[Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth in a series of 23 essays summarizing and evaluating Book of Mormon-related evidence from a Bayesian statistical perspective. See the FAQ at the end of the introductory episode for details on methodology.]
It seems unlikely that the Book of Mormon should show so many parallels to nineteenth-century books if it was really an authentic ancient work.
Critics have established a bit of a cottage industry when it comes finding potential books from which Joseph could have plagiarized the Book of Mormon. Though there are a number of books that could be considered, we focus here on two of the main candidates: A View of the Hebrews and The Late War. Though the parallels may seem striking at first glance, it’s likely that such parallels arose from shared influence with other works (e.g., with a biblical style, or with ubiquitous legends regarding the lost ten tribes), or with common language, genre, or subject matter, rather than through a direct influence on Joseph Smith. I generously estimate the probability of seeing the parallels we do (in an authentic Book of Mormon) at p = .09.
Evidence Score = -1 (decreasing the probability of an authentic Book of Mormon by a single order of magnitude).
As you, our ardent critic, proceed a little further through the Book of Mormon, you continue to pay attention as the narrative switches from this Jacob, back to Nephi, and then back again. You read with sincere interest as Jacob reprimands his fledgling people, barely a generation removed from Jerusalem, their society sliding into barbaric practices and an entrenched class structure. You feel for anyone tasked with trying to hold such a society together in the absence of civilized norms. But it’s there that you encounter a strange passage, one that seems to embody well the separation between the barbarian and civilized man:
O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins, their skins shall be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
He wasn’t referencing the dark skins of the native inhabitants of the Americas (of whom the text had been so far silent), but the dark skins of their not-so-far removed brothers and sisters, signifying how they had fallen from God’s path, and how easy it would be for Jacob’s people to do the same. Since those people were, supposedly, on the American continent, it would imply that these people would become those future native inhabitants, at least in part. And their skins would be white, if they stayed faithful.
White Indians. Where had you heard that before?
You get up once again from your chair and walk briskly across the room to your trusty bookshelf—it wasn’t nearly as large as you might prefer, but it had a number of useful and rare books that you’d collected over the decades. It takes you a long moment to find the volume you’re looking for: A View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith. The relatively thin tome had been a gift that you had only briefly thumbed through and had nearly forgotten about. It doesn’t take you long, though, to find what you were looking for:
The Indians in other regions have brought down a tradition, that their former ancestors, away in a distant region from which they came, were white.
The book makes clear reference to a supposed Israelite incursion into the Americas, and you find the connection striking. As you move to put the volume back, however, you notice another somewhat neglected book on your shelf. For some reason you feel compelled to pick it up and crack it open. The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain by Gilbert Hunt. You leaf somewhat absentmindedly through its pages, your mind still occupied with A View of the Hebrews, but you find your eyes sticking on a particular passage about three quarters of the way through the book:
These wonderful torpedoes were made partly of brass and partly of iron, and were cunningly contrived with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a large ball. (50:24)
That passage pulls on the strands of your memory. You remember reading through a similar reference back in the Book of Mormon not too long before. You return to the table and begin turning back a few pages, and before long you find the verses you were looking for:
A round ball of curious workmanship, and it was of fine brass.
Again, the thematic elements, and even the wording, seem strikingly similar. And better yet, both books were penned before this Joseph had set the Book of Mormon in print. It would have been very easy for Joseph to draw from these books to create this particular narrative. You set the book back down on the table, pausing a moment before sitting back down. It seemed unlikely that these books could be so similar to the Book of Mormon without having been used by Joseph Smith as source material.
The charge of plagiarism is a common one leveled against Joseph in regard to the Book of Mormon, and there seems to be no limit to the range of works he’s supposed to have pulled from. Those include not just the Bible, but also from a variety of pseudo-biblical works from the early 1800s, from Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Found to The First Book of Napoleon. We’ll focus here on the two cases that have received the most recent attention: A View of the Hebrews, written in 1825, and The Late War, written in 1816. The case for plagiarism or influence is usually built on common themes or word usage between the Book of Mormon and these other works. But are these connections real and, importantly, are they unexpected? The first question is a tricky one, but hopefully Bayes can give us a solid hand with the second.
A View of the Hebrews is a quasi-historical work presenting evidence advancing the thesis that the Indigenous peoples of the Americas were somehow descended from the lost ten tribes, making them Hebrew in origin. This premise alone presents a striking similarity to the overarching premise of the Book of Mormon. This premise is mirrored in some of the details, such as the purported use of Hebrew in Indigenous language, the presence of white-skinned Indigenous peoples in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus, the adoption of a representative form of government, a suggestion that wars between native tribes were due to differences between more and less civilized native groups (i.e., between those that retained their Israelite culture and those who did not), and the worship or appearance of a messiah-like figure. These parallels gave B. H. Roberts of the Seventy pause in his unpublished summary of criticisms against the Church, Studies of the Book of Mormon.
But those surface-level details are essentially where the correspondence ends. The Book of Mormon includes many details and historical claims for its subjects that cannot be attributed to A View of the Hebrews, and in many (many) cases directly contradict the claims of that book. For instance, A View of the Hebrews posits that America’s Indigenous peoples were visited by Moses rather than Christ, and suggests that the righteous remnant was destroyed in 1400 AD rather than 400 AD. If the Book of Mormon was influenced by A View of the Hebrews, that influence is far from total.
There is also an interesting niggle in that Ethan Smith shared a congregation for a time with the family of Oliver Cowdery, which some suggest provided a route through which Joseph might have learned about and drawn from the book. This idea, however, doesn’t square with the primary evidence, particularly since the primary narrative of the Book of Mormon was put into writing long before Oliver Cowdery entered the picture.
The Late War’s proposed connections are somewhat more interesting. Following initial parallels proposed by Rick Grunder, amateur researchers Chris and Duane Johnson conducted a set of statistical comparisons between The Late War and the Book of Mormon, producing not only a large set of purported parallel themes and concepts within the book, but identifying several hundred rarely used four-word phrases (n-grams) that matched between the books. Within a set of thousands of books published between 1500 and 1830, The Late War appeared to show the strongest connection to the Book of Mormon, with that connection appearing stronger (with some important caveats, which I discuss below) than connections between other famous works (e.g., Pride and Prejudice) and the works that influenced them.
We can safely limit ourselves to two hypotheses in this case, but it’s going to be easier to discuss them a little out of order, starting with the hypothesis against Book of Mormon authenticity. We’ll follow that order throughout the rest of this episode, just to keep things consistent:
Parallels between these books and the Book of Mormon are due to Joseph encountering and directly incorporating their concepts and language into the Book of Mormon text—If there is substantial evidence that the Book of Mormon can be traced—and can be only traced—to these books, then that has the potential to be strong evidence against the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient text, with the probability of authenticity decreasing as the probability of finding another source for those parallels decreases.
Parallels between these books and the Book of Mormon are due to the shared influences that they have in common—The faithful hypothesis in this case isn’t that the books should lack any connection whatsoever. Any two books of any length will have some sort of connection between them just due to chance, and the number of connections will increase substantially if those books share the same language, genre, time period, subject, style, or shared set of influencing works. The shared influence of greatest interest is the Bible itself. In the case of A View of the Hebrews, it was likely inevitable that the biblical concept of a dispersed set of Israelite tribes would be applied to the Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas (and elsewhere), which would happen to coincide with the actual dispersal of Lehi and his family to the same continent. In the case of The Late War, both that book and the Book of Mormon would share language that characterizes a number of topics, particularly religion and war.
Though this is the hypothesis that sides with Book of Mormon authenticity, it’s the one any skeptic should assess when looking at evidence of literary influence. It’s essentially an appeal to Ockham’s razor—it would be much simpler for two books to share a connection through sharing the same environment (as there would be hundreds of connections between books that could be attributed to shared language or cultural ideas) than for them to be due to direct influence or borrowing (as there would be a relatively limited number of books that an author would have read let alone directly and consciously borrowed ideas from). Any claim of direct influence thus has a rather high bar to clear if we want to take it seriously, as suggested by a number of literary historians. Nevertheless, we’ll do our best to be nice to this theory in our analysis.
PH—Prior Probability of Shared Influence—We’ve left the scientific notation behind (for the moment), and our current estimate of the probability of an authentic Book of Mormon stands at an increasingly hopeful p = .000865. Here’s the journey we’ve taken thus far:
PA—Prior Probability of Direct Influence—The remaining probability would get assigned to the hypothesis of fraud, or p = .999135.
CA—Consequent Probability of Direct Influence—At first glance, this probability—the probability of observing the evidence we have if these books directly influenced the Book of Mormon—seems pretty easy to calculate. If the Book of Mormon is a modern construction, we’d expect Joseph to have drawn on a number of contemporary sources, including books like A View of the Hebrews and The Late War. We’d thus expect to see any number of strong parallels between the books. If we were being thorough, though, we’d probably look at more than just the parallels—we’d look at how the books differ, at all the things that could have and probably should have been borrowed from these books, but weren’t, as well as the material that directly contradicts it. This is particularly easy to see with A View of the Hebrews, where the book posits a substantial number of things about Indigenous peoples that the Book of Mormon either doesn’t touch or where it takes a drastically different direction.
But due to the almost limitless nature of human creativity, almost any important omission or difference could be framed as Joseph taking license with the material or showing his literary brilliance in innovating new ideas or concepts. We could thus spend a lot of time documenting that type of evidence without making any headway. So, we won’t do that and we’ll count it as just one of the ways in which we’re cutting the critics some slack. We’ll estimate this probability at p = 1.
CH—Consequent Probability of Shared Influence—This one’s a little tricky, since we have multiple books and multiple aspects of the connections between them to address. We’ll take a look at A View of the Hebrews first, and then discuss three different parts of the connections between the Book of Mormon and The Late War.
A View of the Hebrews. How likely would we be to observe the connections we do between the Book of Mormon and A View of the Hebrews if Joseph wasn’t influenced by it? Though we could talk about the different proposed parallels between the books, most of what I might say below regarding The Late War would apply, and to a lesser degree. But there’s one point worth emphasizing. In doing so, though, it might help to rephase our question somewhat: If the Book of Mormon hadn’t been set somewhere in the Americas, but was instead placed somewhere else in the world, how likely would we be to find some other book or work that people could claim influenced Joseph? If the connection between the Book of Mormon and A View of the Hebrews is a roll of the dice, based on the pervasive influence of stories about the lost ten tribes, we should be able to re-roll the dice and see how likely we’d be to find a plausible match.
What we need to ask, then, is how pervasive those legends of the lost tribes are and how many places we could point to with peoples of claimed Hebrew origin. The answer to that is, in short, many. It may be easier to list the places where people haven’t claimed to find lost Israelites. Aside from the obvious nearby candidate locations in the Middle East (e.g., Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen), we find claimed examples of Hebrew influence in China, Morocco, Japan, India, the United Kingdom, Spain, Peru, Brazil, and Australia along with the familiar claims from North America. Claims for all these places existed long before Ethan Smith published A View of the Hebrews and are based on the same sorts of evidence identified by Smith—common elements of language, culture and religious practice with the Hebrews of the Bible. The Hebrew incursion described by the Book of Mormon could thus find plausible parallels with many or all of these other claimed Hebrew migrations, and to a similar extent as A View of the Hebrews.
The only reason to prefer A View of the Hebrews would be that the Book of Mormon happens to share a continent with the Indigenous peoples described by Ethan Smith. If Lehi and company happened to land in Europe, or Africa, or East Asia, there would be works that people could claim inspired Joseph as well, as spurious as those connections would be. We can thus get a workable estimate of this consequent probability, based on this continental scale. There’s only one continent where Lehi could’ve landed that wouldn’t have claims of Hebrew influence, and that’s Antarctica. Though the estimate’s obviously a bit rough (and setting aside the obvious absurdity of a Hebrew migration to Antarctica), that would put the probability of seeing some sort of independent Hebrew connection with the Book of Mormon at p = 6/7, or .857.
The Late War—N-Grams. The sizeable number of shared 4-word phrases presented by the Johnsons certainly looks impressive, and without a more complete reporting of the data it’s hard to know exactly how unexpected that raw number of connections is. We know enough, though, to know that it’s nothing out of the ordinary. If you have a large enough sample, you’re going to find a number of books that show what appear to be a large number of connections, but those connections may or may not actually mean that the book exerted direct influence.
We actually get a great example of that by looking at Pride and Prejudice, the point of comparison used by the Johnsons in their analysis. The Johnsons assert that the book with the largest influence on Austen’s book was a work called The Officer’s Daughter, a romantic novel written in 1810. The book shares a number of common 4-word phrases with Pride and Prejudice, amounting to a total of 1.4% of the book’s total possible phrases. There’s just one hitch: we have a really good sense of the books that influenced Austen—she kept track of those books in her journal and in her personal letters. The Officer’s Daughter just wasn’t one of them. That means the book identified as the primary influence on Pride and Prejudice is almost certainly a false positive, with the connections between them more than likely due to shared language, cultural context, and shared influence, meaning that in at least this case the Johnsons’ method failed at finding a direct relationship between literary works.
But, according to the Johnsons, the connections between The Late War and the Book of Mormon are much stronger than they were for The Officer’s Daughter and Pride and Prejudice. There’s an issue with that as well, though. The measure the Johnson’s used is the ratio between the number of shared phrases and the word count of the target book. A better measure is one identified by Ben McGuire in his critique of the Johnsons’ analysis. The Book of Mormon actually has a surprisingly limited vocabulary compared with most nineteenth-century works, which means the word count measure is misleading. It’s far better to look at the proportion of unique 4-word phrases accounted for by The Late War in the Book of Mormon, and using that as a measure, we see that it only accounts for .23% of those phrases. Though the word count measure makes it seem like the Book of Mormon’s connections with The Late War are stronger than the ones for Pride and Prejudice and its “strongest influence,” in reality those connections are only about 1/5th as strong (.23% vs 1.4%), and that’s when compared to a book that we know had no direct influence on Austen’s writing.
What we don’t know is how unusual the Pride and Prejudice example really is; maybe most false positives obtained through the Johnsons’ method don’t have nearly the same level of connection. But even if we assume that Pride and Prejudice is a massive outlier, and that the true average for false positives is about 1/5th the size (the same as the Book of Mormon’s), that would mean that half of those false positives would show n-gram ratios at least as strong as the Book of Mormon’s, giving us a (very generous) probability of p = .5 for this aspect of evidence for The Late War.
So overall, the raw number of connections between The Late War and the Book of Mormon just aren’t that unexpected in the context of other works. We can get a sense of how meaningless those connections generally are when we look at the shared 4-word phrases themselves. There’s plenty of examples like “again to battle, and”, or “about to destroy the” or “and gave unto him” that, though apparently relatively rare in the textual record, are odd phrases to have been impressed on Joseph’s mind. We’ll have to look elsewhere for truly damning evidence in favor of The Late War as a direct influence on the Book of Mormon.
The Late War—Conceptual Parallels. Thankfully there are a number of parallels between The Late War and the Book of Mormon that don’t seem nearly so meaningless and that, on the surface, seem a little hard to explain. Some of these parallels rely on common language, but a lot of them represent specific concepts shared between the two books, like a general seeing his soldiers as his sons, or an individual being ridiculed for wanting to build a boat (and then subsequently building it successfully), or women and children being consumed by fire, with their cries standing as a witness against the perpetrators at the last day. The voluminous set of parallels that the Johnsons’ present, some of which they found through their n-gram search and some previously identified through the work of Rick Grunder, can make the challenge against the Book of Mormon seem steep indeed.
A little sober analysis quickly works to dispel that illusion, though. For completeness’ sake I went through all 137 conceptual parallels they present (as well as the additional 100+ 4-word n-grams they point to), tracking where in the books those parallels occur (see Table 1 in the Appendix), what concepts or words were involved, and the general category the parallel would fall under (e.g., warfare, sea-travel, etc.; see Table 2 in the Appendix for this coding).
We could ask, for a start, how such parallels could come about if Joseph didn’t actually borrow them. As we discussed above, parallels can appear quite easily with shared language, genre, or subject. It’s rather plain that the Book of Mormon and The Late War share a generally biblical literary idiom. By looking at the parallels themselves, we can see what sort of subjects would the Book of Mormon and The Late War need to share to produce those sorts of parallels. The table below shows the general categories that the parallels cover:
|Theme||Number of Parallels|
As the table shows, the majority of the parallels had to do with warfare, religion, or economic issues (e.g., producing or having access to particular goods), in other words, the sorts of things any book of the same quasi-biblical genre would likely address. Only a few parallels covered topics that could be argued are more associated with a modern context, or to a topic a bit more specific to The Late War itself (i.e., the “freedom” category). We can see it even more clearly when you lay out the frequency of the parallels by chapter, as in the figure below:
You can see that the parallels cluster heavily in the war chapters of Alma. If you count the other chapters in the Book of Mormon that explicitly discuss warfare, you find that those chapters, which make up less than a quarter of the book, contain well over half of the parallels. A chapter on war has 4.66 times as many parallels with The Late War on average than a non-war chapter does (see Table 3 in the Appendix for my coding of war and non-war chapters).
Maybe Joseph just borrowed the military elements from The Late War and borrowed other elements from other books. But maybe, just maybe, these two books just happen to share a similar subject (i.e., war), and drew on similar concepts and language from shared source material (i.e., the Bible, or, more generally, the English language) when doing so. The latter strikes me as a much simpler explanation for the vast majority of the parallels we see.
But, as mentioned, that argument seems insufficient for some of the more detailed parallels. As part of the analysis, I also tracked the (admittedly subjective) designation of whether the parallel was potentially meaningful or, in more general parlance, whether it was “complete horse-pucky”. Again, on further inspection, many of the parallels weren’t really parallels at all (comparing the river Sidon with the river Saranac, just because the names of the rivers happened to start with an S), and many weren’t all that specific (both books mentioning “the land,” or including battles that take place at rivers).
I did, however, end up with a set of 14 unique parallels (and a few sub-parallels) that struck me as detailed enough to warrant further attention. You can see those in the table below. A look at these parallels does make one wonder whether the two books might be connected. As you can see in the right-most column, though, looks can be deceiving. I performed a quick search on Google Books and a couple other databases for each of the phrases or concepts in that set and provided a quick summary of the results in that column.
|#||Common Elements||Search Summary|
|1||all manner of animals useful for food||15 or so entries from various periods of English.|
|2||(army general as) a father-figure||So common that it has an entry in TV Tropes.|
|3||a||burnt them alive (women and children)||A common theme in stories of martyrdom.|
|b||cries recorded against perpetrators until the last day||Providing testimony at the last day is a common biblical theme.|
|4||(gospel is preached to enemies, who are converted and become less violent)||“Bury the hatchet” is a common phrase based on ancient Indigenous practices. Religion commonly seen as a civilizing force.|
|5||(boat like Noah’s) ark||Very common to compare boats to Noah’s ark.|
|6||(gathering at an army’s banner)||Extremely common for works on warfare to feature a banner and for soldiers to gather to it.|
|7||a||(a free) land||Used as a common reference to the new world even as far back as the 1660s.|
|b||cause of liberty||“Cause of liberty” is an exceptionally common English phrase used both before and after the American revolution.|
|c||lives and liberty||Another English phrase that occurs prior to the American revolution.|
|8||(reference to Columbus as righteous sailing to a new land)||Numerous books referencing Columbus as God-fearing and inspired.|
|9||the fourth day of the seventh month||The format is a common biblical date format.|
|10||a||(being ridiculed for building a boat)||Could have just as easily gotten this from the bible as from the Late War (i.e., Noah).|
|b||(the boat was) exceeding(ly) (good)||Exceedingly fine is a common phrase, and often used in the context of workmanship.|
|c||(boat was of) curious workmanship||Curious workmanship is used hundreds of times in all periods of English, often in the context of boatbuilding.|
|11||a||(curious round object made of brass)||Extremely easy to find references to round, brass things, of curious workmanship.|
|b||(writing on) brass||Dozens of references to plates of brass in the textual record.|
|12||(teaching for money)||Many, many references just to filthy lucre throughout the English textual record.|
|13||freemen||Almost 100 books that use the word “freemen” to refer to men who are free, throughout all periods of English.|
|14||fair daughters||Over 150 books using the phrase “fair daughters”, throughout all periods of English.|
None of those concepts were remotely unique to The Late War—even ones as seemingly specific as the word “freemen” are, in the end, just common ways to express relatively common concepts (i.e., men who are free), and have been in all periods of English. That the Johnsons failed to mention these inconvenient facts (or failed to look?) speaks volumes about the worth of their analysis.
Even then, would we expect a book to share 14 such specific parallels with the Book of Mormon? And not just any book, but the book that just happened to be the most similar to it out of hundreds of thousands of possible candidates? It’s hard to say for sure, especially since the Johnsons don’t provide us with a proper baseline for what to expect from false positives. But we can, along with Jeff Lindsay, take a look at the parallels the Book of Mormon seems to show with a book that couldn’t have influenced it—Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, published in 1855. In his brief analysis, Lindsay found 10 potentially interesting (and undeniably spurious) parallels, ranging from descriptions of Nephi’s Bountiful to inspiration for the First Vision. These parallels aren’t as interesting on their face as the ones for The Late War, but Lindsay also didn’t comb through a corpus of hundreds of thousands of texts in his search for the one that fit just right. That Lindsay could draw such parallels so readily should immediately signal to us that the parallels we see between The Late War and the Book of Mormon aren’t necessarily unexpected, particularly since the Book of Mormon has much more in common with The Late War in terms of subject matter and biblical idiom than with Walt Whitman’s epic poem.
In the absence of further data, Lindsay’s benchmark of 10 will do just fine as an estimate of the average number of parallels we’d expect to arise on the basis of chance, though to make use of it we’ll have to take a guess at the standard deviation (perhaps 5). That would put the conceptual parallels between The Late War and the Book of Mormon just under a standard deviation more frequent than the average set of books with considerable shared influences (the Bible, in this case), allowing us to calculate a probability of observing that many parallels (or more) at p = .21.
Summary. We can put these estimates together to get an overall sense of how likely we would see to find parallels between the Book of Mormon and both A View of the Hebrews and The Late War. Though we probably shouldn’t treat these as completely independent (we’d expect to find more conceptual parallels for books with high n-gram scores, and vice versa), treating them as such will be another way that we incorporate a fortiori reasoning into the analysis. In terms of the likelihood of observing these parallels under a theory of shared (rather than direct) influence, multiplying the three probability values together gives us an estimate of p = .09.
PH = Prior Probability of the Hypothesis (our starting estimate for the probability of an authentic Book of Mormon, based on the evidence we’ve examined in previous episodes, or p = .000865)
CH = Consequent Probability of the Hypothesis (the probability of observing the parallels we do with contemporary books if those parallels are due to shared rather than direct influence, or p = .09)
PA = Prior Probability of the Alternate Hypothesis (our starting estimate for the probability of an inauthentic Book of Mormon, or .999135)
CA = Consequent Probability of the Alternate Hypothesis (the probability of observing parallels if they are due to direct influence, or p = 1)
PostProb = Posterior Probability (our new estimate for the likelihood of Book of Mormon authenticity)
|PH = .000865|
|PostProb =||PH * CH|
|(PH * CH) + (PA * CA)|
|PostProb =||(.000865 * .09)|
|(.000865 * .09) + (.999135 * 1)|
Lmag = Likelihood Magnitude (an estimate of the number of orders of magnitude that the probability will shift, due to the evidence)
Lmag = log10(CH/CA)
Lmag = log10(.09/1)
Lmag = log10(.09)
Lmag = -1
The results, then, are far from earth shattering. Despite all the ink spilt on A View of the Hebrews and The Late War, there’s little from a statistical standpoint to write home about, with that evidence moving the needle only 1 order of magnitude. Regardless of how you feel about the Book of Mormon, it’s clear that the sort of parallelism on display in the Johnsons’ analysis is a poor way to detect plagiarism. Without something a lot more solid to go by, it’s more reasonable to assume that such parallels come about through far more innocent ways.
As is somewhat of a recurring theme, there’s still quite a bit that we don’t know about the issue at hand. Say that I replicated the Johnsons’ analysis on 1,000 books, finding the closest possible match for each based on 4-word n-gram counts. Is it possible that the comparison between the Book of Mormon and The Late War would stick out like a sore thumb, showing a greater degree of connection relative to the others? Probably not, judging from their Pride and Prejudice example, but you never know. Would a close analysis of those 1,000 sets of connections show as many interesting conceptual parallels, on average, as the Johnsons found for The Late War? Lindsay’s analysis of Leaves of Grass suggests so, but maybe not—maybe The Late War’s parallels really are the special snowflakes that the Johnsons make them out to be. Do the Johnsons demonstrate that these questions have promise? Am I going to waste my life checking them out? Assuredly not. If someone else wants to do the legwork on these I’ll be happy to pay attention, but for the moment I can’t shake the sense that I’ve already taken the Johnsons’ analysis far more seriously than it deserves.
In the meantime, the critics might consider raising the bar for what they’d consider evidence of plagiarism. One useful tactic has been recently highlighted by Skousen and Carmack in their Book of Mormon Critical Text project. When searching the book for all the potential King James quotations, they used an n-gram matching process similar to that employed by the Johnsons to find close matches from the biblical text. Yet instead of relying on four-word n-grams, they found that it took n-grams of at least 16 to avoid turning up selections that weren’t actually direct quotes. If someone can find me a 16-word n-gram between the Book of Mormon and a book other than the Bible (that Joseph would’ve had access to), that would certainly require some explaining. Until then, The Late War’s connections have had explanation enough to last a good long while.
Next Time, in Episode 13:
When next we meet, we’ll take a look at the evidentiary value of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.
Questions, ideas, and tumulted opinions can be placed in the midst of BayesianBoM@gmail.com or submitted as comments below.
Table 1. Location List for Late War-Book of Mormon Correspondences.
|Late War||Book of Mormon||Source|
|27||Alma 50: 33,35||Theme|
|3.35||3 Nephi 1:10||Ngram|
|21.26||3 Nephi 1:16||Ngram|
|53.24||3 Nephi 3:16||Ngram|
|42.21||3 Nephi 4:1||Ngram|
|2.15||3 Nephi 6:22||Ngram|
|26.24||3 Nephi 7:14||Ngram|
|19.37||3 Nephi 8:6||Theme|
|36.26||3 Nephi 10:17||Theme|
|15.36||3 Nephi 11:8||Ngram|
|8.05||3 Nephi 28:1||Ngram|
|35.19||3 Nephi 28:4||Theme|
|15.11||3 Nephi 28:8||Ngram|
|35.19||4 Nephi 1:37||Theme|
|17.17||1 Nephi 2:13||Ngram|
|3.33||1 Nephi 3:28||Ngram|
|48.34||1 Nephi 4:30||Ngram|
|55.29||1 Nephi 11:8||Ngram|
|46.18||1 Nephi 11:18||Ngram|
|6.11||1 Nephi 11:35||Ngram|
|20.03||1 Nephi 13:12||Theme|
|41.01||1 Nephi 15:30||Ngram|
|50.24||1 Nephi 16:10||Theme|
|50.03||1 Nephi 17:8,17-18||Theme|
|46.18||1 Nephi 17:45||Ngram|
|12.12||1 Nephi 18:1||Theme|
|50.03||1 Nephi 18:1-2,4||Theme|
|31.33||1 Nephi 19:1||Theme|
|2.09||1 Nephi 19:14||Ngram|
|2.07||2 Nephi 6:5||Ngram|
|3.33||2 Nephi 9:28||Ngram|
|11.04||2 Nephi 27:19||Ngram|
|38.26||2 Nephi 31:13||Ngram|
Table 2. Coding of Conceptual Parallels
|#||Matching Elements||Late War||Book of Mormon||Theme||Detailed Match|
|1||land||the land of Columbia||the land||Geography||No|
|2||plentiful (land)||rich (people)||Economy||No|
|3||gold and silver||gold and silver||gold, and of silver||Economy||No|
|4||fruit||fruits of the earth||all manner of fruit||Economy||No|
|5||all manner of animals useful for food||all manner of creatures which are used for food||all manner…of animals which were useful for the food of man||Economy||Yes|
|6||the huge mammoth||cureloms and cumoms||Economy||No|
|7||elephant||the elephant (not present)||the elephant (present)||Economy||No|
|8||brass and iron||brass and iron abundantly||iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel||Economy||No|
|9||plentiful (land)||in great abundance (metals)||Economy||No|
|10||prepared men||the men of Croghan were prepared||they were prepared, yea, a body of their strongest men||Warfare||No|
|11||their weapons of war||their swords and their slings||Warfare||No|
|12||with great slaughter||with an immense slaughter||Warfare||No|
|15||strewed with their slain and their wounded||they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies||Warfare||No|
|16||fled||fled in confusion from the fort into the forest||they fled into the wilderness||Travel||No|
|17||loss||the loss||their great loss||Warfare||No|
|20||to pass over||to cross||Travel||No|
|22||drove them back||drove them back||drove them back||Warfare||No|
|23||the waters of||the waters of||the waters of||Geography||No|
|24||blood of the servants||bodies of the Lamanites||Warfare||No|
|25||king||the king||the king||Politics||No|
|27||a thousand fighting men||three thousand and forty-three||Numbers||No|
|28||around three-hundred friendly forces slain||about three-hundred||two-hundred and seventy-nine||Numbers||No|
|29||two hundred two score and ten||a thousand||Numbers||No|
|30||two only were slain||there was not one soul who did perish||Numbers||No|
|32||four slain||without the loss of one soul||Numbers||No|
|33||two thousand six hundred||all slain save fifty||Numbers||No|
|34||seven slain||there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain||Numbers||No|
|35||(enemies suffer greater losses)||(enemies suffer greater losses)||(enemies suffer greater losses)||Warfare||No|
|36||prepare (for war)||prepare||prepare||Warfare||No|
|37||battering rams, their bombs and their rockets||swords and with cimeters and with bows and with stones and with slings||Warfare||No|
|38||(weapons of) all kinds||(weapons of) all kinds||(weapons of) every kind||Warfare||No|
|40||fine workmanship||fine workmanship||fine workmanship||Economy||No|
|41||curious workmanship||curious workmanship||curious workmanship||Economy||No|
|42||two thousand men||two thousand hardy men||two thousand young men||Numbers||No|
|43||their country||their country||their country||Geography||No|
|44||of war||(men) of war||(weapons) of war||Warfare||No|
|45||courage||dauntless courage||valiant for courage||Warfare||No|
|46||(small) band||small band||little band||Warfare||No|
|47||fought desperately||fought desperately||fought most desperately||Warfare||No|
|48||stripling||a stripling||stripling soldiers||Demography||No|
|49||[general as] father||father||Father||Demography||Yes|
|50||band of robbers||band of sea-robbers||band of robbers||Warfare||No|
|51||wicked||(robbers committing) wickedness||(people were) wicked||Religious||No|
|53||pitched their tents||pitched their tents||pitch their tents||Warfare||No|
|54||the borders (next to a body of water)||the borders (of the great lakes)||the borders (on the beach by the seashore)||Geography||No|
|55||burnt them alive (women and children)||burnt them alive (in flames)||(women and children) consuming in the fire||Warfare||Yes|
|56||cries recorded against perpetrators until the last day||will stand recorded until the coming of that Day||shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day||Warfare||Yes|
|57||delight in warfare||delight in warfare||delighted in wars and bloodshed||Warfare||No|
|58||weep/cry||when shall the old men cease to weep||I cried||Warfare||No|
|59||(fallen are no more)||but they shall see their faces no more||ye are gone||Warfare||No|
|60||(fallen shall not) return||he shall never return||cannot bring your return||Warfare||No|
|61||fair daughters||fair daughers||fair sons and daughters||Demography||No|
|62||savages of the wilderness||Lamanites||Demography||No|
|63||spill the blood||preparing for war||Warfare||No|
|64||the people of Columbia||the Nephites||Demography||No|
|65||stirring up (emotion)||stirring up the spirit of Satan||stirring them up to anger||Warfare||No|
|66||(enemies incited to attack)||(enemies incited to attack)||(enemies incited to attack)||Warfare||No|
|67||having been instructed (in religious teaching)||had been instructed in the ways of God||having been instructed in the same knowledge of the Lord||Religious||No|
|69||the gospel||the word of God||Religious||No|
|70||Saviour of the world||Christ||Religious||No|
|71||they hearkened unto the preachers||believed all his words||Religious||No|
|72||(gospel is preached to enemies, who are converted)||(gospel is preached to enemies, who are converted, becoming non-violent)||(gospel is preached to enemies, who are converted, becoming non-violent)||Religious||Yes|
|73||soften||natures were softened||soften our hearts||Religious||No|
|74||they raised neither the tomahawk nor the scalping knife||they took their swords and did bury them deep in the earth||Warfare||No|
|75||three (religious figures)||three of the indian prophets||the three disciples of Jesus||Numbers||No|
|78||windows (in boats)||windows (in boats)||windows (in boats)||Sea-Travel||No|
|79||(boat like Noah’s) ark||(like Noah’s) ark||(like Noah’s) ark||Sea-Travel||Yes|
|80||it came to pass that||it came to pass that||it came to pass that||Time||No|
|81||one ship||one of the strong ships||one other ship||Sea-Travel||No|
|83||(sailing to an unknown location)||(sailing to an unknown location)||(sailing to an unknown location)||Sea-Travel||No|
|84||(presence of smoke-like vapors)||overshadowed with black smoke||vapour of darkness||Disaster||No|
|85||thunder||a thousand thunders||thunderings||Disaster||No|
|86||earth(quake)||earthquake||earth shall shake and tremble||Disaster||No|
|87||face of the earth||the whole face of the earth||the face of this earth||Geography||No|
|88||(cities destroyed)||overturneth cities||(cities destroyed)||Disaster||No|
|89||rocks||rocks (fallings on people)||rocks (broken up)||Disaster||No|
|90||troubled (thoughts)||troubled in his mind||troubled in his spirit||Religious||No|
|91||thing happens (which hadn’t happened before)||this thing which hath happened (which hadn’t happened before)||there had not any such thing happened before||Miscellaneous||No|
|95||(gathering at an army’s banner)||(gathering at an army’s banner)||(gathering at an army’s banner)||Warfare||Yes|
|96||towering steep (wind), as it fitfully blows||hoisted upon every tower||Warfare||No|
|97||the star spangled banner||the standard of liberty||Freedom||No|
|98||(a free) land||the land of the free||the land of liberty||Freedom||Yes|
|99||heaven rescu’d land||chosen land||Religious||No|
|100||in…God||In God is our trust||In memory of our God||Religious||No|
|101||cause of liberty||cause of liberty||cause of liberty||Freedom||Yes|
|102||lives and liberty||our lives and our liberties||their lives and their liberty||Freedom||Yes|
|103||Satan||the Holy Spirit||Religious||No|
|104||(being) entered into the heart||entered into the heart||enter into their hearts||Religious||No|
|105||lion (as a symbol of ferocity)||lion||lions||Warfare||No|
|106||for their prey||watched for their prey||fought for their prey||Warfare||No|
|107||(reference to Columbus as righteous sailing to a new land)||Columbus||a man among the Gentiles||Sea-Travel||Yes|
|108||(sailing to a new) land||a new land||the promised land||Sea-Travel||No|
|109||many thousand miles off||many waters||Sea-Travel||No|
|110||(sailing a long distance)||(sailing a long distance)||(sailing a long distance)||Sea-Travel||No|
|111||the fourth day of the seventh month||the fourth day of the seventh month||the fourth day of the seventh month||Time||Yes|
|112||(being ridiculed for building a boat)||(being ridiculed for building a boat)||(being ridiculed for building a boat)||Sea-Travel||Yes|
|113||(the boat was) exceeding(ly) (good)||he exceeded their expectations||my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceeding fine||Sea-Travel||Yes|
|114||(boat was of) curious workmanship||(boat was of) curious workmanship||(boat was of) curious workmanship||Sea-Travel||Yes|
|117||brass (torpedo)||brass (liahona)||Economy||No|
|118||clock||two spindles (of a compass)||Economy||No|
|119||(ball-shaped object)||ball (shaped torpedo)||ball (shaped compass)||Economy||No|
|120||curious||(torpedo contained) curious works||curious workmanship||Economy||No|
|121||(curious round object made of brass)||(curious round object made of brass and iron)||(curious round object made of brass)||Economy||Yes|
|124||(writing on) brass||(graven in) brass||written upon the plates of brass||Economy||Yes|
|127||smitten in the mouth||struck dumb||Warfare||No|
|128||slain||trodden down, even until he was dead||Warfare||No|
|129||false prophet||false prophet||false prophet||Religious||No|
|131||(teaching for money)||(teaching for money)||(teaching for money)||Religious||Yes|
|132||words were smooth||vain and flattering words||Religious||No|
|133||men of the king||men of the king||king-men||Politics||No|
|135||tender||tender women||tender wives||Demography||No|
|136||fair daughters||fair daughters||fair daughters||Demography||Yes|
|137||(women as) prey to thy savage lust||(men committing) whoredoms||Religious||No|
Table 3. Frequency of Correspondence by Chapter and War Chapter Coding