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BofM Smithisms and 1 Nephi 10:8-10's reliance on the NT Gospels


Joseph Antley

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I think that most serious students of the Book of Mormon have come to the conclusion that, while an ancient text, the Nephite record is overlaid in our English translation with numerous "Smithisms," meaning Joseph Smith's inspired nineteenth-century elaborations, interpretations, and interpolations of the text. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, this is most clearly seen in the use of the "in other words" clauses that frequent the text (as in 1 Nephi 8:2; 10:4; and Alma 40:19).

But another obvious Smithism seems to be the common use of KJV-Bible language in the text, most evident in the Isaiah/Matthew/Malachi chapters but more subtly in others. One of the more subtle (but probably the least subtle of the more subtle) is 1 Nephi 10:8-10, which relies heavily on the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Below are both texts with common phrases italicized:

"Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. And much spake my father concerning this thing. And my father said he should baptize in Bethabara, beyond Jordan; and he also said he should baptize with water; even that he should baptize the Messiah with water. And after he had baptized the Messiah with water, he should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world." (1 Nephi 10:8-10)

"He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. ... John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold he Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:23, 26-29)

Clearly the Nephi passage relies on the Gospel of John; not only do they use identical wordage in describing the same event, but they also describe it in the same sequence. It seems safe to dub the KJV wordage here a "Smithism." The next question is, then, how much of this passage is Nephi, and how much if Joseph Smith? I don't think that we can know; the Prophet's inspired interpolations are so deeply interwoven into the text that I doubt it's possible to confidently separate them in instances like this.

So, sweeping that aside for the time being, the next question seems to be, were these KJV passages consciously copied from a copy of the Bible in the Prophet's possession? It seems almost certain that the Isaiah/Malachi/Matthew passages were dictated using a Bible in hand due to their length and the conspicuous editing of italicized words in the KJV, but I'm not so certain in these smaller passages.

For one, it's heavily edited. It doesn't quote the verses verbatim; instead it borrows phrases and sentences and weaves them into Nephi's narrative. Second, and most importantly, the first verse in 1 Nephi 10:8 quotes Isaiah, but although it appears in the sequence of John 1, it doesn't quote John 1:23. Nor does it quote Isaiah 40:3, the original source of the passage. Instead it quotes the verse as it appears in the Synoptic Gospels. It also borrows the phrase "one mightier than I" from the Synoptics (Mark or Luke). 1 Nephi 10:8-10 weaves together the different accounts of Jesus' baptism in the four gospels into a single narrative. This seems so uncharacteristic of the KJV passages in the Book of Mormon that I find it hard to believe that it was done consciously. Then again, the lack of any variance between the phrases as they appear in the Book of Mormon and the NT may support a verbatim dictation from the text, not a reliance on memory.

Is the likely scenario for this Smithism that the Prophet was familiar with the different passages and, in his inspired rendering of the text, used a medley of familiar sources to describe a familiar event that may or may not accurately reflect the details written 2,600 years ago by Nephi? Or did he have a Bible in-hand that he flipped back-and-forth from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Mark, taking phrases and sentence fragments from both and weaving them together?

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Hi, Joseph.

Interesting OP. A biblical text on hand during the BoM production would certainly explain the KJV terminology, which accounts for the fact that many people have made this assumption, including B.H. Roberts. How would you account for the dictation witness statements from Emma and several of the Whitmers that no text was used in the production process and that if JS had a text, they would have seen it?

Regards

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Interesting OP. A biblical text on hand during the BoM production would certainly explain the KJV terminology, which accounts for the fact that many people have made this assumption, including B.H. Roberts. How would you account for the dictation witness statements from Emma and several of the Whitmers that no text was used in the production process and that if JS had a text, they would have seen it?

The KJV terminology is perfect evidence that a biblical text is the source for corresponding BoM text.

Keeping in mind that witnesses are notoriously unreliable, it suggests to me that Emma and the Whitmers are yet another example of this phenomenon. They missed some sleight of hand, perhaps. It also seems likely that they overstated how closely they observed the writing process as it progressed day after day for many weeks. Overstating with good intentions, of course.

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Hi, Joseph.

Interesting OP. A biblical text on hand during the BoM production would certainly explain the KJV terminology, which accounts for the fact that many people have made this assumption, including B.H. Roberts. How would you account for the dictation witness statements from Emma and several of the Whitmers that no text was used in the production process and that if JS had a text, they would have seen it?

Regards

I believe the witnesses were honest, and reliable as to what they witnessed. As far as I understand, the only witness who said no other book was consulted was Emma, and that, she said, was during the time she acted as scribe, which was with elements of the Lost 116 pages. "in other words", it's moot for the extant text.

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Hi, Nack.

Emma was also a scribe to start the second period. Also, there were a few Whitmers who made statements during the second period to the effect that no other texts were used. This is when the plates were on the table under a cloth and people came and went during the dictation. Emma frequently cleaned during the dictation, so aside from being a scribe during this era she was often in the room while it took place.

I'm typing this on a BB at the airport, otherwise I would provide the refs. I'm pretty sure that RSR will have the sources.

Regards

I believe the witnesses were honest, and reliable as to what they witnessed. As far as I understand, the only witness who said no other book was consulted was Emma, and that, she said, was during the time she acted as scribe, which was with elements of the Lost 116 pages. "in other words", it's moot for the extant text.

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Hi, Joseph.

Interesting OP. A biblical text on hand during the BoM production would certainly explain the KJV terminology, which accounts for the fact that many people have made this assumption, including B.H. Roberts. How would you account for the dictation witness statements from Emma and several of the Whitmers that no text was used in the production process and that if JS had a text, they would have seen it?

Regards

The only reference to that effect I'm familiar with is that of Emma's, and as others mentioned, she was not a scribe nor present for most of the translation. Emma is not an especially reliable witness in any case; because of her statements about polygamy, I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility that she would "stretch the truth" in order to protect the reputation of her former husband.

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The easy and real answer is that the Urim and Thummim/White Stone contained a ready reference online KJV in it. When Joseph Smith saw something familiar, he just had to mentally flip to the pages he needed, and quote or paraphrase straight from them.

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That's right. You heard it here first, folks. The Seer Stone was the first Wireless Internet Console Time Machine. Makes the Liahona look wimpy in comparison.

Maybe you don't know all of what the Liahona was capable of...?

What's wrong with a 19th century peep stone having a wireless connection to the future's Internet? Was this not a divine work?

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But did any of that cover the 'small plates' portion (the very end of the process) , which is where the majority of the Isaiah KJV is transcribed?

But that does not account for the lengthy passages from both the New Testament and the Old (Matthew and Malachi, as well as Isaiah) that Christ dictated to Nephi, found in 3 Nephi. And we also have Mormon and Moroni's passages (e.g., in parallel with 1 Cor 13).

For my part, I am convinced that Joseph was both very familiar with the Bible and gave the best interpretation he could based on the Nephite record but drawing from his memory of the appropriate biblical passages.

We XXI USmericans forget how well people read the Bible in earlier periods. There are remarkable instances of many people quoting (or very nearly so) from the Bible and applying the scripture to their current lives. While Joseph was not known for long sessions with the Bible, he did ponder and pray about it.

Furthermore, we know that God promised him (or at least to Oliver) that the process would be confirmatory, not dictatorially, as he applied the best effort he could while translating.

Lehi

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So, sweeping that aside for the time being, the next question seems to be, were these KJV passages consciously copied from a copy of the Bible in the Prophet's possession? It seems almost certain that the Isaiah/Malachi/Matthew passages were dictated using a Bible in hand due to their length and the conspicuous editing of italicized words in the KJV, but I'm not so certain in these smaller passages.

For one, it's heavily edited. It doesn't quote the verses verbatim; instead it borrows phrases and sentences and weaves them into Nephi's narrative. Second, and most importantly, the first verse in 1 Nephi 10:8 quotes Isaiah, but although it appears in the sequence of John 1, it doesn't quote John 1:23. Nor does it quote Isaiah 40:3, the original source of the passage. Instead it quotes the verse as it appears in the Synoptic Gospels. It also borrows the phrase "one mightier than I" from the Synoptics (Mark or Luke). 1 Nephi 10:8-10 weaves together the different accounts of Jesus' baptism in the four gospels into a single narrative. This seems so uncharacteristic of the KJV passages in the Book of Mormon that I find it hard to believe that it was done consciously. Then again, the lack of any variance between the phrases as they appear in the Book of Mormon and the NT may support a verbatim dictation from the text, not a reliance on memory.

This issue came up when I was a missionary and the way it was explained to us, is that the Lord gave the content to Bible writers and to Joseph Smith so it is OK to have passages in the Book of Mormon that are similar to what's in the Bible. For example, the similarities between the NT and the content of passages depicting Christ's visit to the American Continent. Of course, anti-Mormons would simply call it plagiarism. The other explanation was that the Lord gave the text word-for-word to Prophets in the American Continent the same way He did to Prophets in the Old World. It's a vague explanation, but it suited our needs when running into pastors and born-again Christians.

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A few thoughts on your OP, Antley.

First, bravo! This is very nicely put together. From what I think I recall of your post a few years ago, I think you've gained significantly in rigor. And this post is excellent by any standard.

Second, I would weigh in on Joseph Smith not having a Bible in hand at the time. The incessant biblical allusions in both his revelatory texts and his sermons suggest that he had a Bible in his head, and therefore didn't need one in hand. (By this I don't mean he had it verbatim memorized, only that he knew the Bible remarkably well.)

Third, one thing that puzzles me is your statement that the weaving together of KJV texts in this passage is uncharacteristic of BoM usage of the Bible. I think it is entirely characteristic. The better I learn the Bible, and the more closely I analyze the Book of Mormon, the more I see the latter's intentional use and interweaving of numerous biblical texts. It's all over, in my opinion. We only miss it because we read too quickly and know our King James Bible too superficially.

Cheers,

Don

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The only reference to that effect I'm familiar with is that of Emma's, and as others mentioned, she was not a scribe nor present for most of the translation. Emma is not an especially reliable witness in any case; because of her statements about polygamy, I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility that she would "stretch the truth" in order to protect the reputation of her former husband.

Hi, Joseph.

Not to belabor the point, but other witnesses did indeed testify that no text was used. Bushman and others cite some of the Whitmers. That's not to say that these statements don't have problems, just that we can't dismiss them out of hand when we build a theory.

Moving on from there, the pericope you cite seems to start and end with Isaiananic themes and phrases. Do you think that the text is laid out as if Lehi is supposed to be qouting Isaiah through the entire passage? Or is JS inserting ' smith-isms' at this point and it is supposed to be obvious that the NT phrasing is part of the expanded discourse despite the dating discrepancy?

Regards

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Maybe you don't know all of what the Liahona was capable of...?

Possibly not far off. JS at first copied the characters then looked at them with the UT. Later witness statements have him seeing the characters inside the UT and the stone, along with English text. JS was interacting with the text inside the stone without having it over the plates. If he could do that, why couldn't he see a KJV text the same way?

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If he could do that, why couldn't he see a KJV text the same way?

My question, then, is why would it reveal a KJV text?

But again, I don't think this is the case due to the seemingly-intentional editing of italicized words in the KJV, a pattern also found in the JST.

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My question, then, is why would it reveal a KJV text?.

It would entirely depend on how the process worked, right? If JS is simply a passive viewer then your question is spot on. If, however, the stone shows the text that JS desires to see--whether that is the source text characters, a possible translastion in target language, or even the KJV text (sans itilicized words, which he feels are unnecessary insertions)-- then the answer is simply that JS had some control over what he saw and that that is exactly what he wanted to see.

But again, I don't think this is the case due to the seemingly-intentional editing of italicized words in the KJV, a pattern also found in the JST.

I'm only looking at possibilities here. Let's suppose (as per some witnesses) that JS can see and interact with the source text through the UT and seer stone just by visualizing them.Then let us say that he is spiritually allowed to understand the meaning behind these characters. He deliberates on a functional equivalent translation for this meaning (see D&C 9) then sees the text of this in the stone, reading it off to the scribes. Under this construct, what would he do when reaching long passages of citations? Does he work through them in the same manner as other text, or does he simply desire to see the equivalent KJV passage in the stone as the translation and read it to the scribes? If the latter, would he visualize it without the italicized words intentionally?

Thoughts?

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The better I learn the Bible, and the more closely I analyze the Book of Mormon, the more I see the latter's intentional use and interweaving of numerous biblical texts. It's all over, in my opinion. We only miss it because we read too quickly and know our King James Bible too superficially.

I agree with you, but I think that for the most part this was done by the ancient authors, crafting their accounts in the same way the Hebrew Bible draws upon itself quite frequently. I'm actually working on a project related to that.

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This issue came up when I was a missionary and the way it was explained to us, is that the Lord gave the content to Bible writers and to Joseph Smith so it is OK to have passages in the Book of Mormon that are similar to what's in the Bible. For example, the similarities between the NT and the content of passages depicting Christ's visit to the American Continent. Of course, anti-Mormons would simply call it plagiarism. The other explanation was that the Lord gave the text word-for-word to Prophets in the American Continent the same way He did to Prophets in the Old World. It's a vague explanation, but it suited our needs when running into pastors and born-again Christians.

God certainly did not dictate the Bible in anything like KJV form. Yet, this connection with specifically King James language and style is what is at issue. The explanation we were given is really weak--in fact, it misses the point.

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I am serious when I compare the U&T to a computer. D&C 130 and the two or three spots in the Book of Mormon give us a great account of a celestial computer. We're told that one is given a secret new name as the keyword/password, which one must have to access the U&T. While the celestialized earth (also a U&T) teaches the things of lower kingdoms, the personal stone teaches of the higher things: it has a higher access.

We are told that the person who looks into it must not look for/at things he/she ought not look at. Sounds like an Internet computer without child protection guards on it....

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It would entirely depend on how the process worked, right? If JS is simply a passive viewer then your question is spot on. If, however, the stone shows the text that JS desires to see--whether that is the source text characters, a possible translastion in target language, or even the KJV text (sans itilicized words, which he feels are unnecessary insertions)-- then the answer is simply that JS had some control over what he saw and that that is exactly what he wanted to see.

I'm only looking at possibilities here. Let's suppose (as per some witnesses) that JS can see and interact with the source text through the UT and seer stone just by visualizing them.Then let us say that he is spiritually allowed to understand the meaning behind these characters. He deliberates on a functional equivalent translation for this meaning (see D&C 9) then sees the text of this in the stone, reading it off to the scribes. Under this construct, what would he do when reaching long passages of citations? Does he work through them in the same manner as other text, or does he simply desire to see the equivalent KJV passage in the stone as the translation and read it to the scribes? If the latter, would he visualize it without the italicized words intentionally?

Thoughts?

Hi J Green,

If I understand you correctly you would argue JS would view the KJV of the bible in the seer stone absent italicized words? And the reason the italicized words were absent was because JS was suspicious of the italicized words hence the seer stone did not show them to him? I do have one question concerning this model. Not all italicized words were altered yes many of them were but many were not. How did the seer stone know which italicized words to show JS and which to not? I can see how perhaps a blanket exclusion of italicized words would work. But if the seer stone is picking and choosing which italicized words to show based on JS interaction with the KJV of the bible. It seems to me this necessarily implies JS knew where the italicized words were in the Bible. If your explanation for the italicized words is based on the seer stone reflecting JS biases it necessarily follows JS had to know where the italicized words were in the text. Is it your contention JS had the KJV bible memorized to the extent necessary to recall every italicized word location?

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Hi, Uncertain.

The short answer is that I don't know.

I'm not so much proposing a theory as much as thinking out loud. If you've seen my comments from the other thread, you'll note that I still don't have any working theory on the KJV terminology. So here I'm taking some initial thoughts about the translation process and asking others how JS would handle long citations using that paradigm.

Simply put, according to some witnesses, JS could see souce text characters in the stone. He could also see English text that he would read. If D&C 9 and other evidence leads us to propose that JS had control of how to word the translation, what does this tell us about what he sees graphically represented in the stone? It seems to imply that he could see in the stone not only possible articulations visually represented but that he could also see other text that was actually located in a geographically separate area (souce text characters). This makes me ask the question: if he did this, could he see whatever portion of the KJV text that he wanted to see? I don't mean in the sense that he memorized large portions of the KJV text, rather that he could see it in the same sense that he could also see the source text characters in the stone (which he didn't memorize either). And if we say that he could see a source text plus a graphic representation of a desired translation, does this mean that JS is doing at an early stage via the stone what he later does with the JST vis-a-vis the italicized porttions?

Not a theory. I'm just asking if we can apply some conclusions about the process to the KJV portion as well.

Thoughts?

Regards

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Simply put, according to some witnesses, JS could see souce text characters in the stone. He could also see English text that he would read.

None of which actually saw what Joseph saw. We don't know whether their assertion is based on interpreting what they saw, or what Joseph explicitly told them. They don't tell us.

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Hi, Uncertain.

The short answer is that I don't know.

I'm not so much proposing a theory as much as thinking out loud. If you've seen my comments from the other thread, you'll note that I still don't have any working theory on the KJV terminology. So here I'm taking some initial thoughts about the translation process and asking others how JS would handle long citations using that paradigm.

Simply put, according to some witnesses, JS could see souce text characters in the stone. He could also see English text that he would read. If D&C 9 and other evidence leads us to propose that JS had control of how to word the translation, what does this tell us about what he sees graphically represented in the stone? It seems to imply that he could see in the stone not only possible articulations visually represented but that he could also see other text that was actually located in a geographically separate area (souce text characters). This makes me ask the question: if he did this, could he see whatever portion of the KJV text that he wanted to see? I don't mean in the sense that he memorized large portions of the KJV text, rather that he could see it in the same sense that he could also see the source text characters in the stone (which he didn't memorize either). And if we say that he could see a source text plus a graphic representation of a desired translation, does this mean that JS is doing at an early stage via the stone what he later does with the JST vis-a-vis the italicized porttions?

Not a theory. I'm just asking if we can apply some conclusions about the process to the KJV portion as well.

Thoughts?

Regards

Well I personally believe JS used a bible.The focus on modifying italicized words from the KJV is rock solid evidence a bible was used (not to mention the lengthy direct quotations from the Old and New testament). I do understand this could conflict with some interpretations of witness testimony but I am not sure there is necessarily a conflict as has been explained on this thread.And even if there was a direct contradiction with eye witness testimony in the hierarchy of evidences empirical quantitative evidence trumps eye witness testimony.And the focus on modifying italicized words is empirical quantitative evidence. That is by counting the number of times italicized words were changed and comparing this to the background frequency of italicized words in the text you can quantify how biased towards modifying italicized words was the author/translator of the BOM.It seems to me there are two explanations for the bias towards italicized words either this pattern was due to JS or it was due to whatever angelic supernatural power enabled JS to translate. If it was due to JS we are back to my first point which is how did JS know which words in the KJV were italicized did he memorize large portions of the bible (including the location of italicized words)? If it is due to the supernatural power that enabled JS to translate this immediately raises the question why in the world would this supernatural power wrongly be suspicious of italicized words? Also the same pattern is observed in the JS translation of the Bible which to my knowledge did not predominately involve the seer stone which seems to strongly imply the pattern of bias toward modifying italicized words was due to JS and not the supernatural power that enabled him to translate.

All the Best,

Uncertain

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