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Interpreting Interpreter
Turns Out It’s Not Plagiarism

This post is a summary of the article “The Plagiary of the Daughters of the Lamanites” by Alan Goff in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Goff argues that the story of King Noah’s priests stealing the daughters of the Lamanites is in keeping with the ancient literary practice of using and building on themes from earlier stories (i.e., the kidnapping of the daughters of Shiloh in Judges 21), and appears to align with an ancient understanding of the nature and purpose of historical narrative.


The Summary

In this article, Alan Goff argues against the common assertion that the stories of the Book of Mormon are transparent plagiarisms of biblical narratives, focusing on Mosiah 20 and the tale of the priests of Noah stealing the daughters of the Lamanites. According to Goff, these charges ignore the frequent examples of allusion and analogy within those biblical stories, which often use repeated patterns and themes (e.g., the narrative of a patriarch who passes off his wife as his sister, repeated in Genesis 12, 20, and 26). Scholars suggest that ancient stories of marriage-by-abduction are so common that they represent an alternative marital strategy in the ancient world, not just among Hebrews but also the Greeks and Romans, among others.

Noting its broader biblical context, Goff shows how the story of the abduction of the daughters of Shiloh in Judges itself draws from and alludes to prior biblical and non-biblical abduction narratives. Goff notes that such references are rarely framed as crude plagiarism, and are instead described using terms like “allusion, intertextuality, typology, or citation”. According to Goff, the point of the story is lost if readers can’t recognize the allusion, as a major part of an ancient understanding of history was that events tend to repeat. Rather than one story being completely reliant on another, multiple stories can be examples of type scenes—stories that create a foundation narrative that establishes reader expectations and allows authors to highlight important deviations.

In that light, (and in light of Hebrew norms of sexual assault) Goff examines the story of the theft of the Lamanite daughters, finding that it seems to correspond more closely to Greco-Roman theft stories than to the Judges narrative. In addition, the connections it does show with Judges may be deeper and more interesting than would be implied by straightforward plagiarism (e.g., a shared ritual context). Goff suggests that we would be better off asking what this narrative repetition means instead of writing one story off as derivative. In this case, he argues that its inclusion highlights the “interpretive continuity between the New Testament or Book of Mormon and the intellectual world of the Tanakh”, and what tends to happen “when people do what is right in their own eyes and wrong in God’s”. In particular, it emphasizes the perils associated with wicked kings, perils that are resolved very differently in the Book of Mormon and Old Testament.

As Goff concludes:

Revisionist Book of Mormon readings require that the book be shallow. But while the book asserts its plainness, superficial the book is not. Reducing the sophistication of the scripture to these crude readings simply doesn’t do justice to the text.


The Reflection

Charges of plagiarism are very easy to make, and though tough to prove, they’re almost as tough to disprove. The ease with which they’re made reflects a very low barrier to entry—if the mind can make even the most tenuous of connections, budding plagiarism charges are sure to blossom. Supporting evidence is usually unnecessary–if the charge can be expressed, it can be believed, and that’s usually the only rhetorical consideration on offer. Worse, such charges almost never travel alone—as one is defeated, two more generally rise to take its place. Throw in a bit of mind-reading and psychological profiling for good measure, and those making such charges sound like prophets in their own right—sage scholars ahead of their time drawing insights no one else dare piece together. Goff’s analysis is a welcome reminder that taking the harder road—a road that takes the Book of Mormon’s claim seriously—will often reward the diligent and penitent traveler, even if it’s the road less taken.

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