Curiously Unique: Joseph Smith as Author of the Book of Mormon

Brian Hales produced a wonderful accumulation of information about the Book of Mormon, including data on the following:


– Author Age
– Author Education
– Book word count
– Book complexity
– Composition timeline
– Composition methodology

Listen to the podcast below:

https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/jnlartaudio/hales-v31-2019-pp151-190-AUDIO.mp3

JRR Tolkien and the Book of Mormon

Fascinating article:    What J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works Can Teach Us About the Book of Mormon:   New Study Reveals

Article text below:

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Skeptics have sometimes compared the Book of Mormon to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, including his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings. If, they reason, Tolkien could create an entire imaginary world, with a large and detailed geography and a complex history that involves multiple ethnic groups, wars, and intricate subplots, it’s surely not impossible to imagine that Joseph Smith might have done the same.

Of course, there are some differences between them. For example, Joseph Smith was a marginally literate frontier farmer who dictated the Book of Mormon in less than three months and always insisted that it represented genuinely ancient history.

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By contrast, Tolkien, who created his Middle Earth over the course of many decades and never claimed it was other than fiction, was an accomplished philologist and translator. He taught at Oxford University as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and then as the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature.

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However, a new comparison of the Book of Mormon to the works of Tolkien is well worth considering. In their intriguing article “Comparing Book of Mormon Names with Those Found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works: An Exploratory Study,” four Brigham Young University professors — Brad Wilcox (ancient scripture), Wendy Baker-Smemoe (linguistics), Bruce L. Brown (psychology, with specialization in the psychology of language), and Sharon Black (education, with a focus on writing and editing) — look specifically at the unusual names found within both Tolkien’s books and the Book of Mormon. (It’s published on mormoninterpreter.com, of which I am the chairman and president.)

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They focus on “phonemes,” the smallest units of sound, using a hypothetical construct that they term a “sound print” or “phonoprint.” This is a pattern of sound that — rather like the individual “wordprint” seems to characterize different writers or like the fingerprints that are used to identify and specify the perpetrators of criminal acts — appears to be distinctively characteristic of individual authors and could, therefore, serve to differentiate one writer from another.

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“Traditionally,” say the authors of this new study, “words have been seen as the smallest building blocks over which authors have some freedom to choose. This new line of research expands the fundamental unit of text into phonemes and proposes the possibility that we could produce a phonoprint that would differ from author to author. Despite that authors have fewer sounds with which to create words than they have words with which to create prose and poetry, there is some evidence that authors favor certain sounds over others when choosing or inventing names.”

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Using this fresh and unusual research approach in an “exploratory” fashion, the authors examine the dwarf, elvish, hobbit, and human names created by Tolkien, as well as the Jaredite, Nephite, Mulekite, and Lamanite names found in the Book of Mormon. Although Joseph Smith always maintained that he had translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient record, his critics have frequently claimed that he wrote it himself, just as any ordinary writer composes a fictional narrative. Presumably, if those critics are right, he would have chosen the names for his imaginary world, or created them, just as other writers of fiction do.

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Their summary of their findings is worth quoting:

“Results suggest that Tolkien had a phonoprint he was unable to entirely escape when creating character names, even when he claimed he based them on distinct languages. In contrast, in Book of Mormon names, a single author’s phonoprint did not emerge. Names varied by group in the way one would expect authentic names from different cultures to vary. . . . Thus the Book of Mormon name groups were significantly more diverse than Tolkien’s. . . . If the Book of Mormon names were created by an individual, they were created by a very different process or based on languages more different from each other and consistent within themselves than those created by Tolkien.”

For Tolkien, the invention of fictional languages was a lifelong hobby that contributed substantially to his creation of Middle Earth. He began developing “Elvish” in his late teens, for example, and was still working on its history and grammar at age 81 when he died in 1973.

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It seems highly unlikely that Joseph Smith was better at inventing fictional languages than Tolkien was.

Book of Mormon and Stylometry

Is Stylometry the Ultimate Proof that Joseph Smith Did Not Write the Book of Mormon?

The first few paragrahs:

“Stylometry examines the styles of writing in a text by identifying word-use patterns. It is “also known as computational stylistics [and] is a method of authorship attribution that uses …statistical techniques to infer the authorship of texts based on writing patterns. It tries to describe an author’s conscious and unconscious creative actions with quantifiable measures such as the frequency with which an author uses certain words or groupings of words. Stylometric analysis is based on the fundamental premise that authors write with distinctive, repeated patterns of word use.”1

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Comparison of the Book of Mormon to Novelists of the Same Time Period

In the past, Roper and Fields had used stylometry to show a consistency of authorship in Isaiah and the Pauline Epistles. But in this presentation, they chose to compare two novels each from Jane AustinCharles Dickens, James Fennimore CooperMark Twain with the Book of Mormon. Together these eight volumes have about the same number of words as the Book of Mormon, but contrast in voice, character development, and other aspects.

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Using a 3-D computer model, they showed a unity of authorship in each book written by contemporary authors along with the characters they each developed. They showed how these authors did not come close to the 119 characters developed in the Book of Mormon. That book shows four major authors or abridgers, who among them go on include many more writing styles from other Book of Mormon contributors.

For example, Mormon as a writer contributed about 36% of the words in the Book of Mormon with a central theme around war. Nephi is the next most prolific writer with a theme around family. He is followed by Alma with a theme of faith and Moroni with themes of ordinances and governance. In each of these themes, the writer of abridger developed 24 more writing styles with 24 other sentiments. This is far too many for Joesph Smith to keep track of and many more than the selected contemporary authors of the prophet.  In the same light, the 119 Book of Mormon characters shows narrative voices that eclipse any of the other contemporaries chosen.

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Together this was supposed to help the audience consider the impossibility of someone of Joseph Smith’s age and limited experience working with Oliver Cowdery over 60 working days to compose anything so complicated as the Book of Mormon. It worked for me and others in the audience.”

Fascinating study.  Check out the entire article above!