excerpt – An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself
“Joseph said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion.”1
Like others born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I wondered, as a young adult, whether my church—known informally as the Mormon or LDS Church and headquartered in Salt Lake City—was what it claimed to be. And like many other Mormons, I eventually found my answer in the Book of Mormon. This book of scripture is considered both the foundation upon which the church is built and its keystone. The religion founded by Joseph Smith is said to be built on either a firm foundation or a shaky one, standing or falling when the keystone remains in place or is removed. Thus, the Book of Mormon seemed like a logical place to find my answer.
The Book of Mormon gives accounts of two Old World peoples led by God to the Americas. The first, called the Jaredites, are said to have come from the Tower of Babel about 2200 BCE when the Lord scattered the people “upon the face of all the earth” (Ether 1:33; cf. Gen. 11:8). They live in the western hemisphere until about 600 BCE when they destroy themselves about the time other people arrive. Their history, through their civil war, is written by their last surviving prophet, Ether.
The second group, consisting of the prophet Lehi and his immediate family, and a few others, leaves Jerusalem, followed by another small group of Israelites. Lehi’s family divides into two factions. One of those follows Nephi, Lehi’s God-fearing son; the other follows Nephi’s rebellious oldest brother, Laman, and is cursed with a dark skin. The Nephites, being righteous, remain light-skinned and soon merge with the Mulekites, the other Israelite immigrants. Their history covers about 1,000 years and is written by Nephite prophets. Before their genocide, their accounts are condensed by a prophet named Mormon. It ends with another civil war in which the Lamanites destroy the Nephites and survive as Native Americans. Mormon’s son, Moroni, is the last surviving Nephite. Moroni condenses Ether’s history and hides it, along with Mormon’s condensed Nephite history, in a hill near Joseph Smith’s future home in Palmyra, New York.
In 1823, Moroni appears to Joseph Smith as an angel and reveals the location of the hidden records, which Moroni explains are engraved on gold plates and are buried alongside a supernatural instrument used for translating them. Joseph Smith is eventually permitted to retrieve the records in 1827 when he is not quite twenty-two years old. He dictates his translation to various scribes in 1828-29 and publishes it as the Book of Mormon in 1830.
In Defense of Evidence
One of the few things that defenders and critics of the Book of Mormon agree on is that the book is either what it purports to be or it is not; in short, it is either true or false. It is not, as some peacemakers have wanted to argue, inspired scripture that is not actual history.2 Defenders and critics disagree over whether faith or reason is the proper method for finding out, and as every Mormon knows, Moroni, in his last chapter of the book, tells readers to pray to know whether the Book of Mormon is “true.” Moroni exhorts readers to “ponder it” in their hearts, to “ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.” If we “ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it” unto us, we are told, “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moro. 10:3-4). Church leaders and LDS scholars alike quote Moroni as the means to know the Book of Mormon is the word of God.3 Two contributors to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism note that “the position of the Church … has invariably been that the truth of Joseph Smith’s testimony can be validated through the witness of the Holy Ghost.”4
Critics prefer evidence and reason over faith and prayer as the method for testing truth. In a classic science vs. religion argument—that is, evidence and reason vs. faith and prayer—a former LDS educator calls these opposing epistemologies rationalism and emotionalism. In other words, Moroni’s exhortation does not reflect the rationalism of the Enlightenment, which favors evidence and reason, but rather the evangelical Protestantism of Joseph Smith’s time and place, which favored faith and prayer. For Mormons, “personal inspiration” is favored over empiricism as “a higher means of substantiating the book’s antiquity.” American psychologist William James wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience, after studying hundreds of people who had received inspired promptings from God, that despite the reality of a religious experience to the recipient, it cannot be used as an actual source in determining truth because the conflicting claims of different mystics are “doctrinally incompatible.”5
It is not clear why we, as individuals, prefer one or the other method on questions of religion. It may be our worldview.6 For example, one LDS scholar insists that “mortals must live by faith” because “divine realities are veiled from their physical senses.”7 Another possibility is that we recognize early on the appeal of one orientation or the other. One LDS scholar said that for him, it was obvious from childhood “that the Book of Mormon is true” and he “never had any questions about the Book of Mormon that troubled [his] faith.”8 Another wrote that he had an “empirical bent,” through which “belief derives from evidence.”9 Perhaps it is not fixed in us at all because there are those who later change their reliance on evidence and reason to accept faith and prayer for answers or vice versa.10> But so long as we adhere to different preferences, we are likely to come to different results, as reflected in an exchange of several letters between two friends about their beliefs. One of them, who was active LDS, concluded: “I’m afraid that the river between us is still unbridged—and perhaps unbridgeable. The reason for that, as I see it, is essentially epistemological—I accept spiritual revelation as a valid way of knowing and you do not.”11
Why one person relies on faith and another on reason is a fascinating question but not one to be resolved here because regardless of which approach we use, there are at least two reasons why we should engage evidence and reason in examining the Book of Mormon. The first is that the Book of Mormon invites an evidentiary approach. LDS scholar and defender of the Book of Mormon Terryl Givens refers to the “artifactual reality” regarding the Book of Mormon plates and other ancient items found with them:
Why, one can fairly ask, should it be necessary to spiritualize what are, in essence, presented as archaeological artifacts? Dream-visions may be in the mind of the beholder, but gold plates are not subject to such facile psychologizing. They were, in the angel’s words, buried in a nearby hillside, not in Joseph’s psyche or religious unconscious, and they chronicle a history of this hemisphere, not a heavenly city to come. As such, the claims and experiences of the prophet are thrust irretrievably into the public sphere, no longer subject to his private acts of interpretation alone. It is this fact, the intrusion of Joseph’s message into the realm of the concrete, historical, and empirical, that dramatically alters the terms by which the public will engage this new religious phenomenon.12
Louis Midgley, in a review of Givens’s book, agrees and argues that the claims made by the Book of Mormon are “open to critical inspection by scholars using whatever means they have at their disposal,” that “the Book of Mormon does not ask to be shielded from such inspection.” In other words, artifactual reality “subjects the founding text to the exacting scrutiny of scholarship.”13
The second reason is that virtually every aspect of the book has been, in fact, examined by defenders and critics alike. Givens confirms that Mormons are “unwilling to forego the resources of scholarship in shoring up the Book of Mormon’s historicity.” “Church leaders,” he writes, “have taken to embracing the position of Austin Farrer: … ‘what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.’”14
Defenders examine the evidence extensively and deeply even though it remains for them secondary to a witness of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, in 1984, one LDS scholar noted that Book of Mormon scholarship was “so wide and deep today that no single person can possibly keep up on all aspects” of it.15 This was before the subsequent explosion in further research. In 2002, Givens was pleased to report that “researchers at BYU and FARMS [Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies] continue their work at a blistering pace,” that a 1995 bibliography listed over 6,500 entries on the Book of Mormon.16 Another LDS scholar regarded research as a way to “reinforce and encourage individual testimonies by fostering understanding and appreciation of the scriptures,” belief in which is ultimately “a matter of faith” and requires “divine witness.”17 Some LDS scholars refer to particular evidence not just as “fostering understanding and appreciation of the scriptures” but as strong, if not irrefutable, proof of the Book of Mormon’s historicity.18
In fact, LDS scholars aggressively defend the Book of Mormon with supportive evidence and by refuting critics and their evidence. For example, when critics pointed to the failure of archaeologists to find records of ancient Jewish people in the western hemisphere,19 an LDS anthropologist replied that there were Nephite records before the Native Americans destroyed them all.20
In other words, both defenders and critics of the Book of Mormon rigorously engage the evidence. Since 1830, both have offered arguments supporting or challenging the book’s historicity. Both have dealt with so-called “higher criticism,” which largely developed after 1830 but has added to our understanding of the Bible and to biblical material in the Book of Mormon. Historians have explored the religious excitement, or Second Great Awakening, that occurred in New York during the 1820s, as well as Masonic connections to Mormonism. Linguists, not having the gold plates to study because they were retrieved by the angel, have examined Joseph Smith’s translations of Egyptian papyri that are still extant. Darwinism, which came a generation after Joseph Smith, challenged the biblical account of creation, which is embedded in the Book of Mormon. Recent work in DNA confirms that Native Americans are Asiatic in origin.
All this can easily overwhelm anyone who wants to study it. Much of it is beyond the competence of any one person. Defenders and critics often interpret the evidence differently. “Most of us,” as one lawyer writes, are “in no position to determine who is right.”21 To enter this morass is daunting. In 1996, one scholar from the Community of Christ (then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) observed that “Mormon and non-Mormon scholars have debated the … origins of the Book of Mormon back and forth ad nauseam for a half century without resolution.”22
External and Internal Evidence
My own entry into Book of Mormon research began quite innocently. As a young lawyer, I acquired a reproduction of the first edition of the Book of Mormon. One issue in the air at that time was the significance of the changes in the book between the first edition and the 1920 version. Critics argued that changes discredited the book since it was supposed to have been translated by the gift and power of God. Defenders maintained that changes only corrected typographical errors or improved grammar and meant nothing. Critics countered that if the widely accepted account of the translation process was true—that Joseph Smith would bury his head in a hat with a seer stone and dictate to his scribe the translated words as they appeared to him, which would not disappear until they had been transcribed correctly—there was no room for any change, let alone changes that altered the meaning of the text. Defenders insisted that our knowledge of the translation process is sketchy and that the prophet who translated the book approved the changes.
With copies of the first and current editions in hand, I set out to find what the changes were and to determine whether the critics or defenders of the Book of Mormon were right. I read the current edition aloud while my wife noted each change in the first edition. When we finished, we had the facts. That alone was enormously satisfying. They affirmed what both sides had found, that there are anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 changes, depending on how one characterized them.23 Contrary to one argument of the defenders, few of the changes merely correct typographical errors. Most of them do improve on backwoods English, such as the change from “this they done” to “this they did” or from “unto them which” to “unto those who.” Indeed, Joseph Smith changed “which” to “who” 707 times for the 1837 edition.24 A few of the changes seemed to change the meaning, altering “behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father,” to “behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father” (1 Ne. 11:21; also 1 Ne. 11:18, 32; 13:40). Defenders insisted that this was just a clarification.
The changes were comforting in a sense, in that they were facts about which I could be certain. They were based on an examination of the Book of Mormon alone. The value of internal evidence is that it is accessible and verifiable by anyone. It does not change, and it is fairly understandable. As valuable as historical, linguistic, archaeological, and other external evidence is, it leaves room for disagreement and uncertainty because it is, by its nature, incomplete, hard to access, or difficult to understand. We know little for certain about the translation process (see chapter one). There is no consensus even among the faithful. If recollections of early witnesses are true and the translation was revealed word for word, there would seem to be no room for any but typographical changes. If, according to other accounts, Joseph Smith was inspired as he worked out the translation in his mind—if the translation had to filter through an imperfect agent—the result could reflect his vernacular and require later changes. Without an understanding of the process, the significance of the changes remained unclear. There seemed to be disagreement, especially between defenders and critics, on everything in Mormon history. Indeed, Mormon and non-Mormon scholars could have sharp differences with each other, such as Hugh Nibley responding to Fawn Brodie’s 1945 biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, with his 1946 pamphlet, No Ma’am, That’s Not History. Brodie, the niece of future church president David O. McKay, wrote her book to “answer a lot of questions” for herself and then, “having discovered the answers, … to give other young doubting Mormons a chance to see the evidence.”25 Nibley, with his recently completed PhD in ancient history, was to become, according to one writer, “the best-known and most highly revered of Latter-day Saint scholars.”26 Few would disagree. Brodie and Nibley have been praised and pilloried by their supporters and detractors since.
I felt unable to rely on historians, archaeologists, linguists, or others for sure knowledge about the Book of Mormon and turned to the book itself for what it could reveal about itself. Since each change from the first edition occurred and was a reliable fact, why not look to see what other facts were right there in the book itself? I felt I needed to begin with that in order to resolve in my own mind the disagreements among the experts. The facts might turn out to mean nothing by themselves, divorced from the wealth of historical, archaeological, geographic, linguistic, and other facts and interpretations external to the book, but I suspected they would mean something. Indeed, only the internal evidence could answer another question in the air. Some LDS scholars claimed that the several ancient authors of the Book of Mormon differed from one another in writing style, which if true, would support the authenticity of the book. I had never seen the evidence. If I had every word and phrase used by every author, I thought I could compare the several authors myself. This was as far as my imagination carried me when I began to prepare an index of every word in the Book of Mormon, but I was determined to see whether Joseph Smith could have written the book. I prepared the index manually, years before computer technology was available, and it took over a decade. I needed, as a stake in the ground, an analysis of the Book of Mormon itself, apart from all the external evidence that confused more than enlightened me. So far as I knew, no one else had done such an analysis, and as far as I know, no one else has yet. As one writer noted, LDS scholars focus “mainly on external evidence” to “vindicate the central claim of the Book of Mormon,” that it is “a divinely inspired book based on the history of an ancient culture.”27
I was not then aware of the internal examination of the book by the Reverend Martin T. Lamb back in 1887, although his examination was based on judgments made as a Baptist minister. For example, his first objection to the book was that “it has no trace of God’s hand upon it. No divine stamp. Everything about [it] is human, very, very human.” He compared the “beautiful simplicity” and “sublimity” of biblical scripture with the “inelegant and uncalled for repetitions, the unnecessary verbiage” in the Book of Mormon.28 “No trace of God’s hand,” “sublimity,” and “unnecessary verbiage” are personal judgments, albeit educated ones backed by examples. I wanted, to the extent possible, evidence that spoke for itself.
Nor was I yet aware of a 1920s study by B. H. Roberts, who is widely regarded as the “foremost intellectual” in Mormon history.29 More than anyone else, he “established in Mormondom the distinction between external and internal evidences that had already been applied to the study of the Bible.”30 Roberts observed in 1922 that “there is much internal evidence in the book” to support the view that Joseph Smith authored it, based on “a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history,” showing “an undeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency.”31 Like Lamb’s judgments, “a certain lack of perspective” and “reasonableness” are informed conclusions tied closely to the internal and external evidence.
Lamb, as a critic, was essentially disregarded by defenders of the Book of Mormon, and Roberts is said to have written for the benefit of those who wanted to know how to successfully defend the book against critics, not to persuade the public.32 I wanted as much as possible to deal with simple facts and what they meant. My quest has not been completely realized because judgments must be made about what the facts mean, and such judgments are not made in a vacuum.
My effort got me into a consideration of biblical passages that appear in the Book of Mormon, the proper names used by the Nephites and Jaredites, the prophecies, and things that I consider to be curiosities. I examined everything I could think of to determine whether several ancient authors could have written the book or whether it was the work of a single writer. Since completing my analysis, I have reviewed much of what defenders and critics have written about one piece or another of the internal evidence. For example, one scholar commented on the “literary structure” and three others challenged whether the book could be a “product of early nineteenth-century American folk culture.” Of those, Hugh Nibley compared the Book of Mormon and Near Eastern cultures; BYU law professor John Welch identified ancient literary patterns in the Book of Mormon; and Richard Bushman compared Nephite and early nineteenth-century American political assumptions.33 All three studies compared internal with external evidence.
Critics replied in kind. For example, the internal evidence indicates that the author or authors believed God the Father and Christ the Son are one God, which differs from the current teachings of the LDS church on the nature of the Godhead. In an extensive paper, one scholar included rich historical detail about how the monotheistic God of the Book of Mormon became the tritheistic God of today’s LDS church.34 The internal evidence reveals a nearly identical Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the King James Version (KJV), which would seem to show that Joseph Smith copied the sermon from the KJV. A study of the original text of Matthew’s version of the sermon confirmed that Joseph Smith “copied the KJV blindly, not showing awareness of translation problems and errors in the KJV.”35
While the textual origin of the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon is fairly obvious, some scholars have discovered less obvious borrowings from the Bible. For example, David Wright, who was terminated from BYU as an assistant professor of Hebrew and Near Eastern Languages because of his view that the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth-century work,36 argued that Alma 12-13 depended on Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews written 200 years later.37 UCLA English professor Robert Rees agreed, finding this “more plausible” than what some apologists argued, “that there was an ancient prototype that served as a source for both Alma and Hebrews.”38 Wright and Rees differ on the meaning of this unavoidable conclusion. Wright views the dependence of Alma 12-13 on the Bible as an anachronism, which suggests Joseph Smith’s composition. Rees believes the Book of Mormon is “both an ancient and a modern text,” arguing for “a more liberal, open concept of translation.” This would include Joseph Smith’s turning “to a scripture … he was familiar [with] in order to find a fuller expression” of Alma’s idea.39
All the examples show the intimate connection between internal and external evidence. Even my comparison of the God of the Book of Mormon and the God of today’s church invokes the external evidence of church doctrine. To find biblical passages in the Book of Mormon involves looking outside the Book of Mormon to the Bible. I admire scriptural scholars and value their work. Many scholars, both defenders and critics of the Book of Mormon, have done sound research. Any comprehensive analysis of the evidence supporting or refuting the historicity of the Book of Mormon must take into account the internal and external evidence together. However, my training is in the law and not in historical or archaeological research or ancient languages. I have limited myself to the fairly obvious internal evidence as the contribution to the search that falls within my area of competence. Some scholars may be critical of my narrow focus, but I had a sense early on that internal evidence had a peculiar value. Indeed, as recently as 1992, John Welch opined that “treasures await the pondering mind that contemplates virtually every word, idiom, figure of speech, or semantic value” in the Book of Mormon, and that “many valuable insights wait to be uncovered by careful scrutiny of Book of Mormon expressions.” He noted that several studies were underway “to examine distinctive words and phrases” in the book.40 I welcome this unintended endorsement of research like mine.
We lay people cannot as readily ignore the text we read, as we might the external evidence related to the First Vision or Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papyri, which we leave to experts to battle over. Internal evidence is available for everyone to ponder, and it is not going to change. Its availability seems to be its peculiar value. As it turns out, there is a large amount of it that we can analyze to infer a lot about who wrote the Book of Mormon.
2. LDS scholar Louis Midgley, for example, rejects “some ‘new middle ground’ between or beyond the polarities of authentic ancient history or fraudulent composition—and hence also between Joseph Smith as seer or charlatan, prophet or blasphemer, kingdom builder or disturber of the peace.” He insists that one must “choose between these radically different alternatives” (Louis C. Midgley, “New Book a Milestone in Mormon Studies,” Insights, May 2002, 1).
3. See Richard L. Anderson, “Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), 56-57; Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 338-39.
4. D. Brent Anderson and Diane E. Wirth, “Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” in To All the World: The Book of Mormon Articles from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, comps. Daniel H. Ludlow, S. Kent Brown, and John W. Welch (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 15.
5. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 130-33. See also Thomas W. Murphy, “Simply Implausible: DNA and a Mesoamerican Setting for the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 4 (Winter 2003): 109-10, 130.
8. “An Interview with John L. Sorensen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11, no. 1 (2002): 80-81. See also James E. Faulconer, “Loving the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11, no. 1 (2002): 86; Ludlow, Companion to Your Study,342.
10. See Richard L. Bushman, “My Belief,” Brigham Young University Studies 25, no. 2 (Spring 1985): 29-30; David O. Tolman, “Search for an Epistemology: Three Views of Science and Religion” and “Response,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 103. See also Robert Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 185, in which the author describes the possible movement from faith to reason in early twentieth-century LDS general authority and intellectual Brigham H. Roberts. Regarding the story in the Book of Mormon of 2,060 youths who are wounded in battle but all of them survive, Roberts noted in early writings that “they were preserved according to their faith in God.” Years later, however, he regarded this as a “beautiful story of faith! Beautiful story of mother-assurance! Is it History? Or is it a wonder-tale of a pious but immature mind?” Was Roberts losing his faith? We do not know for sure. One LDS writer suggests that Roberts may have been acting as devil’s advocate (Truman Madsen, “B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon,” Brigham Young University Studies 19, no. 4 [Summer 1979]: 427-45; Madsen, “B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 7-31).
22. Roger Launius, “From Old to New Mormon History: Fawn Brodie and the Legacy of Scholarly Analysis of Mormonism,” in Newell G. Bringhurst, ed., Reconsidering No Man Knows My History (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996), 206.
23. As LaMar Peterson noted in his own study, “the difference in definition of exactly what is a ‘change’ var[ied] from author to author.” The Creation of the Book of Mormon: A Historical Inquiry (Salt Lake City: Freethinker Press, 1998), 109.
34. Melodie Moench Charles, “Book of Mormon Christology,” in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 81-114.
LDS Scholarly Defenses
This chapter will examine the evidence assembled by four prominent defenders of the Book of Mormon, all four of whom have been Brigham Young University faculty. The first defense will be the one proposed in 1970 by John A. Tvedtnes, later associated with BYU’s Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).1 Tvedtnes holds an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Utah and continues his work at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, which is a retooled version of FARMS.
The second theory was developed by John W. Welch, founding director of FARMS and distinguished Professor of Law. His announcement of his proof of Book of Mormon antiquity was made in a 1969 article in BYU Studies, followed by his 1970 master’s thesis for the BYU Classics Department.2 His online university biography says his “principal research interests include Employee Benefit Plans, Law in the ancient Near East, Bible and Book of Mormon, Roman Law in the New Testament, the Trial of Jesus, fiduciary duties analysis, perjury, tax exempt organizations, and the Legal Papers of Joseph Smith.”
John L. Sorenson, whose theories we will consider as a third attempt to shore up a literal view of the Book of Mormon, earned his PhD from UCLA and founded the BYU anthropology program in 1958. When he retired in 1986, he devoted much of his time to FARMS, eventually becoming editor of its Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. His 1985 book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, made a significant contribution to the study of Mormon scripture.3
The late Hugh W. Nibley occupies a special place in the hearts of BYU alumni as an erudite, if famously absent-minded professor, a graduate of the University of California Berkeley. Although Nibley was well-read and could cite many ancient and obscure sources to persuade others of the antiquity of the Book of Mormon, at the same time, he was limited in his knowledge of Egyptian, which he nevertheless drew from in trying to prove the authenticity of Mormon scripture. His writings will be considered as the fourth major influence on Book of Mormon studies.4
Tvedtnes popularized the study of so-called Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, which he sees as clear evidence of the book’s ancient provenance. Earlier scholars had written about Hebrew idioms and syntax in the Book of Mormon,5 but Tvedtnes expanded the study, categorizing his findings into thirteen groups of linguistic peculiarities, with several examples each. The editors of a 1991 anthology touted Tvedtnes’s discovery of what they claimed were “traces of the Hebrew language that were left behind when the book was translated to English.”6 While experts in Hebrew might take issue with these findings on technical grounds, a lay observer can see that many of the alleged Hebraisms originate in the King James Bible (KJV) and were echoed by Joseph Smith in the style he brought, not only to the wording of the Book of Mormon, but also to the modern revelations he recorded. His revelations were first published as a book in 1833 in the Book of Commandments, which was updated as the Doctrine and Covenants. Interestingly enough, the same Hebraisms Tvedtnes found show up in Joseph’s own personal writings.
Tvedtnes makes three assumptions at the outset that deserve comment. First, he assumes the Nephites speak Hebrew. Gleaning what we can from the Book of Mormon, we find this idea is contradicted by the scribes, who inform us that theirs is not a language any of us would understand. That is why supernatural means had to be prepared for the interpretation of the language. At the beginning of the book, they speak the language of Jerusalem but write in Egyptian, which Lehi reads and Benjamin teaches to his sons. Nephi says he writes “in the language of [his] father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” Fast-forward to the end of the book and Moroni, the last Nephite record-keeper, tells us he has “written this record … in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us.” He wishes the history were “written in Hebrew,” but it doesn’t matter; their idiom has changed so much that “none other people knoweth our language.” Whatever they speak at this point, it is apparently neither Hebrew nor Egyptian. Even so, Tvedtnes explains at length how he can see the Hebrew influence shining through.7
A second problem is that even if there were an underlying Hebrew influence at the beginning of the book, after Mormon edits the text about a thousand years later and is followed by Moroni, whatever language they speak would obscure earlier traces. Professor Sorenson, as early as 1985, examined the language problem and opined that the “Nephite rulers” may have known “of Hebrew for a time” but doubts that it “lasted down to the time of Cumorah” when Mormon abridges the record.8
A third problem is that Hebraisms imply a more-or-less literal translation of the Book of Mormon, which would conflict with the nineteenth-century idioms and anachronisms, not to mention the many grammatical and substantive changes that have been made to the book since then. Tvedtnes argues that the Hebraisms were fairly literally translated,9 imagining that the Hebrew survived the later editing in Reformed Egyptian and translation by Joseph Smith. He claims he can find no better explanation for apparent borrowings from the KJV style and frequent clumsiness than the impromptu nature of the dictation, not a struggle to translate Hebrew literally.
In any case, the first of Tvedtnes’s thirteen categories is the word order for some of the possessives and adjectival constructs in the Book of Mormon, where English would put the possessive noun or descriptive word before the noun it modifies, as in “the king’s house” or “wood house,” whereas Hebrew puts it after, as in “house the king” or “house wood.” In English, we often add the preposition “of” to smooth out the translation of a form that “does not exist in the Hebrew,” Tvedtnes explains.10 Examples from the Book of Mormon would include “plates of brass,” “works of righteousness,” “words of plainness,” “chains of hell,” “voice of the Spirit,” “skin of blackness,” “night of darkness,” and “rod of iron.”11 These types of construction, which are admittedly awkward, are common in the Bible. For example, in the first chapter of Genesis, we read of the “Spirit of God,” the “firmament of the heaven,” and the “beast of the earth” (Gen. 1:2, 14, 24). It is possible that Joseph could have picked up this form through his familiarity with the Bible. It sounds archaic and scriptural but is perfectly good English. What dilutes the hypothesis is that these are equally ubiquitous in the Book of Commandments, which has about forty such examples in the first chapter alone, including “voice of the Lord,” “inhabitants of the earth,” “wrath of God,” and even “Book of Mormon.”12
There is not a consistent way of constructing possessives in the Book of Mormon. Tvedtnes concludes his first category by observing that “the Hebrew-like expression land of promise appears twenty-two times.” True enough, but the term also surfaces in the Bible and Book of Commandments, something Tvedtnes does not point out.13 He looks for the English term “promised land” and finds it only ten times in the Book of Mormon, which raises the question of why one would find the more natural English term at all (in fact, the term occurs twenty times, not ten).14 In one instance (Alma 37:45), both the so-called Hebrew and English forms occur in the same sentence.15
The remaining twelve categories of alleged Hebraisms are equally tepid and require little comment. The second category involves adverbial forms. Tvedtnes explains that “Hebrew has fewer adverbs” and favors prepositional phrases. He gives as examples six prepositional phrases in the Book of Mormon that appear to act as substitutes for the more natural adverbs, given in parentheses: “with patience” (patiently), “with much harshness” (very harshly), “with joy” (joyfully), “in spirit and in truth” (spiritually and truly), “in righteousness” (righteously), and “with gladness” (gladly).16 This is more “than we would expect” for a book written in English, Tvedtnes speculates. However, his first example, “with much harshness,” occurs once in the Book of Mormon, exactly the same number of times as “harshly.” Neither of these is in the Bible. Except for “harshly,” all of the adverbs appear, not just once, but time after time in the Bible, as do the more cumbersome prepositional phrases that are supposedly used as stand-ins for the adverbs. Some are in the Book of Commandments, which means that either Joseph Smith was imitating the KJV style when he dictated his modern-day revelations or God’s language is a form of archaic English. Tvedtnes does not identify adverbs in the Book of Mormon but there are at least 106 of them ending in ly ranging from “abundantly” to “zealously,” as well as other adverbs like “much” and “often.” Even more telling is that the Book of Mormon uses interchangeable forms such as “often” or “oft,” and “privately” versus “privily.” One would not expect this from a translation coming from a language that is adverb-poor. Should we assume there were shades of meaning that made one of two options more acceptable in a given situation? Or should we acknowledge that the person dictating the story thought words like “oft” and “privily” sounded archaic?
Tvedtnes’s third category is what he calls cognates, limited in his examples to two parts of speech that are derived from a common root—verbs paired with nouns of the same stem—as in “dreamed a dream,” “taxed with a tax,” and “cursed with a sore cursing.” The scribes tell us of the people’s intention to “work all manner of … work,” “judge righteous judgments,” “build buildings,” and even “desire … [that which was] desired.” Tvedtnes asserts that these are more prevalent in Hebrew than in English. Aside from the fact that these often have their origin in the Bible, such as “dreamed a dream,” it is interesting to see different Nephite authors use the same phrase, which suggests single authorship. One of these repeated phrases is “work with curious workmanship.” Once again, we find the same kinds of constructions in the Book of Commandments, which refers, for instance, to a “covenant which he has before covenanted with me.” Joseph Smith used this style in his life history too, writing that “there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni.”17
Superfluous prepositions are Tvedtnes’s next find: “from before” and “by … of” in “from before my presence,” “from before my face,” “by the hand of,” and “by the mouth of.” The former is in the Bible and the latter is in the Bible, Book of Commandments, and at least twice in Joseph Smith’s diary.
A fifth category for Tvedtnes deals with conjunctions that Hebrew uses “much more frequently than English does.” The Book of Mormon uses “and” before each word in a serial list, as in “all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores.” This is also Hebrew in nature, Tvedtnes reports. Another example from the Book of Mormon is a list of “the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen.”18 This kind of repetition characterizes the Book of Commandments as well, with five instances in one chapter of only six verses, including “the works, and the designs, and the purposes of God,” and “that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name; and that through their repentance they might be saved.”19
There are other atypical conjunctions in cases where one anticipates the word but and the text delivers the word and, Tvedtnes points out. This pattern is found, not only in the Book of Mormon, but also in the Book of Commandments, our convenient baseline test for relevance.20 Another observation from Tvedtnes is that since Hebrew has no punctuation, the conjunction can begin and end with what English “would put inside parentheses.” The Book of Mormon was dictated without punctuation, leaving room for varying ways to add it.21 The problem of run-on sentences was resolved by inserting conjunctions between independent clauses, which does not necessarily mean that Joseph was reading an underlying Hebrew original. Tvedtnes finds the redundancy of “and also” to be Hebraic, as in “they … worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name.”22 For whatever reason this is so in the Book of Mormon, it is similarly present in the Book of Commandments. In one instance, a revelation speaks of the Book of Mormon and calls it the “record of a fallen people, and also the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles; and also to the Jews, proving unto them, that the holy scriptures are true; and also, that God doth inspire men.”23
Tvedtnes offers a sixth category of Hebraisms in prepositions combined with “that” to introduce subordinate clauses, as in the Bible at Ezekiel 40:1: “after that the city was smitten.” Tvedtnes explains that this is “awkward and therefore rare” in English but “appears frequently” in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon in such lines as “because that my heart is broken,” “before [that] they were slain,” and “after that I am gone to the Father.”24 Again, from the Hebrew-less Book of Commandments we have “because that you did not continue as you commenced” and “after that you have received this,” so the presence of such a construction in the Book of Mormon suggests a single author more than a trace of Hebrew.25
In Tvedtnes’s seventh category of suspected Hebraisms, he points to the introduction of a relative clause with a pronoun such as which or who, separated from its antecedent, which makes more sense in Hebrew than in English. He gives as an example “our brother Nephi … has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren.” While Tvedtnes is right that this is not good English, it might be typical of any unedited first draft, and the same grammatical lapse occurs in the Book of Commandments where we read: “Wherefore let my disciples in Kirtland, arrange their temporal concerns, which dwell upon this farm.” These are the kinds of mistakes high school English teachers warned us about, that are common, especially among young and inexperienced writers.26
The eighth category is what Tvedtnes calls “extrapositional nouns and pronouns.” A biblical example would be: “God saw the light, that it was good” (Gen. 1:4), instead of “God saw that the light was good.” Tvedtnes gives four examples from the Book of Mormon, all from Nephi’s long vision (1 Ne. 11-14) in which Nephi foresees Christ’s ministry, Christ’s visit to the Nephites and their downfall, the arrival of Columbus, the Revolutionary War, the Book of Mormon, and John the Revelator writing about events beyond Joseph Smith’s time. The key infinitive throughout is “to behold”: “I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren.” This structure occurs seven times in Nephi’s vision.27 On the other hand, there is no consistency to it. The more natural English construction, “I beheld that he was in the form of a man,” is present more often than one would expect if the original language were Hebrew and more often than the Hebrew-like construction.28 This unnecessary placement of a pronoun after the noun occurs in the Book of Commandments as in, for example, “I command him that he shall say no more.”29
For his ninth category, Tvedtnes discusses the interchangeability of the prepositions in and to in biblical Hebrew in a way that does “not usually work in English.” He finds two examples in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, in passages that were later changed. Nephi says “let us be faithful in him.” The line continues a thought about exercising “faith in him,” so there is probably not anything out of the ordinary in this example. It does not seem wrong for Mormon to exhort Moroni to “be faithful in Christ” rather than faithful “to Christ.” Tvedtnes’s second example is of arriving “to the promised land,” where English prefers arriving “at the promised land.” In the Book of Commandments, we read of young people who “have arriven to the years of accountability” and of people assembling “themselves to the Ohio.”30
The tenth category of Hebraisms is the manner of comparing one thing to another, where Hebrew says that something is different from something else rather than greater or lesser than another thing. Tvedtnes doesn’t find the Hebrew manner of making comparisons in the Book of Mormon but does find a reference to America as being “choice above all other lands” and argues that above is similar to from. But Joseph Smith may have gotten this expression from Isaiah, who wrote that the land would be “exalted above the hills,” the throne “above the stars of God.” We read the same thing in the Book of Commandments and in Joseph’s personal writings. There is, as usual, no consistency.31 As with other supposed Hebraisms, the argument is weakened by Tvedtnes’s assumption of a literal translation. What should one make of the fact that the Book of Mormon has both the English er form, from better to younger, and the more … than form, each occurring in a verse with the above form?32
For his eleventh category, Tvedtnes gives us a disquisition on “naming conventions” in Hebrew where the wording tends toward “calling the name of his son Mosiah,” rather than “calling him Mosiah,” as we would be more likely to say in English. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,” Isaiah says, “and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14). It is similar to the Book of Mormon passage where the Nephites “did call the name of the place Shazer.”33 This style is easily imitated from the KJV.34 In addition to that, simple English forms are as often seen in the Book of Mormon as otherwise, in “we called the place Bountiful.” The wording often tends toward straightforward declarations.35 There is little naming in the Book of Commandments, but the English convention is used twice.36
In his penultimate category, Tvedtnes discusses possessive pronouns. “My book” in Hebrew is rendered “the book of me,” as in Jacob 5:2, “hear the words of me.” In context, however, we see the reason for the construction: “Hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.” It would not be right to say “Hear my words, a prophet of the Lord,” because “my words” is not “a prophet of the Lord.” The pronoun “me” is in apposition to a phrase that defines it, yielding what Tvedtnes considers to be a Hebrew-like construction. When this is not the case, “words” is invariably preceded by a possessive pronoun such as my, his, our, their, thy, or your in the normal way for English, over 230 times in the Book of Mormon.37
In three of Tvedtness’s remaining four examples, the use of pronouns is admittedly odd. He quotes 2 Nephi, that “the Gentiles shall be great in the eyes of me” (10:8), and that people will be “delivered by the power of him” (9:25), then from Jacob about how “unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him” (4:8). These are exceptions. The Book of Mormon refers to “eyes” thirty-nine times with the possessive pronoun preceding the noun (“my eyes”). In twenty-nine instances, the pronoun precedes the word “power” in a normal way (“his power”), and three times for “mysteries” (“his mysteries”). Tvedtnes’s anomalies might reflect biblical wording, such as where Isaiah refers to making “bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.” Perhaps the author could not think of a way to finish the sentence, in this case producing a truncated line that would read, “make bare his holy arm in the eyes of them.” It is a possibility.38
Tvedtnes’s final example of confusion over possessive pronouns is in the line, “setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption” (Moro. 8:20). In this case again, the person doing the dictation may have adapted “the atonement of Christ,” or wanted to avoid repeating the name of “Christ” when he dictated: “And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.”
Tvedtnes wraps up with his thirteenth and final category involving “words used in unusual ways,” for which he has five examples. The first is King Benjamin giving followers a name to distinguish them “above” everyone else, instead of “from” everyone else, as we would be more inclined to say in English. However, “distinguished from” is used three times in the Book of Mormon. Joseph may have gotten the “above” form from quoting Isaiah’s “the Lord’s house … shall be exalted above the hills” and “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” then used it here and there and in the Book of Commandments.39 Another of Tvedtnes’s examples is the word “head” in reference to a key point in a sermon or a historical narrative: “For he said … that I should engraven the heads of them [main points] upon these plates” (Jacob 1:3-4). This is indeed strange, but I am told it is not Hebrew (it is not used in any of Tvednes’s biblical citations, for instance) and was apparently used in this sense in Joseph Smith’s time.40
A word that stands out for even casual readers of the Book of Mormon is “isle,” in reference to North and South America. “We are upon an isle of the sea,” Nephi writes about their new home in the west (2 Ne. 10:20). Tvedtnes explains it by saying that in the Bible the word usually “refers to coastal lands” rather than real islands. Whether he is right, there is a better explanation in the fact that Native Americans, who belong to the house of Israel according to the Book of Mormon, were unknown to the rest of the world until modern times and were not mentioned in the Bible. Joseph Smith drew from Isaiah’s prophecies to include them: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, … and from the islands of the sea.” Joseph quotes Deutero-Isaiah twice referring to “isles.” Language added to these references make it clear that Native American territory is intended.41 The imagery of isles of the sea as a metaphor for the western hemisphere occurs no less than eight times in Joseph’s additional corpus, even opening the Book of Commandments (Doctrine and Covenants) where God addresses his people who are “from afar” and “upon the islands of the sea.” It seems clear that Joseph did what he could to make the Bible embrace the Book of Mormon story.42
The fourth word in Tvedtnes’s litany is “under,” in reference to Melchizedek, “the king of Salem,” who “did reign under his father” (Alma 13:18). Tvedtnes says this reflects the Hebrew preposition “tahat,” normally rendered “under” but meaning “after” in idioms about royal succession (Gen. 36:33-39; 1 Sam. 10:1; 1 Kings 1:30; 5:1; 2 Kings 14:21). Indeed, the KJV often translates “tahat” as “in [his] stead,” and the same English idiom is found in other Book of Mormon passages about succession (Jac 1:11; Mos 10:6; 11:1; Alma 24:20; Hel 6:15; Ether 7:3, 19; 9:6, 14). The unique use of “under” in Alma 13 may therefore arise for reasons other than a literal rendering of Hebrew.43
The last in Tvedtnes’s list of strange word usage is from Ether 8:11 where we read that someone “desired her to wife,” instead of desiring a woman “for a wife.” “There is a Hebrew preposition,” Tvedtnes tells us, “that means both to and for.” Maybe that is why the KJV uses the idiom forty-six times, most prominently in Genesis when, for example, Isaac takes Rebekah “to wife.”44 The Bible is apparently the source of Joseph Smith’s eleven uses of the term. Tvedtnes adds that the Hebrew word for wife means “woman,” as in the Book of Mormon where the Nephites say “our women did bear children.”45 This is not unusual English, although “woman” is used eight times in the Book of Mormon but never as a substitute for “wife,” while “women” is used fifty-two times and sometimes to mean “wives.” “Wife” and “wives” together appear seventy-nine times in the Book of Mormon. It is hard to find evidence of Hebraisms in that.46
In summary, to say there are Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, one must surmount a few basic problems: (a) the Nephites, according to the book itself, did not write in Hebrew; (b) we are not told how literally or loosely the translation was conducted; and (c) we are not told how Hebraisms would survive an abridgment in reformed Egyptian characters of an evolved and altered language that no one else knows. Anomalies can be assigned to fatigue more easily than to a word-for-word rendition. In addition, there is a better explanation for why words and sentences sound like the Bible than to say they derive from a common antiquity, which is that the Book of Mormon copies the Bible. Suspected Hebraisms appear in the modern Doctrine and Covenants, which does not claim to be translated from ancient Hebrew. Even the fact alone that the idioms are inconsistently applied challenges the idea of a literal translation. Where we find a range of possible explanations, a literal translation seems the least probable. Taken together, the occasionally nonstandard usage shows the vagaries of dictation by a fallible human who is adopting a scriptural style patterned after the Bible.
Like Tvedtnes, BYU law professor John Welch believes he has found Hebrew literary traits in the Book of Mormon. He reports that as a young missionary in Germany, he attended a lecture about the Greek New Testament and learned about an ancient literary device known as chiasmus that shows up in Greek writings. The lecturer speculated that ancient Israelites may have used the device as well, as a memory aid for oral tradition. In 1969 Welch announced, as a BYU student, that he had discovered chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. The connection to the Hebrew Bible is still somewhat tenuous, and Welch himself emerged as the foremost champion of Hebrew chiasmus,47 with other scholars lining up on either side of the debate as supporters48 or skeptics.49 Basically, chiasmus is inverted parallelism.50 For example, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first” is a chiasm because, as illustrated below, lines can be drawn between the firsts and the lasts, thereby forming a χ, which in Greek is the letter chi.51
The first shall be last, and
The last shall be first
This is a simple chiasm because it contains only two elements, first and last. Simple chiasms are what are found in western literary works in Greek, Latin, and English, for instance. Welch argues that in Hebrew and other ancient Semitic languages, chiasms are harder to detect but are more impressive because they have so many elements written first in one order and then repeated in reverse order.52 Welch claims chiasmus has been employed sporadically in both poetry and prose for nearly 3,000 years and that Joseph Smith would not have known about it when he dictated the Book of Mormon. Whether or not Joseph was aware of the form may be moot because it is hard to detect where Welch says it exists.53 For instance, Welch believes the entire books of 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Mosiah are extended chiasms.54 Welch’s favorite chiasmic passage is Alma 36:1-30, which he calls a “masterpiece of composition,” “one of the best” of the hundreds of examples he has evaluated (verse numbers are in parentheses):55
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 Remember the captivity of our fathers (2)
e They were in bondage (2)
f He surely did deliver them (2)
g Trust in God (3)
h Supported in trials, troubles, and afflictions (3)
i Lifted up at the last day (3)
j I know this not of myself but of God (4)
k Born of God (5)
l I sought to destroy the church (6-9)
m My limbs were paralyzed (10)
n Fear of being in the presence of God (14-15)
o Pains of a damned soul (16)
p Harrowed up by the memory of sins (17)
q I remembered Jesus Christ, a son of God (17)
qʹ I cried, Jesus, son of God (18)
pʹ Harrowed up by the memory of sins no more (19)
oʹ Joy as exceeding as was the pain (20)
nʹ Long to be in the presence of God (22)
mʹ My limbs received strength again (23)
lʹ I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)
kʹ Born of God (26)
jʹ Therefore my knowledge is of God (26)
hʹ Supported under trials, troubles, and afflictions (27)
gʹ Trust in him (27)
fʹ He will deliver me (27)
iʹ and raise me up at the last day (28)
eʹ As God brought our fathers out of bondage and captivity (28-29)
dʹ Retain in remembrance their captivity (28-29)
cʹ Know as I do know (30)
bʹ Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land (30)
aʹ This according to his word (30)
Welch has indeed constructed an impressive chiasm. He has written about it repeatedly over the years, although without settling on the exact elements that make up the chiasm, altering them each time. The version presented here is his latest, from 1991, and it still leaves much to question about his interpretation of Alma 36, including the unexplained asymmetry of element iʹ. Welch seems to have imposed chiastic order on a chapter full of repetitious language where no chiasm was intended. He often chooses among two or more occurrences of each word or thought in the chapter to tease out the parallel construction he is looking for. He omitted more than 80 percent of the text in constructing his chiasm. For example, for the first half, he found eleven of the seventeen elements in five verses, then hunted through another seven verses to find only three elements (the remaining three are in the next two verses). By selecting some language but not most of it, he creates the appearance of symmetry. Some of the paired elements are unbalanced in length, and some of them have been creatively labeled to give the impression of precision. Nearly all of the paired elements have these or other problems, so it is worth looking a little more closely at these issues.
In the illustration, the elements a and aʹ pair “give ear to my words” (v. 1) with “this according to his word” (v. 30). But in verse 3, Alma has also counseled his son to hear his words: “And now, O my son Helaman … I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words.” Alma refers to the Lord’s word again in verse 26: “For because of the word which he has imparted unto me …” If we allow the pairing of verses 1 and 30, then why not Alma’s words in verse 3, and the Lord’s word in verse 26 (not to mention the angel’s word in verse 11), except that to pair them would create asymmetry. Rather than risk that, Welch passes over these repetitions to choose similar words and an illusion of order out of random prose.56
Similarly, he pairs element e, “they were in bondage” (v. 2), with element eʹ, “as God brought our fathers out of bondage and captivity” (vv. 28-29). This exhibits not only selectivity but also creative labeling and imbalance. In context, element eʹ reads, more fully:
Yea, and I will praise him forever, for he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea; and he led them by his power into the promised land; yea, and he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity from time to time. Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day.
In these two verses, after substituting “God” for “he,” Welch runs together “brought our fathers out of” Egypt, a place, and combines it with “delivered them out of bondage and captivity,” a condition, to give us “God brought our fathers out of bondage and captivity.” This avoids having to repeat the key word in the adjacent fʹ, “he will deliver me,” which only reveals the selectivity of these choices. Even though captivity is repeated, this time in the adjacent element dʹ, Welch does not italicize it and we focus on “bondage.” In addition, e and eʹ are imbalanced, because the first passage is a four-word clause and the second is seventy-four words long. In covering so much ground in the seventy-four words, Welch does not use Alma’s praise of God—nor the Exodus from Egypt into the biblical promised land, the Egyptians being swallowed up in the Red Sea, and Lehi’s family being rescued from Jerusalem—because there is not any language to pair it with.
The situation for f and fʹ is another example of selectivity in the face of possibilities. Welch picks the word deliver twice out of six possible verses. It occurs twice in verse 2, where he chooses the second one, twice more in verse 27, and once each in verses 28 and 29. He chooses the second one in verse 27, although the two in verses 28 and 29 pair well with what we read in verse 2, in reference to Alma’s ancestors, whereas the two in verse 27 relate to Alma himself.
The elements m and mʹ, “my limbs were paralyzed” from verse 10 and “my limbs received strength again” from verse 23, seem fine at first glance because they contrast the only two limbs mentioned in Alma 36. But verse 10 has Alma falling to the earth, and that could be matched or contrasted with other possible options: “we all fell to the earth” in verse 7, “I arose and stood up” in verse 8, “I fell to the earth” in verse 11, and “I stood upon my feet” in verse 23. But none of this language works chiastically, so Welch doesn’t use it. In element m, he does not use Alma’s inability to speak for three days and three nights in verse 10 because it does not pair chiastically with the mention of the same three days and three nights in verse 16. Finally, in verse 23, Welch doesn’t mention that Alma is “born of God” because there is no chiastic match in verse 10 even though he selects being “born of God” for elements k and kʹ in verses 5 and 26.
There is more language that is overlooked between verses 10 and 14 than between any other two elements. Welch passes over verses 11-13 entirely and leaves out most of 14, then pairs n, “fear of being in the presence of God” (vv. 14-15), with nʹ, “long to be in the presence of God” (22), which are both creatively labeled. The word fear is added in n by Welch because it is not in the text itself. Here is how the relevant section of verses 14-15 reads:
the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God.
Welch reduces this down to “fear of being in the presence of God,” which seems fair enough except that fear is not used in verses 14 or 15 although it is used in verse 7, “the fear of the Lord came upon us,” and 11, “I was struck with such great fear,” neither of which Welch uses because they do not work chiastically. He could have matched the word rack in verse 14 with verses 12, 16, or 17, but these do not fit his needs and are thus disregarded. Equally interesting is that the words, “presence of God,” do not appear in verse 22, but since the verse expresses something close enough (“my soul did long to be there”), Welch again changes the wording to make it fit.
Welch’s key word for o and oʹ is pain. He does not use the plural in verse 13 but uses pains in verse 16, does not use more pains in 19 and 21, and chooses the singular pain in verse 20, the worst possible match, which contrasts pain with joy, while the other four examples deal only with pain. His selections were the only ones that worked chiastically.
Elements p and pʹ in verses 17 and 19 illustrate once again the selectivity behind Welch’s chiasm. The two verses have one clause in common, “harrowed up by memory of sins.” Verse 17 has two clauses in common with verse 12, “racked with torment” and “harrowed up with sins.” Welch doesn’t use verse 12 because it is out of sequence.
He tells us that elements q and qʹ are the turning point in the chiasm, which to him means the most important element.57 The missing text between q and qʹ reads “to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart.” “At the absolute center,” Welch enthuses, “stand the words ‘atone,’ ‘mind,’ and ‘heart,’ bordered by the name of Jesus Christ. The message is clear: Christ’s atonement and man’s responding sacrifice of a broken heart and willing mind are central to receiving forgiveness from God.”58 Besides the fact that Welch’s unlabeled center overlaps with qʹ, it says nothing of a “responding sacrifice” of a “broken heart and willing mind.” The consistent requirement throughout the Book of Mormon is of a “broken heart and a contrite spirit,” the formula repeated throughout the book.59 This new formulation of a “broken heart and willing mind” is not Alma’s “clear message” but Welch’s invention.
In making his case that Alma 36 is a chiastic masterpiece, and perhaps recognizing the problem of how much text he did not use in his parallel passages, Welch presented for readers a second diagram with the “full text” divided into eleven paired units labeled A–K, Kʹ–Aʹ.60 Calling them sections rather than elements, he explained that they filled “the gaps” between the “main girders,” meaning the seventeen paired elements of the structure.61 He identified nine characteristics of Alma 36 that establish its “chiasticity,” out of the fifteen characteristics he developed for defining the form.62
His full-text chiasm is as weak as his main-girder construction, with an extra A section comprising the first twenty-eight words of verse 3 and appearing asymmetrically between D and E, while there is no matching Aʹ section. He does not explain this absence of a chiastic pairing, but by one of his own criteria, an extended chiasm is probably not much stronger than its weakest link. The sections range in length from 7 to 213 words. One of them is four times longer than its twin. In fact, the sections are so unbalanced and the girders themselves so unevenly spaced, they not only fail Welch’s balance test, they would appear to violate his aesthetics rule too, even as nebulous as that is.63
Welch stipulates that a chiasm should operate “across a literary unit as a whole” and not “unnaturally chop sentences in half.”64 Gʹ cuts a sentence in half so “born of God” will not fall into Fʹ, leaving this unnatural mid-sentence division where Gʹ ends, “For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God,” and Fʹ begins, “and have tasted as I have tasted …” If “born of God” appeared in Fʹ, it would become what Welch calls a maverick and would weaken the chiasm, although “born of God” is a maverick in the adjacent line Hʹ.
Welch wants “an identifiable literary reason why the author might have employed chiasmus.” It is a good question. He believes that “an understanding of chiasmus will … greatly enhance interpretation of Book of Mormon scriptures.”65 But his imposition of chiasm on chapter 36 may actually obscure the message, which suggests that no such chiasm was intended. He summarizes Alma 36 by saying it is when “Alma tells his son Helaman about his dramatic conversion.”66 If so, Welch does not emphasize this theme in choosing the “main girders” of his chiasm. Indeed, most of what Welch omits from his chiasm, in verses 6-19, comprise Alma’s conversion story. The real message of Alma 36 is to prepare Helaman to receive the sacred records, which Alma delivers to him in Alma 37. That these two chapters are intended to go together is shown by the fact that in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, they were a single chapter. By imposing a chiasm on half of a literary segment, Welch misses Alma’s main purpose, which is to prepare Helaman to receive the sacred things.
Welch explains away weaknesses of Alma 36 as an extended chiasm by arguing that “if an author uses chiasmus mechanically, it can produce rigid, stilted writing.” Alma, Welch observes, is such a good chiastic writer that he avoids stringing “a list of ideas together in one order and then awkwardly and slavishly retrac[ing] his steps through that list in the opposite order. His work has the markings of a skillful, painstaking writer, one completely comfortable with using this difficult mode of expression well.”67 Welch seems to contradict himself later, writing that “tightness in the text is indicative of greater craftsmanship, rigor, focus, intention, and clarity.”68
Two physics professors came to Welch’s defense with a statistical analysis “based only on the order of words and ideas,” calculating the probability that Alma 36 could have been written without a chiastic intent.69 “With 99.98 percent certainty,” they announced, “the strongest chiasm in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36 … appeared in this [structure] by design.” They added that this “rules out the hypothesis that it appeared by chance.”70 Their analysis, however, disregarded “the overall integrity and literary merit of chiasms” and should not be seen as replacing Welch’s “non-quantitative criteria,” they explained.71 What they actually found, as a cursory look at their report indicates, is that there is a lot of repetition in Alma 36, and the literary critic is able to employ a great deal of flexibility in charting a chiastic structure out of it. In order to determine what “words and ideas” to use in their analysis, they created two new, full-text structures with ten paired sections in the first and eight paired sections in the second one.72 Neither improves upon Welch’s “full text” chiasm, and like his extra and asymmetrical A section, their attempt to match parallel thoughts resulted in two extra, asymmetrical sections. Their chiasms have all the weaknesses of Welch’s. For example, Alma speaks of his joy five times in verses 20-21, 24-25, but like Welch they ignored them all. It seems unlikely that Alma would rhapsodize about his feelings so profusely and not intend it to be part of his literary construct.73 Their full-text chiasms, like Welch’s, simply swallow up ignored language in their large sections and illustrate the amount of repetition in Alma 36, the flexibility in fashioning a chiastic structure, and the consequent uncertainty about just what it is that Alma supposedly crafted with such care.
It seems less likely that Alma 36 is a carefully crafted masterpiece than that it is a creatively fashioned chiasm imposed on a text that is full of repetitious language. Welch follows flexible rules to fashion a chiastic structure by selecting elements from repetitious language, creatively labeling elements, disregarding text, italicizing what he wants us to see, pairing unbalanced elements, and including asymmetrical elements. His effort to defend it with a “full text” chiasm and fifteen criteria highlights the problems, as well as his own creativity.
Unlike Tvedtnes and Welch, who defend the Book of Mormon based on perceived Hebrew influences in the text, John Sorenson’s interest has been in locating where the Book of Mormon events might have taken place. One might think this search would rely on external evidence, but in fact it relies on clues within the text and comes as a result of the fact that the traditional hemispheric geography has found little or no support in the archaeological, biological, and linguistic records.74 All of these are interesting areas of study, but for our purposes the question will be whether a limited dispersion of the people described in the Book of Mormon is supported by the book’s internal evidence.
The traditional and most familiar Book of Mormon geography encompasses the entire western hemisphere. This fits well with the book’s most obvious geographical requirement, a “narrow neck of land” separating a “land northward” from a “land southward” in “the general shape of an hourglass,” as Sorenson describes it.75 The narrow neck of land has traditionally been considered to be Panama, or the Isthmus of Darien, which separates North and Central America from South America.76 In the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites occupy the land southward and the Nephites occupy the northern part of the same land until they eventually expand up into the more northern area, where the final wars take place, presumably at the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York.77
Sorenson agrees that the “tradition” regarding North and South America “has endured persistently in popular Mormon thinking.” It was assumed by Joseph Smith and the early converts “from their first reading” of the Book of Mormon, and no one thought to question it.78 The church neglected to offer an official interpretation,79 although the Book of Mormon’s introduction states that it deals with the ancient inhabitants of the “Americas,” which implies the entire hemisphere. Sorenson published his limited geography model in 1985; it quickly gained a significant following.80
In his hypothesis, the narrow neck of land would be moved north from the Isthmus of Darien to the broader Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. It would be the stretch of land between the Gulf of Mexico to the northeast and Pacific Ocean to the southwest, halfway between Mexico City and Guatemala City. In this configuration, the land northward would be the states of Oaxaca and southern Veracruz, and the land southward Chiapas and Tabasco, with part of Guatemala. The Book of Mormon has a prominent waterway called the Sidon River, which would be the Grijalva River, while the Hill Cumorah would be Cerro el Vigia in the Tuxtlas Mountains of southern Veracruz.81 Under this configuration, the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites are said to have survived among the larger indigenous civilizations. It is worth considering these issues from the standpoint of internal evidence regarding geography, in this section, and whether the Book of Mormon acknowledges other people in the Americas, in the next section.
Sorenson’s geographical model addresses some of the “implausibilities,” as one critic called them in 1887, of traveling the distances implied by a hemispheric model.82 By the 1960s, a number of LDS researchers had “settled on Mesoamerica as the only plausible candidate” for a New World location, Sorenson wrote,email@example.com as well as on “basic issues” such as that “the area in which the story took place was far smaller than a continent” and that the Hill Cumorah was not in New York.84 Everyone still agreed that New York was where Moroni would eventually bury the plates, suggesting the possibility of a long trek.85 Like any enthusiast, Sorenson soon insisted that his map was the only likely answer and the only “area in the Americas” that “fits the book and its story.”86
We should keep in mind that there is not a country, city, sea, or other geographical or political designation we would recognize in the Book of Mormon, outside of a few references to biblical sites. Nor has there been any prophecy associating, for example, the Sidon River or narrow neck with any known geographical feature. No Book of Mormon place name is known in the existing archaeological record. One proponent of the book as literal history contended that we would not necessarily expect to find Book of Mormon sites, since only about half the locations mentioned in the Old Testament have been found.87 True enough, but anything would be better than nothing. Instead, researchers are limited to internal clues for what Sorenson, for instance, has calculated as the “actual trail or road mileage” between the two main Book of Mormon cities, the Nephite capital, Zarahemla, and the Lamanite capital city, Nephi. He finds it to be “on the order of 250 miles” by foot, or about 180 miles in a straight line.88 It is another 180 miles from Zarahemla to the narrow neck of land, he figures, and no more than 100 miles farther north to Cumorah, the hill the Jaredites called Ramah. “The total distance from the city of Nephi to the last battlefield at Ramah or Cumorah,” he concluded, “is unlikely to have been more than 450, or perhaps 500, miles.”89
For our purposes, we can agree with Sorenson’s finding that the Nephite history takes place mostly within a relatively confined area south of the narrow neck. This is where the missionaries evangelize and the armies skirmish from city to city. The Nephites have little to do with the land northward until their eventual expansion toward the end of the book and final battle at Cumorah, and they have nothing to do with the land to the south below the city of Nephi, which itself is entirely undefined. The issue is not whether most of the Nephite history takes place within a limited geographical area but whether the rest of the western hemisphere is presented as standing empty until the expansion at the end of the book and the Lamanite possession thereafter.90 The internal evidence favors a hemispheric model and poses severe challenges for the proponent of any limited-geography model.
Since the Book of Mormon says nothing about the land southward below the city of Nephi, there is nothing to preclude that the expanse of land all the way to Tierra del Fuego is part of the land southward. In the north, we do not read of any limits to the territorial inheritance referred to as the promised land, held in reserve for Book of Mormon people. The Jaredites first and then Nephi and Lehi all include North America as part of their promised land.91
The Jaredites are introduced in a biblical context as the first people in the western hemisphere after the dispersion from Babel. The Book of Mormon embraces Adam and Eve, the flood that destroyed everyone except those on Noah’s ark, and the scattering of the people “upon the face of all the earth” from the tower of Babel. This was the generally accepted history of the world in Christian circles long before Joseph Smith’s time and even down to the present, scientific discoveries about hominids emerging out of Africa notwithstanding.92 Into this legend walk the Jaredites, who travel “into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth,” where they are destined to become the greatest nation on earth. The superlatives about the chosen land occur throughout the Book of Mormon, always in relation to the northern real estate but never restricted to a given city or particular event. Even Sorenson recognizes that something other than Mesoamerica is meant when Ether tells the people that after the flood, “this land” became “a choice land above all other lands,” a “chosen land of the Lord,” the eschatological place of the millennial New Jerusalem (Ether 13:2-8).93 The same language is employed by Nephi and Lehi, who more specifically identify North America as the chosen land. Sorenson concedes that Moroni speaks “in general terms of the whole continent” and not “in a narrow (‘literal’) sense” of where they lived “near the narrow neck of land.”94 When the Book of Mormon Jesus appears in Bountiful, near the narrow neck, and speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem becoming established in “this land,” the implication is that it is somewhere beyond that particular city.95
After the Jaredites are destroyed, the refugees from Israel arrive in the “land of promise,” a land prepared for them by the Lord, a land that is “choice above all other lands.”96 En route, Nephi sees in vision a “man among the Gentiles” who goes “forth upon the many waters” to the descendants of Nephi’s brothers “in the promised land.” Other gentiles go “forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.” The “multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise” scatter and destroy the offspring of Nephi’s brothers. Sorenson argues that this refers to the Spanish, since they were “the earliest ‘Gentiles’ from across the ocean,” bolstering his view of Mexico being the land in question.97 But his interpretation seems too restrictive, considering the fact that Nephi goes on to describe the American Revolutionary War, God’s promise to “raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles,” and the “marvelous work” that will occur there when the Book of Mormon comes forth, all pointing to North America, at least as part of a broad description of what the so-called “promised land” was meant to include.98
After sailing “for the space of many days,” Lehi’s group arrives “at the promised land” in the land southward. Writing in the land southward, Nephi later tells his brothers that the Lord would “raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles” upon the face of “this land.” They would scatter “our seed” and the Lord would “do a marvelous work among the Gentiles,” meaning publication of the Book of Mormon, to come forth in “this land,” which is North America and not Mesoamerica. Nephi clearly writes not with a Mesoamerican but with a hemispheric, or more specifically North American, perspective. In short, while Lehi and Nephi are in the land southward, they are still in the promised land, which includes North America. There is no differentiation between where they are and the promised land they describe; it is all one. Jacob quotes God with the same hemispheric perspective, referring to “this land” as “a land of liberty unto the Gentiles,” one that is “choice … above all other lands.” This perspective continues throughout Nephite history.99
Even though Sorenson thinks “the maximum distance of Nephite penetration” into the north was “on the order of a couple of hundred miles,”100 what does the book say? There are three migrations to the north in the first century BCE, followed a few years later by “an exceedingly great many” who leave Zarahemla and travel “an exceedingly great distance” into unexplored northern territory. This last migration spreads “into all parts of the land,” covering “the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.” It sounds like the narrator is doing his best to describe the whole continent.101
Furthermore, the last migration, after they travel this “exceedingly great distance,” comes “to large bodies of water and many rivers,” just as Mormon will in the end when he marches his people to “the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah … in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains.” This is a repeat of Limhi’s search party getting “lost in the wilderness” for “many days” and traveling “in a land among many waters.”102 This all sounds like the Palmyra area, with the finger lakes and Great Lakes nearby, as well as the St. Lawrence, Hudson, Ohio, and Susquehanna Rivers and their tributaries. The Book of Mormon all but names the place where Moroni would bury the gold plates. A plain reading suggests that a continental reach was intended. There is nothing to prevent Cumorah’s being in New York rather than southern Mexico.
The internal evidence not only supports a hemispheric geography but challenges Sorenson’s narrow neck at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This is perhaps the most important geographic feature in the Book of Mormon and presents at least five problems, each of which is telling.
The first problem is that the small or narrow neck of land must connect the land northward to a land southward that is “nearly surrounded by water,” a requirement that Sorenson recognizes.103 South America, as the land southward, is nearly surrounded by water. What is puzzling is that Sorenson believes Mexico meets this requirement, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Bay of Campeche on the other, which do not begin to surround Sorenson’s land southward. Sorenson’s own description of his Mesoamerican location is that it is “bounded on two sides by oceans.” He does not try to explain how it could be nearly surrounded by water.104
A second problem is that his narrow neck is too wide. A Nephite must be able to traverse the neck in “only” a day and a half, we are told, but the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is 120 miles wide, even as the crow flies, let alone in actual walking distance.105 Sorenson estimates elsewhere that someone could walk forty air miles in a day and a half “under pressure.”106 That is the width of Panama, 1,500 miles south of Tehuantepec. Both isthmuses have jungle terrain that would slow anyone down. Sorenson defends his 120-mile-wide narrow neck with various arguments. He is not sure what is meant by “a day and a half’s journey,” thinking maybe there was “a special messenger,” nor do we know “what means of transportation” was used.107 Later Sorensen defends 120 miles as “narrow” by calculating that someone traveling five miles an hour could cover 180 miles in thirty-six hours, but then admits it is “absurd” to call “180 miles narrow.”108 He believes 120 miles is “just within the range of plausibility.” Whether or not a runner could travel that distance on a straight road does not allow for the actual terrain, including the foothill beginnings of the Sierra Madre mountains and a hot, steamy, tropical rain forest. The curves and switchbacks required to travel across the isthmus add mileage to the trip. Even today the highway mileage at the narrowest part of the isthmus, from Coatzacoalcos to Salina Cruz, is 187 miles and takes about four hours to drive. Sorenson suggests a “messenger relay” or incomplete measurement from garrison to garrison, some miles inland, rather than from “salt water to salt water.”110 In all of this, he struggles to make the isthmus narrow enough to meet the requirements of the Book of Mormon.
A third problem for Sorenson is that the more the Book of Mormon says about the distance across the neck, the more it emphasizes its narrowness. Mormon describes the distance across the narrow neck as “only” a day and a half’s journey, the only distance in the Book of Mormon modified by only, obviously intended to emphasize the neck’s narrowness. When the Nephites later fortify a line “from the west sea, even to the east,” it becomes only “a day’s journey for a Nephite,” meaning either that a road was improved and it was easier to travel or the author forgot that over 100 pages earlier he had said it was a half day’s journey longer than that.111 It would be incongruous for the chronicler to describe 120 miles as “only” a day and a half’s trip and then call Sorenson’s estimated 200-mile penetration into the land northward “an exceedingly great distance.” Mormon’s descriptions fit the narrowness of Panama and the distance to the Great Lakes in faraway New York state better than the curve of the Gulf of Mexico at Oaxaca.112
A fourth problem is that according to Sorenson the neck must be both narrow and wide—narrow because that’s what the Book of Mormon says it is, but wide enough for Limhi’s exploring party to pass through “without even realizing it.” If the party had known where they were, they would have realized they had passed into the land northward. So Sorenson has “knowledgeable Nephites” comment that the neck is “relatively” narrow, but a narrow neck of “substantial width” makes it hard for the Nephites to defend against a Lamanite incursion.113 Sorenson seized upon language at Alma 50:34 regarding a “narrow pass” and decided it is different than the “narrow neck” and must be “some kind of specific feature within that neck area.”114 The Nephites, he reasons, could defend a narrow pass within a wider neck. For his pass, he found a ridge of “sandstone and gravel” about two miles in width, rising “150 to 200 feet above the surrounding country.” It is “the only reliable year-round route” since much “of the land on either side of this ridge is flooded periodically” in the rainy season, so “the ridge pass would indeed lead ‘by the sea, on the west and on the east.’”115 Nothing in the Book of Mormon suggests that the narrow pass differs from the narrow neck. They are never differentiated or referred to together. Both are bounded by the east and west seas. Both are narrow. The “narrow neck” generally describes the geography, while the “narrow pass” describes movement through it, but the terms are otherwise synonymous.116
A fifth problem with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is that the land on either side lies more west and east than north and south. It is a “major anomaly,” Sorenson allows, but what did the Nephites know about directions?117 What we call west and east, they may have called north and south; he finds the “direction terminology in the text” to be “not perfectly clear-cut.” There is “significant ambiguity in many of the translated directional terms.”118 It is true that the Book of Mormon offers less in the way of a directional model than we would like, but “north” seems to be our north. For example, Lehi’s party traveled in “nearly a south-southeast direction” near the Red Sea, which matches our directional system. The Jaredites refer to the lands north and south in the same way the Nephites do, implying that “north” was the same for both peoples and suggesting that they both used the sun for orientation rather than a terrestrial landmark as Sorenson suggests.119 Sorenson warned against our being “ethnocentric” in reading the text, because the ancient Israelites “most often” used the Mediterranean Sea for their orientation to the west. He suggests that when Lehi lands on the Pacific coast of Central America, with a beach running northwest to southeast, he could have thought the water was to the immediate west. This would mean their world had shifted “by 45 degrees or more.”120 Sorenson devotes an appendix to directions and urges “diligent, inspired students” in the future to solve the problem.121 It seems doubtful that the Nephites would long orient themselves to the seashore as they move into mountainous terrain and no longer see the shoreline or even the Pacific Ocean, nor would this explain why the Jaredites would have the same directions.
In summary, Sorenson and others have argued for a limited American geography because they have been forced into it. In the absence of archaeological finds, a dearth of Israelite DNA, and failure to establish a convincing argument for linguistic influence from the Middle East, they have wanted to minimize the perceived footprint of the Book of Mormon people in the New World. In order to accomplish this, they have had to explain away what the Book of Mormon takes for granted, that the New World was divided into two large land masses connected by a narrow neck of land, Panama fitting perfectly the Book of Mormon’s description of a narrow neck, while by contrast, Sorenson’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec fares poorly as the described land feature. Tehuantepec is not narrow, the land to its south is not nearly surrounded by water, and it is oriented more east-west than north-south. The limited geography theorists disregard much of what the Book of Mormon explicitly states in order to preserve their view of it as real history.
Everything in the Book of Mormon is consistent with the view that the Jaredites were the first people in the western hemisphere and that they had the entire hemisphere to themselves. After their self-destruction, they are succeeded by Israelite immigrants, the dark half of whom prevails and spreads throughout the hemisphere as native people, confirming speculation in Joseph Smith’s time that America’s Indians were from the Middle East.122 John Sorenson and others have posited that the descendants of Lehi were simply colonies in a hemisphere inhabited by indigenous people. This contradicts the wording of the introduction to the Book of Mormon about the book being a history of “the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.” The introduction, unlike the title page to the Book of Mormon, is not part of the original dictation, but it nevertheless expresses the official view of the church. It does not limit the breadth of the record to being the history of a portion of America’s ancient inhabitants. However, in 2007 the limited geography theorists got some support when the wording of the introduction was changed. No longer are Lamanites the “principal ancestors of the American Indians.” To temper the implications of that statement, principal was changed to among, now reading that “Lamanites … are among the ancestors of the American Indians,” in order not to exclude the Siberians.123 This change of one word does not detract from the question of what the book’s overall narrative assumption is. We now turn to what the Book of Mormon itself says.
It was because of advances in scientific knowledge that the change was made to the introduction of the Book of Mormon, not because textual critics and theologians became convinced the book has fewer people in its epic drama than originally thought. Scientists in every relevant field have confirmed that the earliest inhabitants of the Americas arrived from Asia during the last Ice Age some 10,000 years before the biblical story of Babel.124 Also, in Columbus’s time, there were about 1,500 separate languages spoken in the western hemisphere, which could not have all come from Hebrew or Egyptian over only 1,000 years of Nephite history.125 Scholars have noted that the populations in the Book of Mormon reach into the millions,126 as well as the fact that the Jaredites and Nephites have similar cultural traits, including identical names.127 Limited geography theorists agree with these external and internal facts and propose that some renegade Jaredites must have survived to share their culture with the Nephites and Lamanites. They further propose that the Israelite immigrants absorbed some of the indigenous peoples and swelled their population, but were later overwhelmed by these natives. It is the Asian immigrants who, over the millennia, developed multiple languages, according to this rationalization, and are responsible for the Israelite DNA, language, culture, and archaeological evidence becoming lost.128 Limited geography proponents accommodate new knowledge about Native Americans while simultaneously keeping a traditional view of the Book of Mormon as literal history.
The questions here are whether the Book of Mormon will support the theory of Jaredites surviving and sharing their culture with the Nephites, and of indigenous people dating back to the Asian migration in the last Ice Age marrying Nephites and Lamanites. We will focus first on Professor Hugh Nibley’s position that surviving Jaredites added to the Nephite numbers and contributed to their culture.
Jaredite history, as presented in the Book of Mormon’s chapters that make up the book of Ether, accepts the biblical story of the Tower of Babel that was said to have been erected after the great flood, when “all flesh” died except Noah’s family and their menagerie. As Noah’s family produces children and grandchildren through three or four generations, the earth begins to become populated. Everyone still speaks “one language.” Then God becomes angry when people try to build a stairway to heaven. God scatters them “upon the face of all the earth,” “confound[ing] their language.”129 Moroni refers to this in passing without feeling the need to rehearse it in detail because readers are assumed to have received the information through the book that is “had among the Jews.” When he picks up the storyline, the Jaredites are a favored branch of the family whose language is not confounded and who are to be held in reserve as “a great nation,” of which we are told none will be greater anywhere in the world. Like Noah, Jared’s family takes males and females of every animal and bird, fish in a special vessel, swarms of bees, and seeds, suggesting they are going to a remote, uninhabited location.130 Indeed, on their way they pass through “that quarter where there never had man been,” confirming their role as pioneers to a virgin territory.131
In the promised land, one that is “choice above all the lands of the earth,”132 the Jaredites spread out and become “as numerous as the hosts of Israel.” We might expect Moroni to mention something about the neighboring indigenous people, but the author remains silent. At the end of a 1,600-year history, the Jaredites are destroyed, and still no mention of any other people. Coriantumr, we are told, is the only survivor.133 Despite assurances to the contrary in the scriptural account, Hugh Nibley insisted on “the probability, amounting almost to certainty, that numerous Jaredites survived in out-of-the-way places of the North.”134 This is important to Dr. Nibley because the Nephites and Jaredites are undifferentiated, sharing names and other features of their cultures. Yet there is in the Book of Mormon no mention whatsoever of surviving Jaredites other than Coriantumr, who is said to have lived among the Mulekites for nine months and then to have taken the last unrecorded memories of a dead civilization with him to the grave. Nibley was troubled enough by the “number of undeniably Jaredite names” that “turn up from time to time among the Nephites” to look for an explanation, and the solution he came up with was that the Book of Mormon editor was mistaken.135
Nibley says there is more to the announcement that the Jaredites “were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country” than meets the eye and that we run the risk of oversimplifying the meaning of it. “The nation was smashed and dispersed,” but that does not mean “the catastrophic final battle was necessarily the whole story.”136 We are told that the final battle occurred when two opposing armies found themselves in a stalemate. Shiz’s armies camp at Ogath and Coriantumr’s at Ramah. They spend four years gathering “all the people upon all the face of the land,” Ether being the only exception. The reason it takes so long, Nibley surmises, is because of “an outstanding lack of patriotic passion among the people,” not that it takes time to round up so many people—even though this is what the Book of Mormon indicates when they assemble “all who were upon the face of the land.” Nibley argues that this may have been the goal, but it is not necessarily what happened. It seems the Book of Mormon disagrees: “They were all gathered together, every one to the army which he would, with their wives and their children.” Nibley thought this verse was “simply a general remark” and should not be taken literally, an error on the narrator’s part.137
Nibley must still explain Ether’s prophecy that every soul would be destroyed except Coriantumr. More specifically, the Lord tells Ether to prophesy to Coriantumr that
if he would repent, and all his household, the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people—otherwise they should be destroyed, and all his household save it were himself. And he should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance; and Coriantumr should receive a burial by them; and every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr.
Nibley argues that Ether’s prophecy extends only to the people of Coriantumr’s kingdom, not to the people of the other Jaredite kingdoms. But there is only one kingdom, Coriantumr being “king over all the land” when the rebellion begins, also when Ether prophesies. The remainder of the Jaredite history refers to only one kingdom and one people covering “all the face of the land.”138
True enough, as Nibley says, “it stretches credulity to believe” there would be no renegades and no survivors; “it is extremely unlikely,” but that is what we are told.139 Within the logic of the book’s own assumptions, an entire nation can be “swept off” the land due to the “fulness of [God’s] wrath” and no one should be surprised because it is the nature of the genre.140
About the time the Jaredites are destroyed, God brings Lehi’s party to the promised land.141 Nephi does not mention that they encounter anyone in the jungle. It is a paradise for the taking, and God tells them it is their “inheritance” for the foreseeable future until the Pilgrims and other colonists arrive in this perpetual land “of liberty.” For now, “this land” will be kept secret from other nations, Lehi is told. If Nephi and his brothers persevere, “they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves.” In short, Lehi and his group have the land to “themselves” for their “inheritance.” The region is “choice above all other lands” and “kept” for the time being “from the knowledge of other nations.” God tells Lehi that a rival country, a thinly veiled reference to Great Britain, will one day take the land away from his sons’ descendants, but that for now they are safe.142
Lehi speaks of “other nations” he has seen in vision that God will “bring,”143 not of people already there. Even so, Sorenson thinks “other nations” means people who have been “waiting in the wings, so to speak,” to the north and south of Mexico until they see their chance to encroach on the Israelite territories. Until then, they are “restrained” by “divine power” to protect the Israelite immigrants as long as the Nephites keep God’s commandments.144 Sorenson, like Nibley, finds a way to work these other cultures into the picture because the scientific record demands it, not because the Book of Mormon recognizes millions of native Americans.
The only other people mentioned in the book are the Mulekites, whom the Lord leads out of Jerusalem shortly after Lehi leaves. Mosiah discovers them in Zarahemla several hundred years later.145 Indeed, all people are routinely described as Israelites and are said to be of Jewish ancestry throughout the Book of Mormon. This alone seems to controvert the theory of their assimilation by or absorption of neighboring tribes.146 For example, Nephi prophesies that the gentiles will carry the Book of Mormon to “the remnant of our seed” in order to inform American Indians “that they are descendants of the Jews.”147 When the prophets foretell scenes of genocide by gentile invaders, there are no indigenous people in the prophecies outside of the Jews. At the end of the record, Mormon reminds his people that they “are a remnant of the seed of Jacob,” another way of saying Israelites.148 When Jesus visits, he reveals that his “other sheep” are not gentiles, as those in Jerusalem thought, and that the gentiles would never hear his voice, implying that no survivor is a gentile. He calls the people “a remnant of the house of Israel” (3 Ne. 15:21-23).
Throughout the Nephite history, people are identified as descendants only of “the founding Israelite immigrants,” as Brent Metcalfe documented.149 Centuries after Jesus comes, there are still references to Ishmaelites, Jacobites, Josephites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, Nephites, and Zoramites.150 Nothing has changed. People still identify themselves as being of the house of Israel. They are silent about anyone else in the New World. Everything supports, or is consistent with, ethnic isolation.151
Defenders have found little evidence of other people. Sorenson suggests that the Lamanites, as nomadic hunters, did not develop populations comparable to “the ambitious Nephite cultivators,” and yet they were “exceedingly more numerous” than the Nephites. He writes that “the only believable answer is that the immigrant Lamanites incorporated under their rule native peoples already living in the region.”152 R. Jan Stout argued that rather than see a mistake on the narrator’s part where Nephi talks of “my people” and “the people of Nephi,” “suggesting a rather sizeable number,” we should assume there were others. Stout mentions their steel swords and buildings, including a temple, that “would seem to be beyond the scope of just [Nephi’s] own and Zoram’s family and their children.”153 Another explanation would be that Joseph Smith gave no more thought to propagation rates than he did to lifespans, thereby leaving traces of a creative process.
Sorenson observes that a man named Sherem appears in the Nephite camp one day and has “a perfect knowledge of the language of the people.” Sherem denies Christ, demands a sign, is cursed, confesses his sin, and dies. Sorenson wonders where this man came from, who “calls Jacob ‘brother’ yet had not spoken to him previously.”154 He must have wandered in from “some other settlement,” Sorenson suggests. The professor is right about Sherem not appearing to be a Nephite or Lamanite, since he is Torah-observant and defends the law of Moses. A Jewish heritage seems intended. But this may well be yet another lapse in the narrative. Joseph Smith may have given no thought to Sherem’s origin because there was already a “multitude” of people in Jacob’s day, even though he is a first-generation Nephite. Sorenson estimates that the adult population of the Nephites at that time “would not have exceeded a few dozen adults.”155
Nibley and Sorenson found a final piece of evidence for the presence of outsiders in Alma’s account of preaching to the Zoramites, who had separated themselves from the Nephites and started their own colony. Alma says to God in prayer that “their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren.” If “bretheren” means relatives, and “many” of them are, then who are the others? Brent Metcalfe has answered that the original manuscript and first edition of the Book of Mormon had the words “near brethren,” which has a different connotation, suggesting “close relatives” of the missionaries, as opposed to, for instance, non-Israelites. This would be to say that the rest of the Zoramite population was probably Nephite but not as close to the eight missionaries as others who might be considered extended family.156
Such is the evidence, or lack thereof, of surviving Jaredites other than Coriantumr, and other peoples alongside the Nephites. It is the same with the other Book of Mormon difficulties we have examined. Neither a hemispheric nor a limited geography works. Limited geography proponents know that the traditional hemispheric interpretation of the Book of Mormon does not stand up. Positing only Israelites in the western hemisphere, it does not square with what we now know, for example, about the Asiatic origins of Native Americans or the 1,500 languages that existed in Columbus’s time. A limited geography was supposed to solve these problems, with Nephite and Lamanite colonies absorbing surviving Jaredites and indigenous peoples, who would leave their cultures behind and swell the population. Only later would the Asians so overwhelm the Book of Mormon people that no trace of the Nephites or Lamanites would remain, DNA or otherwise. But the internal evidence does not support surviving Jaredites, as suggested by Nibley, or other peoples, as suggested by Sorenson. After a strenuous effort by both professors, as well as by Tvedtnes and Welch, where are we? We seem to be back where we started, with no more illumination than before except that they have challenged us to weigh their arguments and consider the evidence, which we have done, and we are somewhat wiser for having undertaken this journey with them.
2. John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” Brigham Young University Studies 10, no. 1 (Autumn 1969): 69-84; Welch, “The Discovery of Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: Forty Years Later, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16,
no. 2 (2007): 74-87, 99; Welch, “A Study Relating Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon to Chiasmus in the Old Testament, Ugaritic Epics, Homer, and Selected Greek and Latin Authors,” MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 1970.
3. John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985).
4. See, e.g., “Self-Portrait: An Intellectual Autobiography by Hugh W. Nibley,” BYU Today, Aug. 1978, 11, where the professor admitted he was “not yet confident in Egyptian” when he began defending Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri that turned up in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I frankly skirmished and sparred for time,” Nibley said, “making the most of those sources which support the Book of Abraham [part of the Mormon scripture known as the Pearl of Great Price] from another side, the recent and growing writing, ancient and modern, about the forgotten legends and traditions of Abraham.”
5. John A. Tvedtnes, review of Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 34, citing three authors in the Improvement Era magazine: Thomas W. Brookbank (1909, 1910, 1914), Sidney B. Sperry (1954), and E. Craig Bramwell (1961), as well as M. Deloy Pack, “Possible Lexical Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon (Words of Mormon-Moroni),” MA thesis, BYU, 1973.
6. John A. Tvedtnes, “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, eds. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), viii, 77-91.
7. 1 Ne. 1:2; 5:10-22; Mosiah 1:2-4; Morm. 9:32-34; Tvedtnes, “Hebrew Background,” 77-78; Brian D. Stubbs, “Book of Mormon Language,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 179-81.
15. In support of Tvedtnes, an article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism asserts that “consistent with a translation from the Hebrew,” there is no “apostrophe possession in the Book of Mormon” (Stubbs, “Book of Mormon Language,” 164). The encyclopedia is wrong because possessives are constructed with apostrophes thirty-five times in such phrases as “our father’s inheritance” and “the king’s army” (1 Ne. 3:16; Mosiah 18:34). They are also used in quotes from Isaiah, Malachi, and the biblical Jesus in reference to a “cockatrice’s den” (2 Ne. 21:8; 30:14), “horses’ hoofs” (2 Ne. 15:28), a “man’s heart” (2 Ne. 23:7), the “refiner’s fire” (3 Ne. 24:2), and “sheep’s clothing” (3 Ne. 14:15), among others (1 Ne. 20:9; 2 Ne. 17:7; 18:1; 24:29; 3 Ne. 12:10; 24:2). One can find other conventional possessives in Mosiah chapters 6, 7, 9, 18, 20, 23, 24; Alma 4, 8, 18, 21, 22, 24, 30, 38, 45, 46, 62; Helaman 4, 5, 13; 3 Nephi 19; Mormon 1; Ether 10.
19. BofC 1:5; 2:1, 5, 6; 4:5; 16:13; 25:28; 45:30; D&C 1:25-28; 3:1, 2, 13, 20; 19:15; 24:18; 43:25. Some of these repetitions have been eliminated in subsequent editions, such as at D&C 3:16-18; 5:18-19.
21. Tvedtnes cites two verses. In the first, 1 Ne. 10:17, he thinks “and the Son of God was the Messiah which should come” should have been put in parentheses. In the first edition of the Book of Mormon, it was a separate sentence, and now it is set off by dashes. Parentheses would have worked just fine. In the second example, 3 Ne. 12:1, the parenthetical phrase does not begin with and, nor did it in the original edition. It begins with now. Tvedtnes also sees evidence of underlying Hebrew in the following verse: “And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death” (Alma 1:15). Consistent with Hebrew usage, Tvedtness believes that “and his name was Nehor” should be in parentheses, which could be, but the mid-sentence correction, “he was caused, or rather did acknowledge,” suggests dictation rather than translation.
23. BofC 24:8-10; D&C 20:9-11; see also BofC 1:4, 5, 6; D&C 1:17-18, 29-30, 35-36. In Joseph Smith’s initial 1832 history, he began, “A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience … and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ” (Jessee, Personal Writings, 4).
30. 1 Ne. 7:12; 17:14; Moro. 9:25; BofC 15:46; 41:14; D&C 18:42; 39:15. In Joseph Smith’s personal writings, he talks of children “before they arive to the years of accountability,” but his usage is inconsistent. The Book of Mormon assures us that God is “a respecter to persons” (Moro. 8:12), and this was repeated twice in the Book of Commandments (1:6; 40:14), then changed in the Doctrine and Covenants (1:35; 38:16); cf. Jessee, Personal Writings, 5, 71, 263, 301; 1 Ne. 18:23; Mosiah 10:15; 21:26; 22:13; 24:25; Alma 17:13; 20:30; 52:18; 56:15; 58:27.
31. 1 Ne. 1:9; 2:20; 11:9; 13:30; 15:36; Jacob 5:43; Mosiah 1:11; Alma 9:20; 32:42; 39:5; 3 Ne. 9:9; Ether 1:38; cf. Isa. 2:2; 14:13; 2 Ne. 12:2; 24:7, 13; BofC 15:49; 24:7; D&C 18:45; 20:6; Jessee, Personal Writings, 6, 37, 151, 186, 199-200.
32. Never could be a people more blessed than were they. … And they were in a land that was choice above all lands” (Ether 10:28); “the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer” (Alma 1:26).
38. Isa. 52:10. Examples of completed phrases would be “to become popular in the eyes of the world” and, as a near save, “these stones shall magnify to the eyes of men these things” (1 Ne. 22:23; Ether 3:24); cf. 1 Ne. 22:10, 11; Mosiah 12:24; 15:31; 3 Ne. 16:20; 20:35. “Power of God” is common throughout the Book of Mormon, as are other “power of” expressions with varying nouns following, and “mysteries of God” is used eight times.
40. Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828). Hebrew scholar David Wright pointed out to me that this use of “heads” is not from ancient Hebrew, so “how can it be called a Hebraism? To what extent does Tvedtnes seem willing to call any odd language in the BM a Hebraism?” (private correspondence). Deut. 33:15; Ps. 127:6; Prov. 1:21; Amos 6:1; Song of Sol. 4:14; Ezek. 27:22.
43. The New Testament says Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3), and the Book of Mormon seems to be responding to this by providing him with a father; cf. Gen. 14:18-20; Ps. 110:4; Heb. 6:20; 7:1.
46. Elsewhere, Tvedtnes composed a list of two non-biblical words in the Book of Mormon with possible Hebrew roots, Jershon and Nahom, and four words used in ways that would fit the culture of ancient Israel: dwell, throw, treasury, and vineyard (“The Language of the Book of Mormon,” online at Book of Mormon Research, bookofmormonresearch.org).
47. Welch, “Discovery of Chiasmus”; Chiasmus in Antiquity, ed. John W. Welch (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1981), 9-16; Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 33-52; “A Masterpiece: Alma 36,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, eds. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 114-31; Welch, ed., Re-exploring the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 230–32; Welch, “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, no. 2 (1995): 1-14; Welch, “What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo: FARMS, 1997), 199-224; Welch, “How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?” in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 15, no. 1 (2003): 47-80.
48. See Noel B. Reynolds, “Nephi’s Outline,” Brigham Young University Studies 20, no. 2 (Winter 1980): 131-49; Donald W. Parry, “Climactic Forms in the Book of Mormon,” in Re-exploring the Book of Mormon, 290-92; Davis Bitton, “B. H. Roberts and Book of Mormon Scholarship, Early Twentieth-Century: Age of Transition,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 2 (1999): 60-69; Hugh W. Pinnock, Finding Biblical Hebrew and Other Ancient Literary Forms in the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 199); Robert W. Rees, “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 83-112; Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 125, 133, 173, 222. See also David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999).
49. See John S. Kselman, “Ancient Chiasmus Studied,” Dialogue 17 (Winter 1984): 146-48; Brent Lee Metcalfe, “Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity,” Dialogue 26 (Fall 1993): 153-84; Dan Vogel, “The Use and Abuse of Chiasmus in Book of Mormon Studies,” paper delivered at Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, 2001; David P. Wright, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Or Joseph Smith in Isaiah,” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, eds. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 157-234; Wright, “The Fallacies of Chiasmus: A Critique of Structures Proposed for the Covenant Collection,” in Zeitschrift für altorientalistische und biblische Rechtsgeschichte 10 (2004): 162-63n37. See also, on chiasmus generally, David M. Scholer, Klyne R. Snodbrass, and Paul W. Brandel, preface to the 1992 edition of Nils W. Lund, Chiasmus in the New Testament: A Study in the Form and Function of Chiastic Structures (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), xiv, xxi, who wrote that “the examples Lund identified often are not convincing, and at times he clearly forced texts to fit his desired pattern … The abuses of chiasmus are frequent. The fact of the matter is that if a person wants to find chiasmus, he or she probably will.”
50. The term derives from the Greek letter chi (χ) and from the Greek word chiazein (“to mark with a χ”), because χ is descriptive of the chiastic form (Welch, “Chiasmus,” in Book of Mormon Authorship, 35).
54. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” 69-84, 198-210; Reynolds, “Nephi’s Outline,” 53-74; Noel B. Reynolds, “The Political Dimension in Nephi’s Small Plates,” Brigham Young University Studies 27, no. 4 (Fall 1987): 15-37.
57. In 1969 Welch had a one-line turning point: “Called upon Jesus Christ.” In 1981 he added a matching element (verse numbers in parentheses): “Alma remembers one Jesus Christ (17), Alma calls upon Jesus Christ (18).” In 1982 he included the atonement as a one-line turning point. In 1991 he reverted to his 1981 turning point but included “son of God”: “I remembered Jesus Christ, a son of God (17), I cried, Jesus, son of God (18).” See Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” 83; Welch, Chiasmus in Antiquity, 206; Welch, “Chiasmus,” in Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship, 49-50; and Welch, “Masterpiece,” 117. The first and last elements of a chiasm rather than the central turning point may be the most important (Wright, “Fallacies of Chiasmus”).
62. Welch, “Criteria,” 1-14. His fifteen factors were (1) “objectivity” of selection; (2) clear “purpose”; (3) distinct “boundaries” (complete sentences, full chapters); (4) no “competition with other forms,” by which he ruled out “Hickory, Dickory, Dock” as primarily a limerick; (5) impressive “length,” counter-intuitively suggesting that the longer and more complex the chiasm, the better representation of the form; (6) a high “density” of selected words; (7) “dominance” of key nouns, verbs, and phrases; (8) a low incidence of outlying “mavericks” that need to be rounded up or passed over; (9) low “reduplication,” by which one might expect him to mean variant forms of words from a common root, but by which Welch simply repeats the idea he expressed in point 8 about multiple occurrences of the same word; (10) “centrality” of key ideas; (11) “balance” in word lengths; (12) a “climax”; (13) a “return” to original ideas; (14) “compatibility” with the author’s style; and (15) “aesthetics” or “artistic success.”
63. Ibid., 6; section H is four times longer than Hʹ; section Bʹ is three times longer than B; section Dʹ is 2.5 times longer than D; and section Eʹ is twice as long as E. To be more precise, Alma 36 violates at least numbers 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, and 11 of Welch’s rules for chiasmus.
73. For a fuller discussion, see Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, “Response to Earl M. Wunderli’s ‘Critique of Alma 36 as an Extended Chiasm”; Earl M. Wunderli, “Response to Boyd and Farrell Edwards’s Response to My ‘Critique of Alma 36 as an Extended Chiasm,’” Dialogue 39, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 164-69, 170-73.
74. See Ray T. Matheny, “Book of Mormon Archaeology,” Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, Aug. 25, 1984, typescript, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; Simon G. Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004); John Roach, “Siberian, Native American Languages Linked,” National Geographic News, Mar. 26, 2008, online at news.nationalgeographic.com.
79. Smith, “How Many Nephites?” 261-62; also Noel B. Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” Brigham Young University Studies 38, no. 2 (1999): 33-34. While the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon incorporated “Orson Pratt’s traditional hemispheric views” in the footnotes, they were omitted from later editions.
80. Sorenson, Ancient American Setting. Over the years there have been some seventy models of Book of Mormon geography (Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book [Provo: FARMS, 1990], 3, 38-41), but Sorenson dismissed them all for failing “to deal successfully with certain geographical data in the scripture.” He thus started over by identifying every statement in the Book of Mormon that bore upon geography (209-10). For agreement, see William J. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no. 3 (1993): 171n34; Noel B. Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” Brigham Young University Studies 38, no. 2 (1999): 33-34.
81. John L. Sorenson, Geography Source Book, 178. See also Sorenson, “Digging into the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Sept., Oct. 1984, 26-37, 12-23; Sorenson, Ancient American Setting; Sorenson, “Mesoamerican Record,” 391-521.
82. Martin T. Lamb, The Golden Bible: Or the Book of Mormon, Is It From God? (New York: Ward & Drummond, 1887); Richard D. Anderson, “The Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist,” Dialogue 30, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 83n49; also Wright, “Historical Criticism: A Necessary Element in the Search for Religious Truth,” Sunstone, Sept. 1992, 38n59.
83. See, e.g., Smith, “How Many Nephites?” 263-64, explaining that “by the mid-twentieth century, most authors believed Book of Mormon history took place primarily within the more limited confines of Central America.”
85. Ibid., 352-53; Fletcher B. Hammond, Geography of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing Company, 1959), 89, thought Moroni had to march from Central to North America as a convenience to Joseph Smith; David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah (Bountiful, UT: Horizon, 1992), 20, saw the distance as the reason for Mormon’s portable abridgment; Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems,” 178, outlined a possible travel route.
86. Sorenson, “Book of Mormon as Mesoamerican Record,” 392; Sorenson, “Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe!” (response to Deanne G. Matheny’s “Does the Shoe Fit? A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec Geography” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe), in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 297-361. Matheny challenged Sorenson’s model for, among other things, ignoring that the Book of Mormon has the narrow neck running north and south, not east to west, and ignoring the important archaeological sites on the Yucatan peninsula, something Bruce W. Warren called Sorenson’s “sore thumb” in his reviews of F. Richard Hauck’s Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon: Settlements and Routes in Ancient America and Sorenson’s Ancient American Setting in Brigham Young University Studies 30, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 134. Sorenson thinks the Yucatan is unimportant since, according to his theory, it is “undescribed in the scripture” and called simply the “east or south wilderness” (Ancient American Setting, 35-37).
87. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems,” 170, complains that people assume place names will be transmitted phonetically from one language to another and regrets that we do not have anything like Eusebius’s Onomasticon, a geographical directory of Palestine. This is only partly convincing, however, because names are usually either translated or transliterated, and in the case of the Book of Mormon we do not see evidence of either.
91. H. Michael Marquardt, “Early Nineteenth-Century Events Reflected in the Book of Mormon,” The Journal of Pastoral Practice 3, no. 1 (1979): 114, suggests that details in the Book of Mormon about North American history and lack of information about Central or South America show the book’s New England origin.
98. 1 Ne. 22:7-8; a “land of liberty” (2 Ne. 1:5, 7, 8), probably reflecting Joseph’s enthusiasm for his own country founded just two generations earlier; cf. Richard L. Bushman, “The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution,” in Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship, 191-92; Jessee, Personal Writings, 407, 553, 578; and where the “fulness” of the gospel would be established (3 Ne. 20:14, 28; 21:2, 4, 7).
101. Alma 63:4-6, 9; Hel. 3:3-5, 8; but John Clark, “A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1 (1989): 64, cast this passage as “metaphorical”; as did Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems,” 189; Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 16, 266, 336; and Sorenson, Geography Source Book, 289-90, thinks the “fourfold labeling of seas applies specifically” to a limited land area with water on all sides, regardless of compass ordinals; while B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, ed. Brigham D. Madsen (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 204, endorsed the hemispheric perspective of apostle Orson Pratt, whose marginal notes in the Book of Mormon described the “sea south” as the “Atlantic, south of Cape Horn” and the “sea north” as the “Arctic, north of North America.”
111. Hel. 4:7; Sorenson argues that they did not really mean from sea to sea (ibid., 290-91), but this is unpersuasive; see my “Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events,” Dialogue 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 187n61.
121. Sorenson, Geography Source Book, 401-415. Some have tried. One suggested that since “preclassic sites in Mesoamerica” are “aligned sixty-five degrees west of north,” they must be based on solar readings at “ the extremes of the sun’s travel on 21/22 June and 21/22 December,” influencing their sense of north (David Palmer, review of Joseph Allen’s Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young University Studies 30, no. 3 [Summer 1990]: 136-42). Another thought Nephites, like other Semitic people, faced east toward the rising sun but used Egyptian terminology so that “face,” the Egyptian south, became “front,” the Hebrew east, thus skewing directions ninety degrees (Sorenson, Geography Source Book, 405, 413-14).
123. Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Single Word Change in Book of Mormon Speaks Volumes,” The Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 8, 2007, first online and then in 2013 print edition; Paul R. Cheesman, The Keystone of Mormonism: Little Known Truths about the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973); Jessee, Personal Writings, 203, 213-220; George D. Smith Jr., “‘Is There Any Way to Escape These Difficulties?’: The Book of Mormon Studies of B. H. Roberts,” Dialogue 17 (Summer 1984): 94-111; Sorenson, Geography Source Book, 9; Thorne, “Complexity, Consistency,” 182-83.
124. This is summarized in George D. Smith to the editor, Dialogue 18 (Summer 1985): 5-6; Brigham D. Madsen, “Reflections on LDS Disbelief in the Book of Mormon as History,” Dialogue 30 (Fall 1997): 92.
128. Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 86, 89, 146-47; Frank J. Johnson to the editor, Sunstone, Dec. 1990, 5; John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land,” 1-34; Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems, 179-80; John L. Sorenson and Matthew Roper, “Before DNA,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 1 (2003): 11.
134. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 256; and in accord, Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 119-20, who states that “many Latter-day Saints” have “oversimplified how complete the ‘destruction’ of the Jaredites was.” Nibley suggests that the survivors are the ones who “perpetuate[d] a strong Asiatic element in the culture and blood of the American Indian.” The Jaredites apparently developed the Asiatic strain by passing through Asia on their way to America, and then passing it down 1,600 years later.
135. Omni 1:21; Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 241-42; and in accord, Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 119-20: “Jaredite contributions to the later peoples were substantial”; “significant Jaredite elements persisted into Mulekite and Nephite times”; “cultural continuity from Jaredite into later times”; “substantial Jaredite cultural and linguistic influence” that goes uncredited to the Jaredites because it comes via the Mulekites (460-61).
138. Ether 12:1; 13:15, 20-22, 25-26; Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 240-41; cf. references to the “kingdom” (Ether 13:23-24), divided kingdom (7:20-22; 10:30-32; 11:14-16); “all the land” (14:1, 19), people across “all the face of the land” (14:21-22), “none left to bury the dead” (15:11-12), and “all” the people (15:14, 15, 23, 29-30).
140. Ether 11:12, 20 leaves little doubt that God will “utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth” and “execute judgment against them to their utter destruction,” with similar statements in Ether chapters 1, 2, 8, 12, and 13, confirmed (“entire destruction”) in Hel. 6:28; Mosiah 8:8; 21:26; 28:17; and Alma 37:26, 29.
141. In contrast to the Jaredites, Lehi’s party brings only seeds, finding “beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals” (1 Ne. 18:24-25), all presumably brought by the Jaredites to an empty land.
144. Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 83; but Mark D. Thomas, Digging in Cumorah: Reclaiming Book of Mormon Narratives (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 63n1, rightly challenges Sorenson for “idiosyncratic interpretations” which are “inconsistent with the text of the Book of Mormon,” that “once we recognize the eschatological nature” of Lehi’s prophecy, Sorenson’s “interpretations become untenable.”
147. 2 Ne. 30:3-4; also 1 Ne. 13:10-12, 14, 30-31, 34, 38-39; 15:13-14. See, in accord, Timothy L. Smith, “Book of Mormon in a Biblical Culture,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1:168-69; Bruce A. Chadwick and Thomas Garrow, “Native Americans,” ibid., 3:981-85.
149. Metcalfe, “Reinventing Lamanite Identity,” 21; Mosiah 17:2; 25:13; Alma 10:2-3; 3 Ne. 5:20; and for specific ancestors, Alma 17:19, 21 (Ishmael); Alma 56:3 (Laman); Alma 24:9 (Laman and Lemuel); Mosiah 7:3, 13; 25:2; Hel. 1:15; 6:10 (Mulek); Morm. 1:5; 8:13 (Nephi); Alma 54:23 (Zoram).
150. 4 Ne. 1:17, 35-39; Morm. 1:8. See in accord, John W. Welch, Finding Answers to B. H. Roberts’s Questions and ‘An Unparallel’: Preliminary Report (Provo: FARMS, 1985), 6, 32, citing Jacob 1:13; 3 Ne. 7:2; 4 Ne. 1:36-39; Morm. 1:8; also in accord, John L. Sorenson, “Book of Mormon Peoples,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1:215.
151. Sorenson calls the Nephite record a “lineage history” of people “claiming descent from a common ancestor” (“Book of Mormon as Mesoamerican Record,” 418); cf. in accord, Nibley, Since Cumorah, 249-50. Sorenson, “Digging into the Book of Mormon,” 30, explains, “It is like the Old Testament, primarily a family chronicle,” comparable to the “patriarchal period” in that Abraham’s family is “closely knit with other peoples and cultures who are mainly ignored in the record. Ur, Lot, Abimelech, Gomorrah, the ‘five kings,’ and Melchizedek are glimpsed in passing, but they are essentially part of the scenery.” But in the Nephite and Jaredite records, no “other peoples and cultures” or individuals are even “glimpsed in passing.”
The same scribes who are recording the family history of religious leaders in the Book of Mormon report that they are elsewhere chronicling the wars, shipping, construction, and so on, but not a hint of other people (Hel. 3:13-15; cf. 1 Ne. 19:1, 4; 2 Ne. 4:14-15; Jacob 1:2-3; 3:13; Jarom 14; W of M 5; Alma 3:12). Sorenson thinks the surviving “avengers no doubt destroyed such Nephite books and monuments as they could find” to “nail down” their own “political ‘rights’ after Cumorah … They generally succeeded,” since there is an “absence of clear references to the Nephites in surviving Mesoamerican records” (“Book of Mormon as Mesoamerican Record,” 425-26); see in accord, David J. Johnson, “Archaeology,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1:62-63; Morgan W. Tanner, “Jaredites,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:717-20; “New Light,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 70-73; Louis Midgley, “New Book a Milestone in Mormon Studies,” Insights, 2002, 1-65; Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, vii.
153. 2 Ne. 5:6, 8-9; R. Jan Stout to editor, Sunstone, Dec. 1990, 5-6, dismisses “the fact that the Book of Mormon does not specifically mention initial encounters with other people” because, “for any number of reasons,” although none suggested, “Nephi may have decided against being any more explicit”; see in accord, Sorenson and Roper, “Before DNA,” 13-14, listing only three adult males in the group: Nephi, Sam, and Zoram, and possibly Jacob and Joseph.