the generally available options. There appears to be no other options, however the argument should be extended if more options are considered.

The question while accurate, fails to recognise the entire scope of the events surrounding the writing of the Book of Mormon. Not only was the book produced as a genuine artefact, but also:

  • Witnesses observed physical plates from which the book was translated
  • Witnesses claimed to see an angel
  • Joseph and his colleagues read from the book to comfort each other in jail before Joseph died
  • Joseph and others saw visions together

P2. Joseph Smith was not the sole author

The simplest explanation of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith wrote it himself from his own research and imagination, however this theory lacks explanatory scope and fails to account for the following facts:

  1. Gold plates
  2. Speed of dictation
  3. Specialist content
  4. Hebraisms
  5. Stylometrics
  6. Witnesses
Gold plates

Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from gold plates. These physical plates were not only seen and held by Joseph. but by others.

These gold plates were shown to eight witnesses who testified they had seen them:

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

None of the witnesses ever recanted their testimonies of seeing the plates literally (not spiritually). There were also others who held the plates but did not see them.   

There are too many accounts of witnesses who held the plates and saw them for it to not be considered as historical evidence. The plates were not only seen and felt by the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, but also by many others. Read quotes relating to the description of the plates.

A quote from Emma Smith: (1)

“The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book”

It is also worth noting that at the time of the finding of the plates, Joseph Smith did not have money to make the plates. In an interview with Martin Harris, Martin said,

While at Mr. Smith’s I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead.” (2)

It seems highly unreasonable to assume that Joseph who was 18 at the time was able to make plates realistic enough to fool everyone who saw them, without ever being caught by his family as Joseph Smith lived in a house where he shared a room with five brothers.

Finally, nobody has ever come forward to claim that they made them.

Speed of dictation

Quote from Emma Smith:

“When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.” (1)

Quote from Emma Smith:

“Joseph Smith … could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to any one else.” (2)

Specialist content

Examples:

We know that at the time of translation Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter (1) so it is highly unlikely he was an expert in specialist content.

Hebraisms

The Book of Mormon contains Hebraisms, this is clear such as the use of chiasmus

It is due to chance?

In a paper written by Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards entitled “Does Chiasmus appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?”

The authors conclude:

Our small value P = 0.00018 for the strongest chiasm in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36 established with 99.98 percent certainty that this chiasm appeared in this book by design and rules out the hypothesis that it appeared by chance” (1)

This conclusion only relates to one chiasm in the Book of Mormon, which is only one of many Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, thus decreasing the probability they are all due to chance. 

Stylometrics

In 1980 three statisticians at Brigham Young University “examined the frequencies of noncontextual words in a precedent-setting analysis” of the Book of Mormon. Among the findings, it was concluded that:

“Text clusters of major Book of Mormon authors and Joseph Smith. Linear discriminant analysis indicates that the writing styles of the major Book of Mormon authors are distinguishable from each other and highly distinctive from Joseph Smith’s writing style” (1)

Stylometric analyses use conscious and unconscious writing styles so this would be hugely difficult to mimic tens of different writing styles without being “caught out”. 

Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and G. Bruce Schaalje concluded in their short history of stylometric analyses of the Book of Mormon:

Our overall conclusion is that the Book of Mormon displays multiple writing styles throughout the text consistent with the book’s claim of multiple authors and that the evidence does not show the writing styles of alleged nineteenth century authors to be similar to those in the Book of Mormon. Further, the claims thus far put forward for alternative authorship of the Book of Mormon, other than as described by Joseph Smith, are untenable. (1)

Witnesses

The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon were Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris. All three men testified that the following is true (around 200 statements in total) and never recanted their testimonies throughout their lives:

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Character of these witnesses

The character of the three witnesses was strongly upheld by examples below: (1)

Of Oliver Cowdery:

“Cowdery was an able lawyer and [an] agreeable, irreproachable gentleman”

Of Martin Harris: 

“How to reconcile the act of Harris in signing his name to such a statement [his Book of Mormon testimony], in view of the character of honesty which had always been conceded to him, could never easily be explained”

Of David Whitmer:

“Relatively few people in Richmond could wholly accept such testimony, but none doubted his intelligence or complete honesty.”

Could they have been deceived?

Daniel C. Peterson said in 2010:

It seems implausible, though, to assume that the witnesses, early nineteenth-century farmers who spent their lives rising at sunrise, pulling up stumps, clearing rocks, plowing fields, sowing seeds, carefully nurturing crops, herding livestock, milking cows, digging wells, building cabins, raising barns, harvesting food, bartering (in an often cashless economy) for what they could not produce themselves, wearing clothes made from plant fibers and skins, anxiously watching the seasons, and walking or riding animals out under the weather until they retired to their beds shortly after sunset in “a world lit only by fire,” were estranged from everyday reality.” (2)

“Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates”

– Martin Harris (3)

Claims that the witnesses only saw the plates spiritually have major issues and are simply overwhelmed by the statements that the plates were seen physically. 

In summary, the theory that Joseph Smith authored the Book of Mormon himself from his own research and imagination does not account for the fact that young Joseph had in his possession some physical plates, and managed to dictate a hugely complex book with such specialist content in so short a time in the writing style of different authors and his story backed up by witnesses who never recanted their testimonies.

Richard Bushman said:

I don’t think you can make a case based on historical evidence that Joseph Smith could have written the book. It is entirely too complicated and produced with so little experience. (2)

P3. It was not written by contemporary authors

The theory that Joseph Smith was the sole author can be improved by claiming that either he received help in writing the book or it was mostly written by others who were more educated and had more time etc.

However this theory, not only faces challenges from the facts already outlined above but also faces new challenges.

  • No-one has come forward to claim they wrote it
  • No drafts have ever been found

Similar to the theory that Joseph Smith wrote it himself, any theory which claims a group of collaborators wrote the Book of Mormon in order to account for the facts above, would need to be so convoluted in order to satisfy the criteria for the best hypothesis.

Jeff Lindsay has created a fictional dialogue to show the difficulty in defending just one part of this theory (compiling the text). 

C. Therefore it was written by ancient authors

The theory that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient authors has explanatory scope and power etc and even though it may include controversial suppositions (such as an angel), however these would only be problematic on a background in which God does not exist.  

This conclusion has become known as “The Challenge of the Book of Mormon”:

If one scoffs at the explanation of the Book of Mormon, he is in so many words claiming it to be false: that it is a deceiving fraud formulated through the efforts and talents of a common man. Occasionally you hear someone say, “I could believe your Mormon Doctrine if I just didn’t have to swallow the story about Joseph Smith being a man of God and that he translated the Book of Mormon from some golden plates with he claimed he found on a hillside.” It is even possible that you, yourself, have doubted the story.

What can be or is produced by one man, can always be duplicated by another man. The challenge the Book of Mormon makes to the world is that of duplication. Well, let us consider some facts or conditions that must be complied with in order for you or any one else to produce a similar record under comparable conditions. Because the book complies with everyone of the following conditions, and in order for you to produce a similar record, you must comply with the same conditions:

Write a history of ancient Tibet covering a period from 2200 BC to 400 AD. Why ancient Tibet? Because it is likely that you know no more about ancient Tibet than Joseph Smith (or anyone else) knew about ancient America.

You’re 23 years of age.

You cannot be a college graduate. In fact you have had no more than three years of formal school education, and have spent your life in backwoods farming communities. 

Your history must be written on the basis of what you now know. There was no library that held information for Joseph Smith. You must use none. There is to be no research of any kind.

Your book must be long, containing 522 pages with over 150 words per page and over 300,000 words from start to finish. It must contain 239 chapters. You must include in your book 54 chapters dealing with wars, 21 historical chapters, 55 chapters on visions and prophecies, and remember, when you begin to write visions and prophecies you must have your record agree meticulously with the Bible. You must write 71 chapters on doctrine and exhortation, and here too, you must check every statement with the scriptures or yours will be proven to be fraud. You must write 21 chapters on the ministry of Jesus Christ, and everything you claim He said and did and every testimony you write in your book about Him must agree absolutely with the New Testament.

Other than a few grammatical corrections, you must have no changes in the text. The first edition as you dictate it to your secretary must stand forever.

You must not write it yourself, you must dictate it to a scribe. You must sit on opposite sides of a curtain and never see each other as you speak and he or she writes.

After pauses for sleep and food, if you are dictating to a stenographer, you must never ask to have the last paragraph or last sentence read back to you.

This record is to contain the history of two distinct and separate nations, along with histories of different contemporary nations or groups of people.

You must describe their religious, economic, political, and social cultures and institutions. Cover every phase of their society, including the names of their coins. Your description of the cultures in the civilizations of which you will write about cannot be known about when you publish your manuscript.

Change your style of writing many times. Many ancient authors contributed to the Book of Mormon each with his own style.

Weave into your history the religion of Jesus Christ and the Pattern of Christian Living.

You must claim or announce that your “smooth narrative” is not fiction with moral value, but is true and sacred history.

Many of the facts, claims, ideas, and statements given as absolutely true in your writings must be entirely inconsistent with the prevailing beliefs of the world. Some of these worldly beliefs must prove to be a direct opposite of your claims.

Included in your narration will be authentic modes of travel; whether or not those ancient people used fire; descriptions of their clothing, crops, mourning customs, and types of government. You must invent about 280 new names (William Shakespeare in all his writings added approximately 30) that will stand up under scrutiny through the years as to their proper application and derivation.

You will have to use, properly, figures of speech, similes, metaphors, narration, exposition, description, oratory, epic lyric, and parables.

You must invite the ablest scholars and experts to examine the text with care, and you must strive diligently to see that your book gets into the hands of those eager to prove it a forgery, and who are most competent to expose every flaw in it.

Thorough investigation, scientific and historical evidence, and archaeological discovery for the next 125 years must verify its claims and prove detail after detail to be true, for many of the details you put in your history are still buried beneath the soil of Tibet.

You must publish it to every nation, kindred, tongue and people declaring it to be the word of God and another witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book must not contain any absurd, impossible, or contradictory statements. Your history must not contain any statement that will contradict any other statement elsewhere in the volume.

Many theories and ideas as to its origin must arise, and after discovering and examining the facts, they must fall. You have claimed that your knowledge had come from a divine origin, and this claim continues to stand as the only possible explanation. The strength of this explanation must not decrease as time passes, but actually increases to the point where it becomes the only logical explanation.

Your record is to fulfil many Bible prophecies, even in the exact manner in which it shall come forth, to whom it will be delivered, it’s purposes, it’s accomplishments.

Call down an angel from heaven in the middle of the day and have him bear testimony to three honest, dignified citizens of your community that the record is the word of God. These witnesses must bear the angel’s testimony to the world, even to their death beds. You must put that testimony to the test by becoming an enemy to these men.

You must call out of heaven the voice of the Redeemer, to declare to the three witnesses that your record is true and that it is their responsibility to bear their testimonies to the world, and they must do so.

Eight other witnesses must testify to the world that they saw the ancient records in broad daylight and they handled them and felt the engravings thereon.

The first three and the second eight must bear their testimonies not for profit, not for gain, but under great personal sacrifice and severe persecution, even to their deaths.

Thousands of great men, intellectual giants, national and international personalities, and scholars for 125 years must accept your history and its teachings even to the point of laying down their lives rather than deny their testimony of it.

You must include within your record this strange but wonderful promise; “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, He will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

Millions must bear record to the world for the next 125 years that they know the record to be true because they put the promise to the test and round it to be true. The truth of it was manifested to them by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Over 80,000 competent salesmen must be so sold on your book that they gladly give up two years of their lives to take it to all parts of the world for distribution. They not only pay their own way during these years, but return bearing testimony that the time spent will remain as one of the highlights of their lives. They receive nothing in return for their efforts but the joy of having shared your book with others.

Your book must not only raise the standards of millions of people but do it in such a way that they become one of the great moral, ethical and dynamic marvels of the day. They must become world renowned for this.

For the next 20 years you must watch those that follow you, your family, and the dearest of your loved ones persecuted, driven time after time from their homes, beaten, tortured, starved, frozen, and killed. Tens of thousands must undergo the most extreme hardships in your presence just because they believe your claims concerning the origin and content of what you have written on ancient Tibet.

You must gain no wealth from your work, but many times lose all that you have. Like those that believe you, you must submit yourself to the most vile persecution. And finally after 20 years of this, give your own life in a very savage and brutal manner, for you testimony concerning your book. This must be done willingly on your part.

Start right now and produce this record which covers 2,600 years of history, doing it, not in the peaceful atmosphere of your community, but under the most trying of circumstances which includes being driven from your home several times, and receiving constant threats upon your life. Please have your book completed, talk a friend into mortgaging his farm to raise money to have it printed with the understanding that neither he nor yourself will ever receive monetary enumeration from it. You must sell the book at cost or less.

Do this all in 60 days!! (3)

George Cannon said:

No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so (4)