This is the eighteenth 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
This author discusses Book of Mormon prophets, Old and New Testament prophets, and modern prophets.
An example of the author’s methodology:
To catalog the evidence here, we’re going to have to catalog some prophetic mistakes. We can consider this a sampling of the most public errors available from modern prophetic figures. I’ll emphasize that these are alleged errors—it’s certainly possible that each of these represent exactly what God would have preferred to happen. Obviously I don’t have the space to go into depth on any of these topics, but I’ve tried to link you to the most detailed scholarly sources available on each.
Temple in Independence, Missouri. The D&C is quite clear that a temple would be built on the temple lot in Independence, with the implication that it would be soon. We can hold out hope for the future, but it does seem to be a bit of an embarrassing delay.
Kirtland Safety Society. It would be tough, indeed, to argue that Joseph made perfect and perfectly inspired decisions in his handling of the financial affairs of the church in the Kirtland period.
Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor. Though Joseph’s martyrdom may have ultimately been the will of God, there’s an argument to be made that destroying the Expositor’s press was a tactical error that did little to protect the saints and hastened the prophet’s demise.
Joseph and the Moon. Joseph saw many things in his visions. The surface of the moon was not one of them. Though he probably didn’t say this, both he and Brigham likely believed it, as did a number of prominent scientific minds at the time.
Joseph’s Millennial Prophecy. This one isn’t fair, since it’s obvious from the text that Joseph wasn’t at all sure what to make of the Savior’s cryptic communication, but in that case the mistake may have been in publicly sharing something that he wasn’t sure about.
Queens of the Earth Paying Homage. Joseph made a rather bold prediction that the queens of the earth would pay homage to the Relief Society within 10 years of its founding. This doesn’t seem to have occurred.
Calling Apostles Who Would Later Apostatize. There are a number of apostles who later would leave the church and fall short of their callings. An argument could be made that those issuing these callings could have exercised prophetic foresight and called only those who would remain faithful.
Handcart Companies. This one’s definitely debatable, but the tragedy of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies might not have happened if Brigham hadn’t chosen to institute handcarts in the first place.
Mountain Meadows. Brigham’s role in the massacre remains controversial, and though I think the historians behind Saints vol. 2 make a strong argument that he did not approve of or have knowledge of the massacre beforehand, critics could sincerely ask why prophetic insight didn’t allow him to prevent it.
Brigham’s Divorces. Brigham can’t take all the blame, since it takes two to tango, but the record would indicate that Brigham was not always the perfect husband (though I’m sure few mortals could ever succeed at spinning that many relational plates).
Joseph Fielding Smith and Evolution. I have no doubt that President Smith’s views were sincerely held, and that the evidence for evolution wasn’t nearly as incontrovertible then as it is now. But he was wrong, and his stance continues to be a stumbling block for many.
Forgeries of Mark Hoffmann. Though they had plenty of good company, it’s clear that the church was fooled, and fooled hard, by Mark Hoffman.
Baptizing Children of Gay Couples. Regardless of the correctness of the doctrine, the relative swiftness with which this policy was revoked suggests that the brethren themselves realized it was a bad idea, both in terms of PR and in terms of unintended consequences.
This presentation below is a follow-up to a similar presentation given 13 years ago. That previous presentation focused on how well Book of Mormon claims relative to Science and Archaeology issues were faring. Horses, steel, cement, etc.
Those scholars highlighted Book of Mormon claims from 1830 to today. And showed which claims were confirmed, trending, or still unconfirmed.
1830 – 1844: Critics mentioned 89 anachronisms from 1830 -1844. Only 5 of the 89 had been confirmed before Joseph Smith died.
1845 – 1965: sixty-one new criticisms had been added since 1844. The total number of anachronisms now totaled 150 by 1965. However, 22 were confirmed, 5 were trending, and 123 were still unconfirmed.
1966 – present: 55 new criticisms, bringing grand total to 205 Book of Mormon anachronisms. At this point, 141 are confirmed, 26 are trending, and 38 are unconfirmed.
70% have been confirmed. 81% are confirmed or trending. 19% are unconfirmed.
Some feel the Old Testament is largely fiction. Whales, arks, towers to heaven, Satan singling out Job, and more. Some feel the resurrection isn’t possible. Not historic. Same with other scriptures and miraculous events.
Removing some of the often-present confusion on this topic of historicity, Ben Spackman articulates the Bible has multiple genres.
In Ben’s own words: “Often times when reading scripture, the assumption is made that the text is either literal or figurative, but these two categories are insufficient to describe the different genres of scriptures.
It would be more helpful to approach the Bible as if it were a library that contained books of many different genre instead of being all the same type of writing. No Christian would presume to label all scripture as parable. Likewise all scripture should not be labeled as history. The Bible contains books of satire, law codes, poetry, parables, myth, conquest narratives, and prophetic revelation among other things…”
A special focus on Book of Mormon historicity below:
Brant Gardners 2004 FAIR conference lecture, A Case for Historicity: Discerning The Book of Mormon Production Culture.
I’m excited to introduce Dr. Ugo Perego all the way from Italy. This is going to be the first of several conversations where we’re going to talk about DNA. You can think of this first episode as DNA 101 as we learn a little bit about DNA science, but we will continue to learn more about this big topic
DNA evidence seems to show that Native Americans came from Asia rather than from the Middle East as the Book of Mormon implies. Dr. Ugo Perego is a population geneticist. How does he explain this?
If you’ve listened to my interviews on the Book of Mormon, I’ve asked a few people, like Jim Vun Cannon and David Rosenvall about the Lemba Tribe in Africa. They’re a tribe that has Middle Eastern DNA, unlike Native Americans who don’t.
I asked Dr. Ugo Perego about this tribe and we’ll get a good introduction into the Lemba Tribe. We’ll also talk a little bit about Viking DNA. Can that be distinguished from Columbus DNA? Check out our conversation…
In January 2014, the LDS Church produced a new Gospel Topics Essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon. I asked Dr. Ugo Perego if he had anything to do with writing that essay. I think you’ll find his answer very interesting.
We’ll also talk about Rodney Meldrum’s claim to have found DNA in Native Americans here in the Americas. Check out our conversation…..
Some people have been critical of Dr. Perego’s work, especially with regards to these paternity tests. In this episode, Ugo will discuss this criticism. Is he trying to hide something? Check out our conversation…
We’re continuing our conversation with David Rosenvall. He’s the guy who came up with who came up with the idea that the Book of Mormon lands may have occurred in the Baja Peninsula. We’ll also discuss some other issues with the Book of Mormon. Are there two Hill Cumorahs? What about steel swords? We’ll talk about that in this conversation….
In this episode we’re going to talk about the thorniest of all topics when it comes to the Book of Mormon: DNA.
Consider watching these YouTube videos on the reasons King James decided to authorize another bible at a time many other translations were available.
A five-minute summary:
Another short summary:
This is a series of detailed videos on the KJV
King James organized a committee of around 50 scholars into six separate subcommittees. They had very specific guidelines.
Usually committees and beaucracies don’t create good ideas, and certainly not masterpieces.
Who were the translators? Noted scholars, politicians, editors, adventurers, preachers, a drunk, and others were on the list. A broad composition of society.
The essence of the KJV was in fusing the two wings of the religious divide in England. The Puritans and the Anglicans.
Since many in England at the time were illiterate, the final revising committee read aloud the scriptures before approving them. All in England could hear and be inspired. Not all could read.
The text of the Bishops’ Bible would serve as the primary guide for the translators, and the familiar proper names of the biblical characters would all be retained. If the Bishops’ Bible was deemed problematic in any situation, the translators were permitted to consult other translations from a pre-approved list: the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible.
Forty unbound copies of the 1602 edition of the Bishops’ Bible were specially printed so that the agreed changes of each committee could be recorded in the margins.
A video on the Bishop’s Bible:
The entire documentary is found below. The fourth and final in the series can be found at the 45-minute mark below:
This video discusses the many bibles that predated the KJV. The interview takes place in a Christian’s library where many of these remarkable bibles are preserved.
Is the KJV the best translation? Is it the most accurate translation?
Myths: that surround the KJV
Errors can be found in the KJV. Latter-day Saints don’t believe the process was perfect. Neither do traditional Christian scholars. After all, the texts the KJV drew from — previous translations and manuscripts — had errors themselves.
The progression of Bibles:
A young Latter-day Saint shares a few thoughts:
Applications of the KJV to the Book of Mormon. A few thougths by Hugh Nibley on what the KJV of Isaiah are doing in the Book of Mormon:
LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote the following in response to a letter sent to the editor of the Church News section of the Deseret News. His response was printed in the Church News in 1961:
[One of the] most devastating argument[s] against the Book of Mormon was that it actually quoted the Bible. The early critics were simply staggered by the incredible stupidity of including large sections of the Bible in a book which they insisted was specifically designed to fool the Bible-reading public. They screamed blasphemy and plagiarism at the top of their lungs, but today any biblical scholar knows that it would be extremely suspicious if a book purporting to be the product of a society of pious emigrants from Jerusalem in ancient times did not quote the Bible. No lengthy religious writing of the Hebrews could conceivably be genuine if it was not full of scriptural quotations.
…to quote another writer of Christianity Today [magazine], “passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,” and that it quotes, not only from the Old Testament, but also the New Testament as well.
As to the “passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,” we first ask, “How else does one quote scripture if not bodily?” And why should anyone quoting the Bible to American readers of 1830 not follow the only version of the Bible known to them?
Actually the Bible passages quoted in the Book of Mormon often differ from the King James Version, but where the latter is correct there is every reason why it should be followed. When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext? Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original? Do they give their own inspired translations?
No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so? Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament. When “holy men of God” quote the scriptures it is always in the received standard version of the people they are addressing.
We do not claim the King James Version or the Septuagint to be the original scriptures—in fact, nobody on earth today knows where the original scriptures are or what they say. Inspired men have in every age have been content to accept the received version of the people among whom they labored, with the Spirit giving correction where correction was necessary.
Since the Book of Mormon is a translation, “with all its faults,” into English for English-speaking people whose fathers for generations had known no other scriptures but the standard English Bible, it would be both pointless and confusing to present the scriptures to them in any other form, so far as their teachings were correct.
What is thought to be a very serious charge against the Book of Mormon today is that it, a book written down long before New Testament times and on the other side of the world, actually quotes the New Testament! True, it is the same Savior speaking in both, and the same Holy Ghost, and so we can expect the same doctrines in the same language.
But what about the “Faith, Hope and Charity” passage in Moroni 7:45? Its resemblance to 1 Corinthians 13:] is undeniable. This particular passage, recently singled out for attack in Christianity Today, is actually one of those things that turn out to be a striking vindication of the Book of Mormon. For the whole passage, which scholars have labeled “the Hymn to Charity,” was shown early in this century by a number of first-rate investigators working independently (A. Harnack, J. Weiss, R. Reizenstein) to have originated not with Paul at all, but to go back to some older but unknown source: Paul is merely quoting from the record.
Now it so happens that other Book of Mormon writers were also peculiarly fond of quoting from the record. Captain Moroni, for example, reminds his people of an old tradition about the two garments of Joseph, telling them a detailed story which I have found only in [th’ Alabi of Persia,] a thousand-year-old commentary on the Old Testament, a work still untranslated and quite unknown to the world of Joseph Smith. So I find it not a refutation but a confirmation of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon when Paul and Moroni both quote from a once well-known but now lost Hebrew writing.
Now as to [the] question, “Why did Joseph Smith, a nineteenth century American farm boy, translate the Book of Mormon into seventeenth century King James English instead of into contemporary language?”
The first thing to note is that the “contemporary language” of the country-people of New England 130 years ago was not so far from King James English. Even the New England writers of later generations, like Webster, Melville, and Emerson, lapse into its stately periods and “thees and thous” in their loftier passages.
∗ ∗ ∗ Furthermore, the Book of Mormon is full of scripture, and for the world of Joseph Smith’s day, the King James Version was the Scripture, as we have noted; large sections of the Book of Mormon, therefore, had to be in the language of the King James Version—and what of the rest of it? That is scripture, too.
One can think of lots of arguments for using King James English in the Book of Mormon, but the clearest comes out of very recent experience. In the past decade, as you know, certain ancient nonbiblical texts, discovered near the Dead Sea, have been translated by modern, up-to-date American readers. I open at random a contemporary Protestant scholar’s modern translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what do I read? “For thine is the battle, and by the strength of thy hand their corpses were scattered without burial. Goliath the Hittite, a mighty man of valor, thou didst deliver into the hand of thy servant David.”
Obviously the man who wrote this knew the Bible, and we must not forget that ancient scribes were consciously archaic in their writing, so that most of the scriptures were probably in old-fashioned language the day they were written down. To efface that solemn antique style by the latest up-to-date usage is to translate falsely.
At any rate, Professor Burrows, in 1955 (not 1835!), falls naturally and without apology into the language of the King James Bible. Or take a modern Jewish scholar who purposely avoids archaisms in his translation of the Scrolls for modern American readers: “All things are inscribed before Thee in a recording script, for every moment of time, for the infinite cycles of years, in their several appointed times. No single thing is hidden, naught missing from Thy presence.” Professor Gaster, too, falls under the spell of our religious idiom. [A more recent example of the same phenomenon in the twenty-first century is discussed here.]
By frankly using that idiom, the Book of Mormon avoids the necessity of having to be redone into “modern English” every thirty or forty years. If the plates were being translated for the first time today, it would still be King James English!”
From FAIR Mormon on the topic of the use of the KJV by other scholars in their translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls:
“Even academic translators sometimes copy a previous translation if it serves the purpose of their translation. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided previously unknown texts for many Biblical writings. However, in some translations of the DSS, approximately 90% is simply copied from the KJV.
Surely we are not expected to believe that the DSS translators dropped back into King James idiom and just happened to come up with a nearly identical text! They, in fact, unabashedly copied the KJV, except where the DSS texts were substantially different from already known Hebrew manuscripts.
Why was this done? Because, the purpose of the DSS translation is to highlight the differences between the newly discovered manuscripts and those to which scholars already had access. Thus, in areas where the DSS manuscripts agree with the Biblical texts that were already known, the KJV translation is used to indicate this.
This is not to argue that there may not be a better way to render the text than the KJV—but, it would be counterproductive for the DSS committee spent a lot of time improving on the KJV translation. A reader without access to the original manuscripts could then never be sure if a difference between the DSS translation and the King James (or any other) translation represented a true difference in the DSS text, or simply the choice of the DSS translators to improve existing translations.
The situation with the Book of Mormon is likely analogous. For example, it is possible that most of the text to which the Nephites had access would not have differed significantly from the Hebrew texts used in later Bible translations. The differences in wording between the KJV and the Book of Mormon highlight the areas in which there were theologically significant differences between the Nephite versions and the Masoretic text, from which the Bible was translated.
Other areas can be assumed to be essentially the same. If one wants an improved or clearer translation of a passage that is identical in the Book of Mormon and the KJV, one has only to go to the original manuscripts available to all scholars. Basing the text on the KJV focuses the reader on the important clarifications, as opposed to doing a new translation from scratch, and distracting the reader with many differences that might be due simply to translator preference.
Since there is no such thing as a “perfect” translation, this allows the reader to easily identify genuine differences between the Isaiah texts of the Old World and the Nephites.”
The above title (and link) refers to a 2001 Master’s thesis. This thesis reviews the Isaiah variants found in these four texts: the Masoretic Text (MT), the Septuagint (LXX), the Qumran (Q) or Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), and the Book of Mormon MT, LXX, Q, and BoM Isaiah.
Nearly 80 pages of tables demonstrate the differences in Isaiah verses between the four versions.
This link shares the research done by John Tvedtnes: Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
It seems highly unlikely that Joseph Smith was better at inventing fictional languages than Tolkien was.
image above: A general view, facing south, of the west side of the Palmyra hill, near the summit. This is the general area where Moroni buried the plates. Large flat-faced rocks, like those shown in the foreground, are common on the hill.
Abstract: The story of Joseph Smith retrieving gold plates from a stone box on a hillside in upstate New York and translating them into the foundational text of the Restorationis well known among Latter-day Saints. While countless retellings have examined these events in considerable detail, very few have explored the geological aspects involved in this story. In particular, none have discussed in detail the geological materials that would have been required by the Nephite prophet Moroni ca. ad 421 to construct a sealed container able to protect the gold plates from the elements and from premature discovery for some fourteen centuries. This paper reports the outcomes from a field investigation into what resources would have been available to Moroni in the Palmyra area. It was conducted by the authors in New York state in October 2017.
Two significant hills near the Smith farm:
Note the many drumlins in Upstate NY and their north-to-south orientations:
In the Palmyra area, most of the drumlins consist of a mix of stratified or layered gravels and sands. However, near the Palmyra hill is one today named Miners Hill, which is an exception: it is predominately formed of clay — something that might well have played an important role in the making of Moroni’s stone box.
Joseph described the box:
Joseph Smith described the box and its location: “On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth. …
The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.”
Oliver Cowdery’s description:
Oliver goes on to describe the relative dimensions of the box, including the fact that it “was sufficiently large to admit a breast-plate, such as was used by the ancients to defend the chest, etc. from the arrows and weapons of their enemy.
From the bottom of the box, or from the breast-plate, arose three small pillars composed of the same description of cement used on the edges; and upon these three pillars was placed the record of the children of Joseph.” For the purposes of this study, however, our focus will remain on the nature of the construction materials: stones and cement.
This image below demonstrates what the box may have looked like and uses Oliver’s account to describe the box:
The Book of Mormon shares that the Nephites knew how to use cement:
became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell … And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. (Helaman 3:7, 11)
Moroni thus grew up within a culture in which making cement using the abundant limestone of the region was already a common skill or technology.
Interesting note about clay, a required ingredient in cement:
As clay is almost unknown in the Palmyra area, the clay that Moroni needed was the most challenging ingredient for us to locate. As noted earlier, however, some 3 km (~2 miles) due north of the Palmyra hill is a smaller drumlin called Miner’s Hill.
Perhaps uniquely in the area, this hill consists almost entirely of fine clay. According to the current land [Page 248]owner, who allowed the New York Highway Department to mine it, it is the only location in the area that serves as a source of clay.
Additional details of the box and location on the hill in this article: Hill Cumorah.
What ever happened to the box?
Two surviving accounts are our sources for this likely outcome. The first was General Authority (First Council of the Seventy) Edward Stevenson (d. 1897) who published an account in 1893 about interviewing an “old man” living near the hill:
Questioning him closely he stated that he had seen some good-sized flat stones that had rolled down and lay near the bottom of the hill. This had occurred after the contents of the box had been removed and these stones were doubtless the ones that formerly composed the box. I felt a strong desire to see these ancient relics and told him I would be much pleased to have him inform me where they were to be found. He stated that they had long since been taken away.
The other is a report in which David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, had stated:
Three times [David Whitmer] has been at the Hill Cumorah and seen the casket that contained the tablets and seerstone. Eventually the casket has been washed down to the foot of the hill, but it was to be seen when he last visited the historic place.
Read this Primary lesson that details the many ways the plates were hidden — decayed part of a tree, in a knapsack, under a fireplace, in a shed, in a barrel of beans — after getting into Joseph’s possession.