Who really wrote the Book of Mormon? This major question has been asked since the book’s first publication, and much effort has been expended towards refuting the claim by Joseph Smith that its modern-day origination began with an Angel by the name of Moroni.
Reformed Egyptian and the Book of Mormon
Since Lehi and his people came from Jerusalem, we would expect that he spoke and wrote Hebrew. But like many cultures that intermingle with one another, not only does the spoken language change somewhat, but the written word as well. The United States of America is a good example of this: our spoken and written English is somewhat different from that which is found in England; not even counting the influences from such countries as Ireland, France, Germany, Mexico, and others.
With this in mind, we have a better understanding of why Nephi, the first writer encountered in the Book of Mormon, said, “...I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” (1 Ne. 1:2.)
The last one to make record in the book was Moroni. In his note concerning the plates of Mormon, he wrote, “...we have written this record..., in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our [metal] plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.” (Mormon 9:32-34.)
From what we have read, it is evident that the Nephites knew both Hebrew and at least a little Egyptian. The mention of “reformed Egyptian” tends to tell us that their written Hebrew language had been altered somewhat, most likely for expedience.
Professor Hubert Grimme has shown that some ancient engravings on the Sinai peninsula, (dating to about 1500 B.C.), were in the pure Hebrew language but the script was hieratic Egyptian that had been “some what changed”. (Hubert Grimme, Prof. of Semitic Language at Munster University. pub. in Althebraische Inschriften vom Sinai.) (Right: Evolution of basic forms of hieroglyphic.)
Also, according to Michael D. Coe (author of Breaking the Maya Code, Emeritus Yale Anthropologist, and a leading expert on the Mayan Language), “Mayan writing is in many ways similar to Egyptian, using logographs along with phonetic indicators.” (Gugliotta, 2002.) (Left: Micmac Indian language with identical look and meanings as Egyptian.)
And the “Micmac language was discovered by Catholic priests in 1609 when, as they preached to the Indians, they were shocked to see them taking notes in a strange language. The priests copied the characters, which much later were compared to hieroglyphs used by ancient Libyans and Egyptians and found to have many of the same meanings!”(1)
Hebraisms of the Book of Mormon
To help clear the public mind on certain issues, the Prophet Joseph Smith commenced writing a history of the church. In so doing, he gave comment concerning the title page of the Book of Mormon, in which he said,
"I wish to mention here that the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general [mean from right to left]; and that said title page is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation. Therefore, in order to correct an error, which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the title-page of the English version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the title-page of the original Book of Mormon as recorded on the plates. "(History of the Church, 1:8:71.)
Since the Book of Mormon is to be a literal translation from the plates which Joseph received, one would expect to find use of idiomatic speech that is rather Hebraic.
The following few paragraphs will be direct quotes taken from an article entitled, “Hebrew Idioms in the Small Plates of Nephi,” as found in The Improvement Era by Professor E. Craig Bramwell, of the Department of Education at Brigham Young University:
Speaking on the subject of the “compound subject,” Dr. Bramwell wrote, “The usage of the compound subject in the Book of Mormon is a striking indication that this scripture was written by persons versed in Hebrew. The presence of this phenomenon would also seem to evidence a rather literal translation of the Book of Mormon...
“In Hebrew construction, a rule states that when a compound subject is composed of different persons, the first person precedes the second, and the second precedes the third. An example of this is seen in 1 Kings 1:21: ‘I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders.’ In the Small Plates [of Nephi] there are several similar instances, such as ‘I and my brethren’ or ‘I and my father.’ This is poor English but excellent Hebrew. Not in any instance has the writer found a case in the Small Plates in which the first person has not been placed before the second or the third.”
Turning his attention to the “conjunction,” Professor Bramwell said, “Another grammatical construction in the Book of Mormon which bears the earmarks of Hebrew is the ever-recurring use of the conjunction and. Hebrew sentence structure is relatively simple, somewhat like the speech of children. ... The Hebrews are such an "and" loving people they exhibit a dislike even to begin a sentence without its use; even books are commenced with it. [Such as Leviticus and Numbers.]
“One need only to read a few verses in the Small Plates [of Nephi] to determine that this Hebrew pattern of construction is observed.
“‘And it came to pass that when I, Jacob, had spoken these words, the power of the Lord came upon him, insomuch that he fell to the earth. And it came to pass that he was nourished for the space of many days.’” [Jacob 7:15.]
“‘And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.’
“‘And he said: I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him. And because I have thus lied unto God I greatly fear lest my case shall be awful; but I confess unto God.’” [Jacob 7:18-19.]
Professor Bramwell continued: “Another characteristic employment of this same conjunction is that if several nouns are coupled by its use, the possessive pronoun, if used, must be repeated with each noun. This principle of usage is demonstrated in the Small Plates: “...for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations;” “... And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things,...” “...slaying food by the way, with our bows, and our arrows and our stones and our slings.” [1 Nephi 1:19; 2:4.)
“Parenthetically,” Dr. Bramwell noted, “it is observed that similarly the preposition is repeated before each word when several words are united under the power of the preposition. A few instances are cited from the Old Testament first: ‘I will betroth them unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies.’ (Hosea 2:19.) ... The Small Plates contain many examples of this rule. In 1 Nephi 14:1 one reads ‘...if the Gentiles shall hearken unto the Lamb of God in that day he shall manifest himself unto them in words, and also in power, in very deed....’ Another example is found in 1 Nephi 16:23: ‘...wherefore I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones.’” (The Improvement Era, July 1961, pp. 496-497, 517.)
Professor E. Craig Bramwell stated other Hebrew idioms in the Book of Mormon, such as the Hebrew use of a comparatively small vocabulary, which is also displayed in the Book of Mormon; but, for now, we shall move on to other items of interest.
The Book of Mormon reflects a number of Hebrew idioms. Many expressions in the book do not belong to the English language, but rather to the language from which the book was translated. Many expressions found in the Book of Mormon are ungrammatical in English but perfect in Hebrew.
In the first edition of the book, the words, “that” and “which,” are used instead of “who” or “whom.” A sample of this is in a more modern-English version of the Book of Mormon. In the original 1830 edition (p. 482) we can read, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”; but in 3 Nephi 13:9 of a newer edition of the book we read, “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
Such changes in the Book of Mormon from the original 1830 edition rather upsets some Book of Mormon purists because it takes away from the original feel and meaning, of some passages. The word, “which,” is perfectly good Hebrew, for the relative pronoun “aser” is used for both human and non-human, as well as for place relationship.
The following is a short comparative list of a few word-forms; one is in typical English, and the other is in typical Hebrew and as found in the Book of Mormon:
TYPICAL ENGLISH..........TYPICAL HEBREW AND THE BOOK OF MORMON
Iron rod................................Rod of iron (Psalm 2:9 & 1 Ne. 8:19)
Probation..............................State of probation (2 Ne. 2:21)
Brass plates...........................Plates of brass (1 Kings 7:30 & 1 Ne. 3:12)
Promised land.......................Land of promise (Heb. 11:9 & 2 Ne. 1:3)
There are very few adverbs in Hebrew. The use of a preposition to produce an adverb is common in Hebrew, and is also common in the Book of Mormon. Just a few examples are:
TRUE ENGLISH ADVERBS..........COMMON HEBREW AND THE BOOK OF MORMON
Gladly...............................................With gladness (2 Ne. 28:28)
Patiently...........................................With patience (Alma 1:25)
Abundantly.......................................In abundance (1 Ne. 18:24)
Spiritually.........................................In the spirit (2 Ne. 27:35)
Worthy.............................................Of worth (2 Ne. 25:8)
In the Book of Mormon, the word ‘towards” is often used where we would expect the word “to.” thus, in Joseph Smith’s near-literal translation, we read that Nephi “...went forth towards the house of Laban,” (1 Ne. 4:5), instead of saying, “went forth to the house of Laban.”
Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon
Among the distinct evidences of the Book of Mormon’s relationship to ancient Hebrew we find its unique literary structure — the chiasmus. It is also found in ancient Greek and Latin, and some English, but not developed as highly as in the Hebrew. Very simply, a chiasmus is a type of literary parallelism where two or more thoughts are stated, then repeated in the reverse order.
The chiasmus is a particular way of writing that is found, not only in the Book of Mormon, but in the Bible, and in other ancient Middle Eastern literature. The chiasmus is a very complex form of parallelism and is distinctive in that the repeated forms occur in reverse order. This singular structure has the power to communicate its message at various levels at the same time. The chiasmus remained a common literary form to the Hebrews until the first century after Christ, when it and most of the Jewish world was destroyed.
When the Book of Mormon was first published, no living scholar knew anything about chiasmus, nor even contemplated such a Hebraic literary device. It was not until the middle to later 19th century that the biblical chiasmus was rediscovered. Ten years after the death of Joseph Smith (1854), John Forbes’ book, The symmetrical Structures of Scripture, was published in Scotland. So the rediscovery of the chiasmus came too late to be of value to Joseph Smith. Even prominent scholars today know little about chiasmic form beyond its name and a few Biblical passages where it might be found. Let’s, then, take a moment and just see what a chiasmus really is, and why ancient prophets wrote using this unique literary structure.
The chiastic form was originally Hebrew, and dates to at least 1000-800 B.C. The structure is found in Isaiah, Psalms, Revelation, and other books of the Bible. The “chi” is the Greek “X”, meaning to mark with an “X.” Thus, a chiasm takes on the apparent form of an “X.”A simple chiastic structure would be something like what we find in some nursery rhymes and poems, although such literary construction is usually for pure esthetic purposes, instead of by literary design. A popular nursery rhyme with this form of construction might be, “Old King Cole”:
(a) Old King Cole was a (b) merry old soul, (a – b)
and a (b) merry old soul (a) was he. (b – a)
One simple example of this literary form found in scripture is Matthew 10:39:
He that (a) findeth his life shall (b) lose it: (a – b)
and he that (b) loseth his life for my sake shall (a) find it. (b – a)
A much more complex structural example can be found in Isaiah 60:1-3. This example is taken from a more thorough translation than found in the King James.
......c. For thy light is come,
........d. And the glory
..........e. Of Yahweh
.............f. Upon thee is risen
...............g. For behold, dimness shall cover the earth
...............g’ And gross darkness the peoples.
.............f’ But upon thee will arise
........d’ And his glory shall upon thee be seen
......c’ And nations shall come to thy light
....b’ And kings to the brightness
.a’ Of thy rising.
Chiasmus was attractive to the ancient Hebrew. First, chiasms are easy to memorize and are very useful for those with an historical oral tradition. In 1942, Nils Lund published a set of rules for the chiasmic form. Here are three of the basic rules:
1.) The center of the passage is always the turning point (the main thought).
2.) Identical ideas will often be distributed so as to occur at the beginning, middle, and end of a chiasm, but nowhere else.
3.) There is often a mixture of direct parallel and inverted parallel lines in the same unit.
Not only can the chiastic structure be found in a singular verse, but an entire chapter, or parts of chapters can form a chiasmus. Even an entire work can be in this complex structure.
In the Book of Mormon, 1st Nephi has been shown to be a large and complex chiasm from beginning to end, while 2nd Nephi is simply a narrative without form.
Ch. 1.........a. Lehi’s dream leads him to PROPHESY WARNINGS to the Jews.
Ch. 2...........b. The DEPARTURE from Jerusalem.
Ch. 3-5.........c. Nephi accomplishes a great FEAT in obtaining the brass plates;
the brothers are confounded. (1 Nephi 3:7)
Ch. 7................d. ISHMAEL joins the group with his daughters.
Ch. 8...................e. The Tree of Life
Ch. 10...................f. Lehi prophesies about the OLD WORLD and the coming of the Lamb.
Ch. 11......................g. Nephi and the Spirit of the Lord.
Ch. 12-14..............f’ Nephi prophesies about the NEW WORLD and the coming of the Lamb.
Ch. 15..................e’ The Tree of Life interpreted
Ch. 16...............d’ The sons of Lehi marry the daughters of ISHMAEL, and ISHMAEL dies.
Ch. 17.............c’ Nephi accomplishes a great FEAT by building a ship;
the brothers are confounded. (1 Nephi 17:3)
Ch. 18..........b’ The DEPARTURE from the Old World.
Ch. 19-22..a’ Nephi WARNS the Jews and quotes the PROPHECIES of Isaiah.
The remainder of this discussion on chiasmus will be taken from a particular web site, as was the previous chiastic structure of Chapters 1-22 of 1st Nephi, above.(2)
“John Welch points out several interesting insights: ‘Should we consider it contrived that Ishmael is mentioned only twice in the entire Book of Mormon and that these two occurrences just happen to fall symmetrically around 1 Nephi 11 (chapters 7 and 16)? How else, except by chiasmus, can we explain the postponed interpretation of the vision of the tree of life? One would expect the interpretation to follow immediately after the dream, as most interpretive passages in the Book of Mormon do, and not several chapters later.’
“’Are we to believe that the unruly brothers of Nephi really waited nine chapters to marry the daughters of Ishmael: are we to neglect such specific parallels between the first half of 1 Nephi and its second half--e.g. 3:7 and 17:3--or again the fact that Nephi wrote two books (1 Nephi and 2 Nephi) instead of just running it all together into one, except by reference to the individual structure of each book?’
“The prophet Alma uses chiasmus to very forcefully protray his conversion process. His experience is related in the book of Mosiah but only here in the 36th chapter of the book of Alma does he use chiasmus in relating the experience to present a powerful message to his son. Verses in parentheses.
a. My son, give ear to my words (1)
..b. Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land (1)
....c. Do as I have done (2)
......d. Captivity of our fathers--their bondage (2)
........e.He surely did deliver them (2)
..........f. Trust in God (3)
............g. Support in trials, troubles and afflictions (3)
...............h. I know this not of myself but of God (4)
.................i. Born of God (5)
...................j. Alma seeks to harm the church (6)
.....................k. Limbs paralyzed (10)
.......................l. Fear of the presence of God (14)
........................m. Pains of a damned soul (16)
...........................n. Alma remembers Jesus Christ (17)
..............................o. Christ will atone for the sins of the world (17)
...........................n’ Alma calls upon Jesus Christ (18)
........................m’ Joy as exceeding as the pain (20)
.......................l’ Longing to be with God (22)
.....................k’ Use of limbs returns (23)
...................j’ Alma seeks to bring souls unto God (24)
.................i’ Born of God (26)
...............h’ My knowledge is of God (26)
............g’ Supported under trials, troubles, and afflictions (27)
..........f’ Trust in him (27)
........e’ He will deliver me (27)
......d’ Egypt--captivity (28-29)
....c’ Know as I do know (30)
..b’ Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land (30)
a’ This is according to his word (30)
“From John Welch: ‘Given our twentieth-century understanding of chiastic writings and their historical occurrences, this one chapter is strong evidence that the Book of Mormon was not written in the nineteenth century.’
“’This chapter is as extensive and precise as any chiastic passage I am aware on in ancient literature. Besides having practical structural value, chiasmus has a distinct charm and beauty in a passage such as this. The first ten verses and the last eight form an artistic frame around the central motif which contrasts the agony of conversion with the joy of conversion. In the center Alma makes this contrast explicit, when he says in verse 20, ‘my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain.’ No literary device could make this contrast more forcefully than chiasmus. Moreover, chiasmus allows Alma to place the very turning point of his entire life exactly at the turning point of this chapter: Christ, because of the effects of the future atonement, belongs at the center of both. Compared with the antithetic parallelisms found in the recounting of this incident recorded in Mosiah 27, the chiasmus in Alma 36 is monumental and meaningful.’”
“To those who might say that Joseph Smith just included these examples of chiasmus because he noticed it in the Bible, let me add.
“1. The King James translation reorders some of the phrases and the chiasmic structure is not evident.
“2. It takes a great deal of time and effort to write chiasmic passages, and what reason would he have had to write them anyway?
“3. If he did expend the effort to write chiasmic passages, doesn’t it seem strange that he didn’t try to exploit that effort by pointing it out?
Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon
Akin to the chiasmus structure in literature is “parallelism.” This form of writing uses key words or phrases in a repetitive manner creating a parallelistic structure which brings the entire work to a climax.
Both direct parallel and symmetric parallel patterns can occur on any scale from within a single sentence to extending over a whole book or group of books. For instance, there is:
1. A mid-scale direct parallel (with an introduction and an extension added) in Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3.
2. A small-scale symmetric parallel in Genesis 2:4.
3. A mid-scale symmetric parallel in Genesis 2:4 through Genesis 3:24, and
4. A large-scale symmetric parallel covering the entirety of the first Five Books of the Bible.
Let’s take the example of Genesis 2:4 for the sake of simplicity:
...(1) These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth
........(2) when they were created,
.............(3) in the day that the Lord God made
..................(4) the earth and the heavens.
Notice that this simple parallel structure is also in chiastric form. Donald W. Parry points to this simple form as found in Mormon 9:12-13:
Behold, he created
...(1) Adam, and by
........(2) the fall of man. And because of
the fall of man came
.............(3) Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of
Jesus Christ came the
..................(4) redemption of man. And because of the
redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ,
they are brought back into his presence.
Not only are these verses in parallel structure, but when analyzed properly, the reader will find they are also in the chiastic form.
Noel B. Reynolds points out that, “Not only does the recognition of parallelistic structures enrich our reading of the Book of Mormon, it also constitutes one more impressive challenge to Book of Mormon critics. In addition to explaining how Joseph Smith could have written the book, they now must explain how he could have silently introduced such beautiful examples of Hebrew poetic structures.(3)
Wordprint and the Book of Mormon
What in the world is “wordprint” you might ask? From one web site we find that, “Wordprinting, or ‘stylometry’ as it is more commonly known, is the science of measuring literary style. The main assumption underlying stylometry is that an author has aspects of literary style that may be unconsciously used, and can be used to identify their work. Stylometrists analyze literature using statistics, math formulas and artificial intelligence to determine the “style” of an author’s writing.
“Because authors may write on a variety of topics, the vocabulary they use may vary considerably. Researchers often attempt to use ‘non-contextual words’ in their analyses to avoid this problem: patterns in the use of these words (e.g. such as: and, if, the, etc.) will be less influenced by a change in subject matter.
“Debate about the value of wordprints persists, though it has been used in some academic settings to identify previously-unknown authors... The statistical analyses are not generally disputed; the points of contention revolve around the assumptions which undergird the statistics.”(4)
In 1982, Wayne A. Larsen and Alvin C. Rencher, two professors of statistics at Brigham Young University, presented the first comprehensive statistical wordprint study of the Book of Mormon. Using computerized text and powerful statistical techniques, they were able to establish that the different sections of the Book of Mormon were authored by different people and that none was authored by Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, or any other writer put forth by Book of Mormon critics.
Applied physicist John L. Hilton and five of his fellow scientists at Berkeley (three of them non-Mormon), repeated that study using a wholly different and more objective form of wordprinting analysis. Again, different authors were detected, and none corresponded to anyone known in the 19th-century. Also, Hilton even used these same techniques to help the FBI identify possible authors of the Unabomber’s Manifesto.
The Berkeley Group’s more sophisticated method relied on non-contextual word patterns, rather than just individual words. This more conservative method was designed from the ground up, and required works of at least 5,000 words. The Berkeley Group’s methods have since passed peer review,...
Professor Hilton and his Berkeley Group compared Book of Mormon texts written by Nephi and Alma with themselves, with each other, and with work by Joseph, Oliver, and Solomon Spaulding (Spaulding being one of those whom critics claim originally authored the Book of Mormon). I won’t go into the fancy charts and graphs used to show their results, the reader can access those from the a number of web sites. But part of the results state that the chance of Nephi and Alma being the same author is 0.000000000000015 =1.5 x 10-14. This is a roughly 1 in 15 trillion chance of Nephi and Alma having the same author. Hilton rightly terms this “statistical overkill.”
“As John Hilton put the matter, if wordprinting is a valid technique, then this analysis suggests that it is ‘statistically indefensible’ to claim that Joseph, Oliver, or Solomon Spaulding wrote the 30,000 words in the Book of Mormon attributed to Nephi and Alma. The Book of Mormon also contains work written by more than one author. Critics who wish to reject Joseph’s account of the Book of Mormon’s production must therefore identify multiple authors for the text, and then explain how Joseph acquired it and managed to pass it off as his own.”(5)
Yes, the critics have cited their own supposed wordprint authorities in support of proposed claims, but such statistics have been proven as non-objective or thorough as the more up-to-date wordprint studies show. However, it appears the critics continue to offer their outdated research, that many web sites contain, which continue to skew the facts.
What we really find is that, due to the sophistication of wordprint analysis, the Book of Mormon critics have no grounds to support their claim that either Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Solomon Spaulding, or anyone else in modern times, authored the Book of Mormon. In fact, the wordprint statistics show that it was written by various authors (none of them modern), as the Book of Mormon aptly points out.
The Mormon antagonists and Book of Mormon critics, the Tanners of Utah, had the following to say about the book they so despise: “Our study of the Book of Mormon has extended over a period of thirty years and has led us to conclude that it is not an ancient or divinely inspired record, but rather a product of the nineteenth century.” Researcher, Russell C. McGregor, observed:
"The sense of this sentence is that they (the Tanners) rejected the Book of Mormon only after their thirty years of study. This would be true if their position on the subject had been neutral during that time, but it plainly has not. In reality, they have been actively publishing anti-Mormon material since at least the mid-70's, to my knowledge. It is therefore safe to conclude that they rejected the Book of Mormon fairly early in that thirty-year period. Actually the statement in question is a fairly standard anti-Mormon dodge: they are telling us that their conclusions are the product of their research, when in reality their conclusions were reached a priori and have entirely guided their research."(6)
From what we have considered in this chapter, it would have been practically impossible for Joseph Smith to have concocted the Book of Mormon from his own imagination, nor would it have been possible for him to have plagiarized it from some other author. For neither he nor anyone else, for that matter, was hardly acquainted with:
1. Reformed Egyptian, the Hebrew script that had been somewhat changed by hieratic Egyptian; or
2. Many of the Hebraisms and idiomatic word-forms found in Hebrew literature, especially the Bible compared to common English, and with which the Book of Mormon is packed; or
3. The chiasmus structure in the Bible and some Hebrew literature, that no one knew existed during the days of Joseph Smith, but is brought to a fine art in the Book of Mormon; or
4. The use of Parallelisms in the Bible, and with which is found in abundance in the Book of Mormon; and
5. The modern-day discovery of “wordprint” analysis which demonstrates that it was virtually impossible for Joseph Smith, or any known modern author, to have contrived the text of the Book of Mormon without some superintending providence; showing that
6. If Nephi and Alma was not written by the same author, then it also means that Joseph Smith did not write them, nor did any other single individual; and that
7. If Joseph Smith did write the Book of Mormon, he would have had to write in at least twelve or more different styles, all different from his own.
How or why was Joseph Smith so intellectually endowed to have written such a work as the Book of Mormon within only 60-90 days, taking into consideration all of the above literary anomalies, which is the time it took him to translate the plates? Does anyone really have an answer, other than divine intervention?