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The Gold Plates


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53 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I don’t tend to argue specifics on this board because I don’t see the point.

The point being that if you are right and we are wrong, we want to know and you would be doing us a service.

The other point is that in explaining ones position, we often have the weaknesses of our own positions revealed through the exchange of other perspectives we never considered.  It's an opportunity to be better understood, but also to be more critical with our own narratives.  In the end it could serve to enlighten our minds and yours, so my question is - what's the harm?    

Edited by pogi
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Just now, pogi said:

The point being that if you are right and we are wrong, we want to know and you would be doing us a service.

The other point is that in explaining ones position, we often have the weaknesses of our own positions revealed through the exchange of other perspectives we never considered.  It's an opportunity to be better understood, but also to be more critical with our own narratives.  In the end it could serve to enlighten our minds and yours, so my question is - what's the harm?    

You assume I could change someone's mind about being right or wrong. That's unlikely to happen. And I can explain my position without getting into these long point-by-point arguments I see here. But then I don't necessarily need to be understood, though I clearly once wanted that. 

What's the harm? Well, for one thing I don't have the time or energy to go into these long arguments anymore. More importantly, it's when I have engaged in detail that I've engendered hostility (and provided my own), and I have no desire to reopen old wounds. So, what the heck am I doing here? I like pretty much everyone here, and I do find it interesting to keep up with the latest apologetic takes. I suppose it's a way for me to see what's going on without having to read everything out there. Yeah, it's probably just laziness.

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8 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

It certainly isn't that, Ryan. After giving it a little more thought last night, I'll make another go.

Evidence is made up of facts. We can discuss the change in style for your hypothetical student that you bring up as a concept that can be demonstrated (we could analyze the earlier writing and compare it to the one in question - this analysis is a topic I am more than a little familiar with). Because it can be demonstrated (tested), it can be called a fact - and it can be used as evidence, although there are natural limits on the range of propositions that it can be used for. The normal process is to take your observation (that they are different), and then making our comparisons to produce the data that will confirm (or refute) your observation. Once this has been confirmed (and, I recognize that you were comfortable enough with your observation that you skipped this step), you can then use the fact that the styles are different to make further theories explaining the cause of the difference.

The fact that we have a testable difference isn't itself evidence for a proposed specific cause for that difference (although it is necessary to have a difference to justify proposing a cause for that difference). The process then normally moves forward by determining how to test the new theory and produce new data. You described yourself as doing this in the internet searches, where you found source material that you believed demonstrated plagiarism (you didn't share, but I have no doubt that your conclusion was likely accurate given my experience with the subject). The change in style isn't the evidence for plagiarism because it could be evidence for a whole range of explanations. The comparisons you made (using internet search tools) provided source documents - and this data becomes evidence for the claim of plagiarism. If you think I am conflating proof with evidence here, it isn't because I cannot make a distinction between source texts that have been plagiarized and source texts that haven't - its because you haven't provided enough detail for me to reasonably make such a distinction in your hypothetical. I could certainly describe theoretical situations where you could have evidence and it would not amount to proof.

Okay, let's test your claim. Hypothetically speaking, what do you think would count as legitimate evidence of plagiarism but not proof of plagiarism in a situation where all other possible explanations (those different from the conclusion of plagiarism) are so statistically unlikely that they don't constitute viable alternatives? Remember, under your criteria, if multiple possible explanations exist then the observed data can't act as evidence for any of them because it isn't yet proven which conclusion the data are actually evidence of.

Good luck. 

8 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Now, back to the real issue.

The equivalence between Nahom in the Book of Mormon and NHM in the Arabian Peninsula is NOT a fact. It cannot be demonstrated (at least I don't see a way to do so). It is purely speculative. We cannot say with any degree of certainty that Lehi was actually at NHM in the Arabian Peninsula around 600 BCE. It is itself an untested proposition. We can talk about evidence for that proposition that the places are the same. We can argue (as has been done) that there is a similarity between the names. We can argue that there is an onomastic parallel that can be drawn from the text (assuming, of course, that the English text is an accurate reflection of the original place names), and so on. To the extent that these individual arguments can be tested (which is an important part of being evidence), they can be used as evidence in the proposition that Nahom in the Book of Mormon and NHM in the Arabian Peninsula are the same place. But, that proposition cannot be proven and so it cannot, itself, rise the level of fact and be used as evidence in a further proposition.

You claimed that I am conflating proof with evidence. Something actually has to be factual before it can be used as evidence. If we could prove that Nahom and NHM refer to the same place, then we could use that correlation as evidence for another proposition. However, this cannot be done. There is no way to prove this. And so it remains speculation.

No. Something definitely doesn't have to be established as a fact to be used as evidence. This is so easy to demonstrate in the fields of literary studies, law, history, anthropology, etc.

For instance, both history and law rely heavily on testimonial evidence. And testimonial evidence is, by its very nature, not factual. Sure, the instance of an individual claiming a certain thing may be a fact, just like any legible and clearly identifiable words and letters in a document are a fact. But what a witness claims to be true is not made factual by the claim itself, neither is what a historical document claims about the past. And yet witness testimonies and claims made in historical documents are used all the time as evidence in legal cases and historical theories, despite their unproven status. Generally speaking, legal cases and historical theories depend on complicated networks of evidences and sub-evidences, many of which have not be proven as facts and have a likelihood of truthfulness that isn't (and in many cases can't be) known with statistical precision. 

Furthermore, testimonial evidence isn't the only category that fits this description. Examples where non-factual data are counted as evidence of claims in these fields are nearly endless. Thus, you are imposing a strict definition of evidence that runs contrary to the normative semantical usage in these fields. 

Edited by Ryan Dahle
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2 hours ago, jkwilliams said:

Excellent post, Ben. The way I understand Ryan's analogy, one could determine the likelihood that the accused student didn't actually write the paper based on a comparison with the student's prior work. This same technique can be used to argue that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon as its sole author. Of course, there are many possibilities: someone else wrote it, he had help, etc. Where the problem lies is in the "string of logic" that leads us from concluding he likely didn't write it himself (I'm saying this for the sake of argument) to his clearly having divine assistance and therefore establishing that the Book of Mormon is an actual translation of an ancient record.

Obviously, anything is possible, and many LDS scholars and apologists have made cases for the Book of Mormon containing hallmarks of an ancient text, but it requires a lot of heavy lifting to suggest that the only possible--or even likely--explanation is revelation from God. 

Well, let's see what you think. In this scenario, I (as the teacher) explained to my class what plagiarism was. I then found unusually advanced writing in one of my student's papers. I directly asked the student if she could attribute the contents of her paper to any other source other than herself. She said that she wrote it without any kind of help from any source whatsoever. 

Naturally, as a teacher, I saw her advanced writing as evidence of plagiarism. I definitely didn't see it as proof of plagiarism. But I saw plagiarism as the most likely conclusion based on the observable data. Sure, she might have had a sudden increase in ability for whatever reason or set of reasons. I couldn't discount that possibility. But every alternative explanation I could think of seemed far less likely to me than plagiarism. 

In this situation, would you agree that the suddenly advanced writing in the student's paper acted as evidence of plagiarism, in the sense that it dramatically increased the plausibility or likelihood of that conclusion (despite it not amounting to proof of that conclusion)? 

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Just now, Ryan Dahle said:

Well, let's see what you think. In this scenario, I (as the teacher) explained to my class what plagiarism was. I then found unusually advanced writing in one of my student's papers. I directly asked the student if she could attribute the contents of her paper to any other source other than herself. She said that she wrote it without any kind of help from any source whatsoever. 

Naturally, as a teacher, I saw her advanced writing as evidence of plagiarism. I definitely didn't see it as proof of plagiarism. But I saw plagiarism as the most likely conclusion based on the observable data. Sure, she might have had a sudden increase in ability for whatever reason or set of reasons. I couldn't discount that possibility. But every alternative explanation I could think of seemed far less likely to me than plagiarism. 

In this situation, would you agree that the suddenly advanced writing in the student's paper acted as evidence of plagiarism, in the sense that it dramatically increased the plausibility or likelihood of that conclusion (despite it not amounting to proof of that conclusion)? 

Of course. What does that have to do with the bolded text? 

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44 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

You assume I could change someone's mind about being right or wrong. That's unlikely to happen. And I can explain my position without getting into these long point-by-point arguments I see here. But then I don't necessarily need to be understood, though I clearly once wanted that. 

What's the harm? Well, for one thing I don't have the time or energy to go into these long arguments anymore. More importantly, it's when I have engaged in detail that I've engendered hostility (and provided my own), and I have no desire to reopen old wounds. So, what the heck am I doing here? I like pretty much everyone here, and I do find it interesting to keep up with the latest apologetic takes. I suppose it's a way for me to see what's going on without having to read everything out there. Yeah, it's probably just laziness.

My mind has been enlightened by so many posters on here, both apologists and critics.  My understanding and position has changed on a lot of things as a result and I think I am better for it.  This never would have happened without engaging in specifics.  I don't know why you think you couldn't have an influence on me.  I think every perspective is worthy of consideration - I have no other way to palpate the entire elephant except through other peoples perspectives.  We are all reliant on others to fully understand/perceive of the big picture.  I believe that we each have a completely unique perspective and piece of the puzzle to share.  I think we do a disservice to ourselves and others by not sharing.   

I understand about the hostility.  That is my least favorite part too.  I think that often comes from wanting so badly to be right or understood - at least that is where I struggle sometimes.  It's honestly just pride.  While I am not perfect at overcoming pride, and engaging free of hostility, I do want to be better at engaging in a more compassionate way - and that takes work.  I take it as an opportunity to work on myself. 

I also understand about time and energy.  That's legit.  I don't think anyone should be expected to be fully engaged all the time.  But in times and seasons I think it is good to leave the door open for more engagement.     

Edited by pogi
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6 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:
7 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

In this situation, would you agree that the suddenly advanced writing in the student's paper acted as evidence of plagiarism, in the sense that it dramatically increased the plausibility or likelihood of that conclusion (despite it not amounting to proof of that conclusion)? 

Of course.

I was just curious what you thought. Benjamin is insisting otherwise. He is saying that the data wouldn't count as "evidence" of plagiarism. So that might help you understand the nature of our debate. It is about semantics and definitions of evidence. 

6 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

What does that have to do with the bolded text? 

Oh, woops. Disregard the bolded text. I was going to make a different point about that, but then said something else. 

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23 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

 

I was just curious what you thought. Benjamin is insisting otherwise. He is saying that the data wouldn't count as "evidence" of plagiarism. So that might help you understand the nature of our debate. It is about semantics and definitions of evidence. 

Oh, woops. Disregard the bolded text. I was going to make a different point about that, but then said something else. 

Ben said, "The fact that we have a testable difference isn't itself evidence for a proposed specific cause for that difference (although it is necessary to have a difference to justify proposing a cause for that difference)." In your example, the difference in textual complexity/skill is evidence that the student didn't write the text but not for a specific theory of how the text was produced. In the same way, apologists have long argued that a comparison of the Book of Mormon with other writings of Joseph Smith shows that he did not author the Book of Mormon. I'd say that's debatable, but assuming for the sake argument that the assertion is true, it still doesn't answer how the text was produced. There are many different possibilities, only one of which is that he received it by revelation/divine assistance. As Ben has said repeatedly, stringing together lots of these sorts of pieces of evidence, however plausible or not, does not provide evidence that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record translated by the gift and power of God.

Yes, it's a semantic discussion, but a pretty important one, IMO. 

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44 minutes ago, pogi said:

My mind has been enlightened by so many posters on here, both apologists and critics.  My understanding and position has changed on a lot of things as a result and I think I am better for it.  This never would have happened without engaging in specifics.  I don't know why you think you couldn't have an influence on me.  I think every perspective is worthy of consideration - I have no other way to palpate the entire elephant except through other peoples perspectives.  We are all reliant on others to fully understand/perceive of the big picture.  I believe that we each have a completely unique perspective and piece of the puzzle to share.  I think we do a disservice to ourselves and others by not sharing.   

I understand about the hostility.  That is my least favorite part too.  I think that often comes from wanting so badly to be right or understood - at least that is where I struggle sometimes.  It's honestly just pride.  While I am not perfect at overcoming pride, and engaging free of hostility, I do want to be better at engaging in a more compassionate way - and that takes work.  I take it as an opportunity to work on myself. 

I also understand about time and energy.  That's legit.  I don't think anyone should be expected to be fully engaged all the time.  But in times and seasons I think it is good to leave the door open for more engagement.     

I don’t think I even want to change anyone’s mind. That said, I’ll probably engage if something interesting comes up. A while back I waded into something Ryan D had posted. It was interesting, but ultimately I didn’t find it particularly compelling. 

Either way, I doubt anyone here has ever changed their mind because of something I wrote. I simply don’t give myself that much credit. Ever. 

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Error  Wrong poster

Edited by mfbukowski
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1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

Ben said, "The fact that we have a testable difference isn't itself evidence for a proposed specific cause for that difference (although it is necessary to have a difference to justify proposing a cause for that difference)." In your example, the difference in textual complexity/skill is evidence that the student didn't write the text but not for a specific theory of how the text was produced. In the same way, apologists have long argued that a comparison of the Book of Mormon with other writings of Joseph Smith shows that he did not author the Book of Mormon. I'd say that's debatable, but assuming for the sake argument that the assertion is true, it still doesn't answer how the text was produced. There are many different possibilities, only one of which is that he received it by revelation/divine assistance. As Ben has said repeatedly, stringing together lots of these sorts of pieces of evidence, however plausible or not, does not provide evidence that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record translated by the gift and power of God.

Yes, it's a semantic discussion, but a pretty important one, IMO. 

Ok. This is probably the best post I have read from you (and I typically don't find your posts that compelling). I have racked my brain for hours over these pages of posts but have not been able to pin down the nature of Ryan's & Ben's disagreement that is, until this post. If indeed this is Ben's point, kudos to you for finally bringing clarity to the unwashed masses (namely, me!). If it isn't his point, I'll have to return you to my 'posters I don't find particularly compelling' file. ; )

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3 minutes ago, Vanguard said:

Ok. This is probably the best post I have read from you (and I typically don't find your posts that compelling). 

I'm sure you're not alone in that. I suppose it's better than being in your "idiot posters" file. 

Edited by jkwilliams
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3 hours ago, smac97 said:

Quite a few seem prone to out-of-hand dismissals of "what those apologists have to say."

I’m really not sure how to address this, but I’ll try. If I were to try (now or when I was an active believer) what the best external evidences for the Book of Mormon are, I’d point first to the witnesses and second to Nahom. 
 

We’ve been back and forth enough on the witnesses, so let’s focus on how I look at Nahom as a critic. 
 

As I understand the apologetic argument, it goes like this: An ancient inscription dating to Book of Mormon times names someone as belonging to the tribe NHM, in the exact location we’d expect the Lehi party to turn East. What are the odds!?

 

Well, what are the odds? That’s the actual part that seems to me to be missing in a huge way. It’s the thing that we need to figure out to decide whether this has any evidentiary worth at all? Has this been addressed anywhere? Not that I’m aware of.

If I were to make an attempt (and this is an amateur back of the envelope attempt) it might look something like this:

Let’s look at the written language in the area:

 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_South_Arabian_script
 

Someone smart could tell me the actual number of different words available as transliterated to English. For me, there appear to be 29 letters, three of which transliterate to H. That’s 8129 combinations.
That’s an upper bound. For comparison there are 8,769 words in the Bible. So to find the inscription in the right place is 1:8,769? 
 

Well not so fast. How big is the Exact right area. I have a feeling that on the small end I could mark out a 200 mile by 100 mile (20,000 square miles) area on the map and no one apologist would bat an eye to call it the “exact right area”. How many family names and place names might we expect to find in such an area? This is not an easy question for me to answer, but seems definitely doable. Let’s say you could find 100 names attested to in the record. We’ve gone from 1 in 8,769 to one in 87. 
 

Now we need to look at how many names and places there are in the Book of Mormon and how many places unknown to Joseph are attested in the archeological record. My understanding is NHM is the only one. Do you start to see a problem? There is a replicatability crisis in the social sciences right now. It turns out if you look at 20 variables you’ll find one that has significance if you use a 95% standard. 
 

So we have a good match at NHM, but not an astronomical one. Against that we have the utter absurdity of the the whole journey as can be best summarized here: https://gdoc.pub/doc/e/2PACX-1vRh7CxIlETHNYtH5jk0MXsWc5FVChckAUODY2QDGjLCjDGYWFgzOlGq1JORs4EZsbDzh63DvdShYNU1

Edited by SeekingUnderstanding
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1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

Ben said, "The fact that we have a testable difference isn't itself evidence for a proposed specific cause for that difference (although it is necessary to have a difference to justify proposing a cause for that difference)." In your example, the difference in textual complexity/skill is evidence that the student didn't write the text but not for a specific theory of how the text was produced. In the same way, apologists have long argued that a comparison of the Book of Mormon with other writings of Joseph Smith shows that he did not author the Book of Mormon. I'd say that's debatable, but assuming for the sake argument that the assertion is true, it still doesn't answer how the text was produced. There are many different possibilities, only one of which is that he received it by revelation/divine assistance. As Ben has said repeatedly, stringing together lots of these sorts of pieces of evidence, however plausible or not, does not provide evidence that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record translated by the gift and power of God.

Yes, it's a semantic discussion, but a pretty important one, IMO. 

You are getting too deep into the weeds. I haven't even outlined how I think this relates to specific Book of Mormon claims. We are still trying to figure out what evidence means.

You said:

Quote

In your example, the difference in textual complexity/skill is evidence that the student didn't write the text but not for a specific theory of how the text was produced.

I explained to the student what plagiarism was. And I specifically asked this student if she had any help writing her paper or if she relied on any source when composing it. She said no and claimed the work as her own. So the evidence that she "didn't write the text" would categorically qualify as plagiarism. 

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4 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

You are getting too deep into the weeds. I haven't even outlined how I think this relates to specific Book of Mormon claims. We are still trying to figure out what evidence means.

You said:

I explained to the student what plagiarism was. And I specifically asked this student if she had any help writing her paper or if she relied on any source when composing it. She said no and claimed the work as her own. So the evidence that she "didn't write the text" would categorically qualify as plagiarism. 

It would categorically qualify as evidence she didn't write it, not that it was plagiarized. A subtle difference, but an important one. I'm up to my ears bottling hot pepper sauce, so I'm going to take a hiatus. My last few posts have clarified to me that there's very little upside to spending time engaging here. Maybe I'll get bored, but I think my desire to talk about Mormon apologetics is sated for now. 

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23 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

It would categorically qualify as evidence she didn't write it, not that it was plagiarized. A subtle difference, but an important one.

The distinction really isn't an important one in my scenario. This is because the conclusion that she didn't write it and the conclusion that it was plagiarized actually have the same fundamental limitation: I couldn't initially prove either one. Other conclusions could possibly explain the same textual data.

Good luck with the peppers. 

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10 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

The distinction really isn't an important one in my scenario. This is because the conclusion that she didn't write it and the conclusion that it was plagiarized actually have the same fundamental limitation: I couldn't initially prove either one. Other conclusions could possibly explain the same textual data.

Good luck with the peppers. 

Thanks. 30 pints so far. 

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8 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Okay, let's test your claim. Hypothetically speaking, what do you think would count as legitimate evidence of plagiarism but not proof of plagiarism in a situation where all other possible explanations (those different from the conclusion of plagiarism) are so statistically unlikely that they don't constitute viable alternatives? Remember, under your criteria, if multiple possible explanations exist then the observed data can't act as evidence for any of them because it isn't yet proven which conclusion the data are actually evidence of.

I am not sure I follow your question (and because of that, I am fairly confident that you didn't understand what I wrote). So, when I discuss alternatives, what I mean by that is that there are alternate propositions that could be used to explain the original set of observations. Within the scientific method, for example, you then form a hypothesis based on observations, design a test that would allow you to test that hypothesis, perform the test and then see if the data that results conforms to the hypothesis. That's the first thing. The second thing is that the original observation isn't evidence for any of the subsequent propositions - because all of those propositions ostensibly explain the observation. When I collect data (evidence) when I test my proposition, I am not interested in the other propositions - in theory, a well designed test will deal with those issues for me.

So with that in mind, here is an answer to what I think you are asking.

One of the traditional evidences used to argue for plagiarism is sequences of identical words shared between texts. This was, I am sure, at least part of the way that you produced evidence in your example of the school assignment. When you search on Google for text sequences, and find them, it is generally good evidence. And, the longer the sequence, generally, the stronger the evidence is considered to be (it's awfully hard to claim plagiarism in a single word). But, this doesn't always work well. Consider, for example, several years ago, when Chris and Duane Johnson saw what they believed was a strong similarity between the Book of Mormon and the history written in a "biblical style": The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain. One of the specific features of their test involved looking at identical text strings. In particular, they found several long sequences of identical wording between the Book of Mormon and The Late War. There is no doubt (statistically) that, on the basis of this similarity, that there was a definable relationship between the two texts. The relationship between the two texts is easy to describe - they both included a virtually identical copyright statement. But the similarity isn't caused by plagiarism - it's caused by the fact that the copyright language was set out in copyright legislation, and lots and lots of books contained something highly similar to both. In other words, both texts had the same language, but it was taken from a common source. Further, no one reading either book would confuse the inclusion of such a statement as an author trying to pass this language off as their own (a non-smart computer lexical tool wouldn't be able to draw this conclusion). Because the Johnson brothers didn't notice this, they included these sequences in their analysis, and the data that resulted indicated a much stronger likelihood of plagiarism than it should have.

So how would I explain this? Plagiarism is a special subset of what we might term intertextuality. Intertextuality is the term that describes broadly all the relationships that exist between texts. Plagiarism, on the other hand asserts a specific genetic link (one text relies on another). And that specific genetic link also requires a set of base assumptions (the conditions that make plagiarism possible). These assumptions have to be met before we can move from the possibility of plagiarism to the proof of plagiarism. First, the genetic link. If we have text (A) that allegedly plagiarizes text (B), then text (A) must be subsequent to text (B). That is, a text published in 1800 cannot plagiarize a text published in 1900. Second, the author of text (A) must have reasonable access to text (B). Third, plagiarism claims a direct connection between a source text and a plagiarizing text. If we can find the same sequence of words (to continue with this specific type of evidence) in lots of different books, it's value as evidence of plagiarism - and particularly of plagiarism to a specific text - is diminished. Finally, and this relates to the other part of the definition of plagiarism, the premise of plagiarism is that the author of text (A) takes credit for the material taken from text (B). While this is an easy thing to deal with in the context of school work (which is a highly artificial writing genre), it is less easy to deal with in other genres. In the Book of Mormon, for example, there is no question that the text reproduces nearly verbatim entire sections of the King James Old Testament. But we don't really suppose that the author of the Book of Mormon is trying to claim that this is their original text in these instances (I am not trying to pick an argument in using the term author - it works for this discussion, even if we don't feel that this is really an adequate description of what Joseph Smith is doing).

So, to answer your question - we could have a substantial word sequence that matches exactly between two texts. This can be used as evidence of plagiarism. But it isn't proof unless we can determine that the author of text (A) deliberately uses text (B) in a way that suggests that they are claiming to be the originator of that language. And this can be a relatively high bar to reach. In particular, it can be impossible to achieve certainty if we cannot establish the necessary assumptions required for plagiarism. We can often be certain that a relationship exists without being able to define the plagiarism in terms of a text (A) and a text (B). And sometimes the level of detail is unnecessary. If we can establish a close enough relationship between text (A) and text (B) and additional texts (C), (D), and (E), then we may not know exactly which source was used by the author, we just know that it used one of them - or perhaps used the idea represented by all of them collectively. In this last group, though, it is more difficult to demonstrate that the author was trying to pass off this common idea as their own.

This doesn't get to the problem (that has been observed) that occurs when two authors publish some nearly identical text at roughly the same time, separated by a great distance (this doesn't mean a lot with technology today, but it means a great deal once we go back a century or two). While the text similarities may be very strong, other factors may prove to be too great a barrier. We might end up rejecting the proposition of plagiarism in favor of a shared or common source that we haven't yet identified (or we could chalk it up to coincidence).

For a lengthy example of this sort of interplay between a text, an alleged source, and the introduction of an additional source that complicate the issue, you can read my notes here (pages 81-90, yes, it's long because I was using it as a description of what not to do). In this example, Rick Grunder claims that a passage from the Juvenile Instructor (1892) has a strong parallel to a William Alcott text (1833). I reject conclusively Grunder's claim. But in the process, I present the Juvenile Instructor text as participating in a shared tradition dating back to its earliest known form in the 4th century CE. Similarities like these show a strong intertext but offer very weak evidence for actual plagiarism as we define it.

All of these sorts of concerns (which we deal with in literary theory and textual analysis) complicate the issue of plagiarism in ways that generally aren't that important in the classroom setting you described. But all of these issues apply to claims that the Book of Mormon uses specific sources.

8 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

No. Something definitely doesn't have to be established as a fact to be used as evidence. This is so easy to demonstrate in the fields of literary studies, law, history, anthropology, etc.

I would certain agree with you for a couple of these fields. But historians will tell you that they work with facts (and avoid as much as possible speculation). Literary studies generally works with facts. I am not so sure about the law (they have different motivations sometimes). And certainly, anthropology has its own issues - especially once you get earlier than the beginning of recorded history. But you leave out science - which is a pretty important one here. I think that perhaps you may be confusing what it means to be an established fact. There is no question that the Book of Mormon mentions Nahum. There is no question that there is a NHM in the Arabian peninsula. You can make a fairly clear onomastic argument about the meaning of NHM and the discussion attached to Nahom in the Book of Mormon. What you cannot do is claim that we know that Lehi was ever in NHM, or that he visited the place we identify as Wadi Sayq. The idea that we can use these types of claims as evidence is something that would never fly in a court of law. And you would never see this used in historical research, or in literary studies. I take that back. I do remember Chris and Duane Johnson using their statistical model to claim that the true inspiration for Jane Austin was a book that no-one has ever heard, which Austin never mentions in any of her correspondence, and of which there is no evidence that she was ever even aware of it. Clearly, I think, you can find examples of just about anything (and probably easily) - but this doesn't make such examples typical.

8 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

For instance, both history and law rely heavily on testimonial evidence. And testimonial evidence is, by its very nature, not factual. Sure, the instance of an individual claiming a certain thing may be a fact, just like any legible and clearly identifiable words and letters in a document are a fact. But what a witness claims to be true is not made factual by the claim itself, neither is what a historical document claims about the past. And yet witness testimonies and claims made in historical documents are used all the time as evidence in legal cases and historical theories, despite their unproven status. Generally speaking, legal cases and historical theories depend on complicated networks of evidences and sub-evidences, many of which will not be proven as facts and will have a likelihood that isn't (and in many cases can't be) known with statistical precision. 

Testimonial evidence is factual. That doesn't mean that the individual testimonies are accurate or honest. It is easier to discuss this from the context of the historian - there testimony isn't just something that is said, it is based in an artifact (which you note when you mention historical documents). The value isn't merely what is said. Consider one of the great examples of this from near-eastern history, the Merneptah Stele. The famous lines from it read: "Israel is laid waste, his seed is no more." That is, Merneptah claims in his victory stele to have wiped out Israel. Yet, very, very few historians would entertain the view that Egypt annihilated Israel to the point of extinction in 1208 BCE. But here we have artifacts and evidence. If I were to claim that Lehi never visited the Arabian NHM, how could you disprove that statement? We aren't even talking about testimony evidence in the stuff that is in your list - what you have doesn't even rise to that level.

I want to add two things to this - and I think there is a certain amount of irony here. First, there isn't any court that would determine from your list of evidences that the Book of Mormon is an authentic translation of an ancient text. So the suggestion that courts accept this all the time is at least on the surface problematic. Second, we are dealing here with complex issues. This is why I suggested we step back from the complex issues and discuss the problem using the simplest example. If you have to resort to a 'complicated network of evidences and sub-evidences' to turn something into evidence, you have a bigger problem than you think (Ockham's Razor).

This is the reason why I suggested we step back from the complicated issues and deal with one on your list that we both agree is an uncontested fact. You claim that the length of the Book of Mormon at 270,000 words is evidence of its authenticity. I don't contest this fact. I have used it in my published material discussing the textual analysis of the Book of Mormon. So we don't have to worry about whether or not it could be used as evidence - we both agree that it can be used as evidence to support various propositions. The question you need to answer is this - how is this fact evidence for the specific proposition that the Book of Mormon is an authentic translation of an ancient text? Is this really such a difficult question that you can't even take a stab at it? Clearly you would rather debate my propositions than defend your own.

Edited by Benjamin McGuire
Link to comment
23 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

I’m really not sure how to address this, but I’ll try. If I were to try (now or when I was an active believer) what the best external evidences for the Book of Mormon are, I’d point first to the witnesses and second to Nahom. 

We’ve been back and forth enough on the witnesses, so let’s focus on how I look at Nahom as a critic. 

As I understand the apologetic argument, it goes like this: An ancient inscription dating to Book of Mormon times names someone as belonging to the tribe NHM, in the exact location we’d expect the Lehi party to turn East. What are the odds!?

Well, what are the odds?  That’s the actual part that seems to me to be missing in a huge way. It’s the thing that we need to figure out to decide whether this has any evidentiary worth at all? Has this been addressed anywhere? Not that I’m aware of.

Could you clarify what you mean?  "What are the odds" of what?  

It might help to revisit Brant Gardner's summary: “{T}he data pointing to the connection between the Book of Mormon Nahom and the now-confirmed location of a tribe (and likely place) called nhm are extremely strong. The description fits, the linguistics fit, the geography fits, and the time frame fits. Outside of Jerusalem, nhm is the most certain connection between the Book of Mormon and known geography and history.”  Rappleye and Smoot sum up the criteria for NHM here:

Quote

After raising his five objections, Vogel concludes, “It seems simpler to suggest that Smith’s Nahom is a variant of Naham (1 Chronicles 4:19), Nehum (Nehum 7:7), or Nahum (Nehum 1:1).”62 Once again, though, Vogel’s suggestion reflects a minimalist reading, which merely accounts for the presence of the word in the text. The connection between Nahom and the Nihm tribal territory, however, is much more intricate and complex than this. Both Nahom in the Book of Mormon and Nihm in Southern Arabia match in the following interlocking details:

  1. Both are places with a Semitic name based on the tri-consonantal root nhm.
  2. Both pre-date 600 bce (implied in 1 Nephi 16:34).
  3. Both are places for the burial of the dead (1 Nephi 16:34).
  4. Both are at the southern end of a travel route moving south-southeast (1 Nephi 16:13–14, 33), which subsequently turns toward the east from that point (1 Nephi 17:1).
  5. Both have “bountiful” lands, consistent in 12 particular details, approximately east of its location (1 Nephi 17:4).

While the presence of similar names in the Bible might be able to explain the first of these correlations, it simply cannot account for the all the ways the two places correspond. As Daniel C. Peterson once commented, “nhm isn’t just a name. It is a name and a date and a place and a turn in the ancient frankincense trail and a specific relationship to another location.”67 Suggesting that Joseph Smith simply got the name Nahom from the Bible is an insufficient explanation of the correlation.

Another potentially useful resource is NHM's geospatial relationship with proposed sites for Bountiful.  Warren Aston has compiled "12 criteria for Nephi’s Bountiful," as follows (also discussed in a FAIR article here, and also here, here, and here) :

Quote

1.The location of Bountiful is directionally linked to Nahom. Bountiful lay “nearly” eastward of Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1). Here, Nephi used the same wording he had earlier used in describing the travel direction from the Valley of Lemuel (“nearly a south-southeast direction,” 1 Nephi 16:13, 14, 33). Given his ability to accurately determine variations from the cardinal directions we should therefore expect that Bountiful lies close to the 16th degree north latitude of Nahom.

Surprisingly, the clear-cut implications of this basic and unequivocal scripture continue to be ignored or understated by some commentators on the subject, years after the location of Nahom had been firmly established. Such writers still depict the route from Nahom to Bountiful as anything but the “nearly eastward” direction Nephi recorded, defying also geographical and historical realities.

2.Clearly, the terrain had to permit reasonable access from the interior deserts to coast. At some places along the Arabian coast, the terrain is so rugged that overland travel from the interior is simply impossible.

Crit_0002

3.Nephi’s usage of the name “Bountiful” suggests that a wider, general area (1 Nephi 17:5, 7) may have enjoyed notable fertility in addition to the particular location where the Lehites initially camped (1 Nephi 17:6), making any candidate location for Bountiful without a comparable surrounding fertile area less likely.

4.Bountiful, logically on the east coast of Arabia, was a coastal location (1 Nephi 17:5). Large vessels cannot easily be constructed over a year or more on a beach exposed to monsoon storms; in ancient times the only practical solution was usually the shores of a sheltered inlet or lagoon that protects from tides and storms while still allowing ready access to the ocean.

The sea by Khor Kharfot.

The sea by Khor Kharfot.

5. Bountiful was much more than just a suitable place to build and launch a ship; it derives its name from its fertility, especially its much fruit” and honey (1 Nephi 17:5-6, 1 Nephi 18:6) and perhaps also small game that could be hunted (1 Nephi 18:6). As noted later in item 11, the strong likelihood is that Bountiful was uninhabited when Lehi arrived; this would require that the fruit mentioned was not cultivated but grew wild.

This is  fig tree growing at Khor Kharfot.

This is fig tree growing at Khor Kharfot.

The Hebrew term for “fruit” normally refers to edible fruit and Nephi’s use of the singular “fruit” may imply that there was not necessarily a great variety of fruits. The apparent immediate availability of fruit upon arrival may explain the lack of any mention of the growing of crops at Bountiful by the group – unlike the description of their later arrival in the New World (1 Nephi 18:24). However, some agricultural and fishing pursuits for addition food during the years of their stay at Bountiful are certain. The group’s camels, of course, could still provide milk, hides, hair and meat throughout their time at Bountiful.

Large, hardwood trees at Khor Kharfot.

6.Enough shipbuilding timber of types and sizes to permit building a vessel able to carry several dozen persons and remain seaworthy for at least a year were available (1 Nephi 18:1, 2). While teak was imported from India for shipbuilding innorthern Oman since about the third millennium BC, the clear implication is that this place “prepared of the Lord” had all the materials needed for the ship without recourse to obtaining timber from elsewhere.

The wording of 1 Nephi 18:1 conveys the clear impression that the timber was at hand. It is also worth noting that Nephi uses the plural whenever timber is mentioned, suggesting that more than one type of wood was involved, as is usual in shipbuilding. 

7.Year-round freshwater at the site is required by the flora described. It would also have been necessary for the extended stay required by the group to construct the ship without diverting significant energy and time to carrying it in from elsewhere.

Crit_0006

8. A mountain, distinctive enough to justify Nephi’s references to it as “the mount” (1 Nephi 17:7, 1 Nephi 18:3) must be near enough to the coastal encampment to allow him to go there to “pray oft” (1 Nephi 18:3).

A mountain and row of ancient stones at Khor Kharfot.

A mountain and row of ancient stones at Khor Kharfot.

9. The incident of Nephi’s brothers attempting to take his life by throwing him into the depths of the sea (1 Nephi 17:48) makes little sense unless there were substantial cliffs overlooking the ocean from which to throw him. Cliffs typically have rocks at their base from erosion and would constitute a real danger to anyone falling on them from a height, whereas a sand beach would not, especially for a young man who is described as being “large in stature” (1 Nephi 2:16) and “having much strength” (1 Nephi 4:31), regardless of any lack of swimming ability.

Cliffs at Khor Kharfot.

Cliffs at Khor Kharfot.

10.Ore, from which metal could be smelted to construct tools, was available in the vicinity (1 Nephi 17:9-11, 16), perhaps with some type of flint (verse 11), seemingly near the ore source. While it remains possible that he carried some type of flint with him to make fire, his wording implies that it was available at, or near, the location of the ore source. Nephi does not specify the metal he used to make the hatchets, adzes, chisels, twist-drills, hammers and so on needed, but an iron alloy seems the most likely.

 

Pieces of iron ore can be found at Khor Kharfot

Pieces of iron ore can be found at Khor Kharfot

 

11.Despite the attractiveness of the place, the 17th chapter of First Nephi is full of clues indicating that Bountiful likely had little or no resident population at that time that could contribute tools and manpower to the ship building process. Beyond the obvious fact that it required a specific revelation to show Nephi where ore could be found (1 Nephi 17:9-10), great effort was then expended by him to fashion his own bellows, locate the ore, smelt it and then manufacture the tools he would need. Such basic items could surely have been easily obtained by anyone living in or near a populated sea-port.

Archaeological Remains at Khor Kharfot.

Archaeological Remains at Khor Kharfot.

It is also clear from the record that Nephi needed the labor of his brothers and Zoram; a populated location would offer other sources of labor. Of course, Lehi could also easily have been directed to bring sufficient wealth from his estate in Jerusalem to purchase an entire ship, or commission the building of one had the group been headed for a shipbuilding area. While one could argue that the shipbuilding stage was part of their preparation for the New World, the group had already faced some eight years of difficult travel dominated by hunger and privation.

The more likely reason that they had to construct their own is that no vessels being built in that part of the world were adequate for a journey of the magnitude required. The continually dissenting Laman and Lemuel seem to have left Bountiful readily enough for a long and dangerous sea voyage, surely their first time on the open sea, when the time came.

This suggests that there was little at Bountiful either to distract them from assisting Nephi in building the ship or to entice them to remain. Eight years of encounters with mostly Arab peoples on their journey must have broadened their cultural outlook; had they been living some time in or near a thriving port, commercial opportunities for wealth would have surely appealed after years of desert privation. Living in or near a center for trade would have given them an easy opportunity to return to their beloved Jerusalem.

Finally, it also seems unlikely that Lehi’s group, at such a critical juncture in their journey, would have been intended to settle where they would be exposed to the pagan beliefs then prevalent in Arabia. Rather, the place “prepared” of the Lord may have been intended to keep them apart from other people for that very reason. However, the fact that any water source in Arabia attracts people requires us to understand why such an attractive place would remain uninhabited most of the time.

View of Wadi Sayq as it empties into the sea at Khor Kharfot.

View of Wadi Sayq as it empties into the sea at Khor Kharfot.

12.Coastal conditions had to allow a ship access to the open ocean and to suitable winds and currents (1 Nephi 18:8, 9) which could carry the vessel in an easterly direction toward the Pacific coast of the Americas, as Alma 22:28 seems to stipulate when it mentions that the west coast of the land was the place of “first inheritance.” However, travel in an eastward direction from the Indian Ocean onwards appears problematic as the prevailing winds and currents generally restrict travel to a westerly direction. (A solution to this dilemma is discussed later in Warren’s book).

 Warren Aston reminds us, “Such a detailed and comprehensive description of a locale is without precedent anywhere in the Book of Mormon narrative. None of the criteria are at all peripheral.”

This Evidence Central article discusses Aston's criteria and kinda sort adds another:

Quote

A Sheltered Inlet

Because of the danger posed by monsoon storms, any long-term shipbuilding project along Arabia’s eastern coast would have required “a sheltered inlet or lagoon that protects from tides and storms while still allowing ready access to the ocean.”40 Both Khor Kharfot and Khor Rori offer lagoons where Nephi’s family could have safely constructed and then launched a ship.41 While sandbars currently impede water access to the ocean at both sites, these natural blockades were formed fairly recently and therefore wouldn’t have posed a problem in ancient times.42

So it would seem that a discussion of "the odds" could involve most or all of the foregoing criteria:

  • {Nahom in the NHM in Southern Arabia} are places with a Semitic name based on the tri-consonantal root nhm.
  • Both pre-date 600 bce (implied in 1 Nephi 16:34).
  • Both are places for the burial of the dead (1 Nephi 16:34).
  • Both are at the southern end of a travel route moving south-southeast (1 Nephi 16:13–14, 33), which subsequently turns toward the east from that point (1 Nephi 17:1).
  • Both are "nearly" westward from a location answering to the BOM's description of Bountiful, that is, on the Arabian coast close to the 16th degree north latitude  (Aston's first criterion).
  • Both allow for "reasonable access {to the Bountiful candidate} from the interior deserts" of Arabia (Aston's second criterion).  As the above article notes, "At some places along the Arabian coast, the terrain is so rugged that overland travel from the interior is simply impossible."
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area which "a wider, general area (1 Nephi 17:5, 7) {which} may have enjoyed notable fertility in addition to the particular location where the Lehites initially camped (1 Nephi 17:6)" (Aston's third criterion).  This one seems to overlap a bit with the first Aston criterion, but Aston's point is that alternative candidates for Bountiful are less likely if they lack "a comparable surrounding fertile area."
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which is "suitable for an initial seashore encampment in tents (1 Nephi 17:6) but also with shelter available on higher ground in more substantial dwellings" (part of Aston's fourth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which "offer{ed} a suitable place for the construction and launching of a sizable ship (1 Nephi 18:8)" (part of Aston's fourth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which is (was) fertile, "especially its 'much fruit' and honey (1 Nephi 17:5-6), 1 Nephi 18:6) and perhaps also small game that could be hunted (1 Nephi 18:6)" (Aston's fifth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which had "{e}nough shipbuilding timber of types and sizes to permit building a vessel able to carry several dozen persons and remain seaworthy for at least a year were available (1 Nephi 18:1, 2)" (Aston's sixth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which had "{y}ear-round freshwater at the site," to sustain both for the described flora and Lehi's group (Aston's seventh criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which has "{a} mountain, distinctive enough to justify Nephi’s references to it as 'the mount' (1 Nephi 17:7, 1 Nephi 18:3) must be near enough to the coastal encampment to allow him to go there to 'pray oft' (1 Nephi 18:3)" (Aston's eighth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which has "substantial cliffs overlooking the ocean from which" Laman and Lemuel could have thrown him "into the depths of the sea (1 Nephi 17:48)" (Aston's ninth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which has "{o}re from which metal could be smelted to construct tools, was available in the vicinity (1 Nephi 17:9-11, 16), perhaps with some type of flint (verse 11), seemingly near the ore source" (Aston's tenth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast which "had little or no resident population at that time that could contribute tools and manpower to the ship building process" (Aston's eleventh criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast with conditions "allow{ing} a ship access to the open ocean and to suitable winds and currents (1 Nephi 18:8, 9) which could carry the vessel in an easterly direction toward the Pacific coast of the Americas, as Alma 22:28 seems to stipulate when it mentions that the west coast of the land was the place of 'first inheritance'" (Aston's twelfth criterion).
  • Both being "nearly" westward from an area of Arabia's east coast with a "sheltered inlet" (Evidence Central's added criterion).

I assume you mean something along the lines of "What are the odds of Joseph Smith (or one or more of his contemporary associates) knowing enough about the Arabian peninsula to write a narrative that includes geographic and other details which yield the foregoing criteria."

In 2015 Philip Jenkins wrote a critique, of sorts, of Latter-day Saint scholarship regarding NHM/Nahom: The Nahom Follies

His approach is, in my view, unfortunately derisive, superficial, and conclusory.  Logical fallacies abound (appeal to ridicule being the most prominent).  Some excerpts:

Quote

By the law of averages, the two lists of names – Smith and historical reality – had to coincide at some point. It would actually be far more astonishing if none of Smith’s invented names had a real life counterpart in the general region of the Middle East.

That correlation is all the more likely when you know how Semitic names work. Very often, peoples of the region used three consonants, without vowels marked, so DWD was the written form of what we call David. A name inscribed as NHM could be Nahom, Nuhem, Nahum, Nihim, Nehem, Nehim, Nihm, Nahm, Nihma, Nahma … I am making up the exact forms, but you get the point. The odds of some accidental correspondence are very high.

And here:

Quote

Evidence for an actual place called something like Nahom in Yemen/Southern Arabia appears in European maps from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, so that, unlike the altar inscriptions, these were clearly known in Smith’s lifetime. A form of NHM (Nehhm) shows up for instance in the travel narrative and maps of Carsten Niebuhr, of the 1761 Danish Arabia Expedition, marking a location in Yemen. An English translation of his writings appeared in 1792, and copies were available in US libraries in the early nineteenth century.  This Niebuhr parallel is noted by an impeccably Mormon source. Critics, meanwhile, point to the work’s presence in US libraries at the relevant time. Other European maps also show a related place-name in the area.

And here:

Quote

Yes indeed, what are the odds? Actually, that last question can and must be answered before any significance can be accorded to this find. When you look at all the possible permutations of NHM – as the name of a person, place, city or tribe – how common was that element in inscriptions and texts in the Middle East in the long span of ancient history? As we have seen, apologists are using rock bottom evidentiary standards to claim significance – hey, it’s the name of a tribe rather than a place, so what?

How unusual or commonplace was NHM as a name element in inscriptions? In modern terms, was it equivalent to “Steve” or to “Benedict Cumberbatch”?

Ben McGuire has addressed this reasoning (such as it is) as offered by another fellow (Rick Grunder) :

Quote

In one instance Grunder does bring up the issue of potential coincidence. It comes in his discussion of Carsten Niebuhr’s Travels Through Arabia. He notes that:

some Book of Mormon Defenders place heavy emphasis upon a very old tribal area near Sana (in Yemen, in the southwestern portion of the Arabian peninsula), identified with the consonants, “NHM,” thus called “Nehhm,” “Nehem,” “Nihm,” “Nahm,” or similar variants. Those scholars propose that location for a site which is mentioned in the Book of Mormon portion which occurs in Arabia: “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34).

Ultimately, Grunder’s explanation for this parallel is that it represents random chance:

Certainly, we will not turn away from the obvious Book of Mormon defense point that the word “Nahom” is not merely compatible with known ancient sounds: it also corresponds geographically to a likely ancient counterpart in the Book of Mormon story. But how many hundred other locations existed along any proposed Lehi route through Arabia, for which Joseph Smith might have happened to come up with the same three consonants in order, instead of this particular example? And in the entire Book of Mormon saga of a thousand years and more—through two hemispheres—is it not fair that Joseph Smith should get one place name right—at least its consonants? (2008, pp. 1052–54).

Apparently, coincidence is a useful notion only when it is applied to the parallels presented by the defenders of Moromonism, and even then, Grunder downplays the full strength of the apologetic argument.65
...
65. 
While Grunder concedes that the name is similar, and that the location is appropriate, he ignores the further linguistic and rhetorical linkages that can be found in the textual narrative. The Nahom similarity is perhaps one of the most frequently discussed parallels in Mormon studies, and has been identified as one of the better arguments raised for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Rather than deal with the range of issues that have been raised, Grunder instead reduces them to these two points—and in doing so he conceals the issues that Mormon defenders have identified. For those arguments see Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey across Arabia to Bountiful (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994); Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 56–61; S. Kent Brown, “‘The Place Which Was Called Nahom’: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 66–68 Alan Goff, “Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 92–99; Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi’s Arabian Journey Updated,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel Reynolds (Provo: FARMS, 1997), 379–89; and Eugene England, “Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith Have Known the Way?” in Book of Mormon Authorship, ed. by Noel B. Reynolds (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, repr. Provo: UT, FARMS, 1996), 143–56. 

Regarding the Niebuhr map, see these 2002 comments from S. Kent Brown (which Jenkins did not address or acknowledge) :

Quote

Contemporary Authors

From Joseph Smith’s era we need to review the published works of contemporary authors. Why? Because, some might suggest, Joseph Smith could have gained access to the information reported by classical authors about Arabia by consulting sources that relied on them and that had been written in or near Joseph Smith’s era. The first two volumes of Carsten Niebuhr’s Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und andern umliegenden Ländern, dealing with Niebuhr’s ill-fated expedition to Arabia from 1761 to 1767, were published in 1774 and 1778. Robert Heron translated and published these volumes in English in 1792 under the title Niebuhr’s Travels through Arabia and Other Countries in the East. This work was reissued in 1799. We note that the only ancient tie to Arabia that Niebuhr discusses concerns the incense trade and the trees that produced the resin. The rest of his work consists of observations about Arabia of his day.39 But Niebuhr’s map of south Arabia raises an important question, for it shows the area of the “Nehhm” tribe. This identification becomes an issue in light of recent studies because the Nehhm tribal area most probably links to “the place that was called Nahom” of Nephi’s narrative (1 Nephi 16:34).40 Could Joseph Smith have obtained information from Niebuhr’s map? No, because the English translation of Niebuhr’s book and accompanying map were unavailable to him either at the Dartmouth library, which did not acquire a copy of the English translation until December 1937,41 or from John Pratt’s library, which did not own it. Besides, there are problems with the geography of Niebuhr’s map. He pictures the Nehhm tribal area as north of both the Hadramaut region and its main water course, the Wadi Masilah (mistakenly spelled Wadi Meidam by Niebuhr). Thus, according to Niebuhr’s map, a traveler would go south from Nehhm to reach the Hadramaut area. But in fact a traveler would have to go eastward almost 150 miles across the Ramlat Sabcatayn desert. This eastward direction, incidentally, is preserved in Nephi’s narrative, not in Niebuhr’s map (see 1 Nephi 17:1).

See also these 2017 remarks by Jeff Lindsay (also not addressed by Jenkins).

I utterly lack the capacity to speak meaningfully on Bayesian analysis.  I am only aware of one meaningful effort vis-à-vis NHM/Nahom.  It is, however, quite a vigorous one: Kyler Rasmussen's 2021 Estimating the Evidence - Episode 7: On Three Consonants and a Turn. This article is an excellent compilation of links to and summaries of varying perspectives on NHM.  His TLDR summary:

Quote

It seems unlikely that Joseph could guess the name Nahom by chance alone, or that he could’ve gotten that location from a map.

The site of Nahom has been touted as solid archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, but it’s hard to know exactly how strong that evidence actually is. Could Joseph have guessed the name by chance? Could he have gotten the name from a contemporary map of Arabia? Some options are less likely than others. I estimate the odds that a Book of Mormon place name would match any of almost a hundred sites in the area around Nahom at just under 1 in 100 (p = .0097). By contrast, a liberal estimate of the likelihood that Nahom could have been gleaned from an available map is about 2 in 10,000 (p = .0001585). Regardless, Nahom provides meaningful—though far from overwhelming—evidence in the Book of Mormon’s favor.

Evidence Score = 2 (the probability of an authentic Book of Mormon increased by two orders of magnitude—though it could be as high as four if we apply somewhat less conservative requirements)

And his conclusion:

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There are a couple things that I glean from this analysis. The first is that critics should clearly prefer an “invented Nahom” scenario to a “map-originated” one. It’s easy to think that Joseph might have had access to a map, but making it concrete helps show how unrealistic that scenario would’ve been. Joseph hitting on it by chance is a way simpler—and way more likely—explanation. The second is that the strength of Nahom as evidence relies on something that I haven’t seen much attention paid to in scholarly circles, and that’s the number of other appropriate locations that Joseph could have hit on instead of Nahom. If there are 92 appropriate locations (which I would think is the high end) it’s not nearly as strong as if the Nehem site is the only possible spot. If Nehem really is the only viable target, it would move the needle about 3.5 orders of magnitude instead of 2, which, given our scale, would make the evidence about 50 times more informative from a Bayesian standpoint.

But either way, the evidence for Nahom is useful, but it’s far from a silver bullet. It’s not likely that Nahom could’ve been hit on by chance, but it’s not a statistical impossibility either. Its true strength, in my opinion, is as part of the rich tapestry of Old World evidence, the majority of which is outside the scope of this episode. Joseph could’ve—and should’ve–run afoul of the Old World in dozens of ways, but he simply doesn’t. Cataloguing those ways would be a much bigger project than the efforts I’ve put forward here. For the moment, though, we can be content with knowing that Nahom moves us a little further in the direction of an authentic Book of Mormon.

So regarding your inquiry about whether the "what are the odds" topic has been addressed (relative to NHM/Nahom), the answer seems to be yes.  Quite a bit, actually.  But almost entirely on the Latter-day Saint side of things.  Vogel and Jenkins have addressed it somewhat, but not with much rigor or substance, and not with much interaction with the relevant Latter-day Saint scholarship.

23 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Now we need to look at how many names and places there are in the Book of Mormon and how many places unknown to Joseph are attested in the archeological record.

Do you see a distinction between Old World and New World place names?  Nahom is fairly unique in the Old World portion of the BOM narrative because

  • (A) references to other place names (Jerusalem, the Red Sea) are unremarkable given their historical "common knowledge" longevity stretching from antiquity to Joseph Smith's day,
  • (B) many of the unique place names for Old World locations (Bountiful, Irreantum) were given by Lehi's party, and would therefore not likely be attested to in the historical record, and
  • (C) NHM does not seem to fit within the parameters of either (A) or (B).

Meanwhile, the likelihood of place names in the New World portion of the BOM narrative being perpetuated to Joseph Smith's day seems quite low because

  • (A) assuming modern scholarship on "Limited Geography" holds, the prevalence of BOM place names would be quite limited in geospatial terms;
  • (B) virtually all New World place names were given by the Nephites, a civilization that was destroyed ca. 400 A.D.;
  • (C) the BOM narrative posits that the Lamanites were searching out and destroying vestiges of the Nephite civilization, perhaps including its records (see, e.g., here); and
  • (D) the post-Columbus conquest of the Americas had a devastating effect on the historical and linguistic record.
23 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

My understanding is NHM is the only one.

Well, this 2020 Interpreter article by Warren Aston suggests that Shazer may deserve more attention: Nephi’s “Shazer”: The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon

23 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Do you start to see a problem?

Not really.  If we take into account known Old World place names (Jerusalem, Red Sea) being unremarkable, and the unlikelihood of the Lehites' toponyms (Irreantum, Bountiful) surviving in the historical record, the deleterious effects of the conquest of the Americas (in terms of destroyed records, populations, etc.), etc., the "problem" seems to be more about expectations and presuppositions regarding the text than about the actual text.

FWIW, I just came across this article that presents what might be Mayan words (including place names) that have correlates in the Book of Mormon.

23 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

There is a replicatability crisis in the social sciences right now. It turns out if you look at 20 variables you’ll find one that has significance if you use a 95% standard. 

So we have a good match at NHM, but not an astronomical one.

I think that's a fair assessment.  Nobody seems to be treating NHM like a smoking gun.

23 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Against that we have the utter absurdity of the the whole journey as can be best summarized here: https://gdoc.pub/doc/e/2PACX-1vRh7CxIlETHNYtH5jk0MXsWc5FVChckAUODY2QDGjLCjDGYWFgzOlGq1JORs4EZsbDzh63DvdShYNU1

I don't think an appeal to ridicule works here.  Your podcasters make zero effort to interact with Latter-day Saint scholarship on this issue.  Zero.  Zip.  Nada.

 

Finding these took about ten seconds via Google, and most or all of these were likely available to your podcasters.  But it seems they couldn't be bothered with actually interacting with any of these.  They cite to nothing.  They evaluate no evidence.  Their discussion is a prolonged exercise in appeals to ridicule and ignorant, self-congratulatory smugness.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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5 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

I am not sure I follow your question

I think you are missing my point. Sorry if I wasn't clear. I'm trying to be. 

5 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

All of these sorts of concerns (which we deal with in literary theory and textual analysis) complicate the issue of plagiarism in ways that generally aren't that important in the classroom setting you described.

I'm also sorry you went through all of that. My point wasn't about plagiarism specifically. I wasn't asking for a lesson on all the considerations that go into questions of plagiarism in different contexts. And, yes, for the most part the specifics you delved into aren't especially germane to my classroom example (where baked into my starting assumptions was the fact that she explicitly claimed no help from any source in any way and that she had a sufficiently clear understanding of plagiarism).

5 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

So, to answer your question - we could have a substantial word sequence that matches exactly between two texts. This can be used as evidence of plagiarism. But it isn't proof unless we can determine that the author of text (A) deliberately uses text (B) in a way that suggests that they are claiming to be the originator of that language. And this can be a relatively high bar to reach. In particular, it can be impossible to achieve certainty if we cannot establish the necessary assumptions required for plagiarism. We can often be certain that a relationship exists without being able to define the plagiarism in terms of a text (A) and a text (B). And sometimes the level of detail is unnecessary. If we can establish a close enough relationship between text (A) and text (B) and additional texts (C), (D), and (E), then we may not know exactly which source was used by the author, we just know that it used one of them - or perhaps used the idea represented by all of them collectively. In this last group, though, it is more difficult to demonstrate that the author was trying to pass off this common idea as their own.

So, this is the type of statements I was looking to examine. In previous comments, you have said things very similar:

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 The change in style isn't the evidence for plagiarism because it could be evidence for a whole range of explanations.

The same observation (of language chance) could have been caused by parental help, could have been caused by plagiarism, could have been caused by a visit to a tutor. All of these things are possibilities that could account for the observation. So the observation isn't evidence of these possible hypothetical causes for the change in language.

In other words, you seem to be saying that if multiple causes can explain an observation, then the observation can't qualify as evidence because it hasn't yet been proven which cause the evidence actually supports? If so, this standard would actually disqualify the very thing that you just claimed was evidence of plagiarism. Remember, you said:

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So, to answer your question - we could have a substantial word sequence that matches exactly between two texts. This can be used as evidence of plagiarism. But it isn't proof unless we can determine that the author of text (A) deliberately uses text (B) in a way that suggests that they are claiming to be the originator of that language.

Do you see the problem? In one statement, you disqualify my initial observations as "evidence" on the grounds that they could be explained by multiple causes, but then you randomly turn about and say that a substantial word sequence is indeed evidence of plagiarism, even though you readily admit that the word sequence could also be due to some other cause.

It looks very much like an arbitrary double standard, where one observation is counted as evidence while another isn't, simply because one follows after the other in your understanding of the scientific method. Yet there is nothing substantively different about the two observations in relation to the hypothesis. Neither of them can completely rule out competing explanations. 

(By the way, I'm just adopting your nuanced understanding and considerations of plagiarism for the sake of simplicity. I don't think most of the issues you brought up really apply to my specific classroom situation. As far as I could tell, in my specific context, the long word sequences essentially acted as proof of plagiarism, as it met both of the additional criteria you pointed to. But that is sort of beside the point at this stage of the discussion).

Edited by Ryan Dahle
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7 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Testimonial evidence is factual. That doesn't mean that the individual testimonies are accurate or honest. It is easier to discuss this from the context of the historian - there testimony isn't just something that is said, it is based in an artifact (which you note when you mention historical documents). The value isn't merely what is said. Consider one of the great examples of this from near-eastern history, the Merneptah Stele. The famous lines from it read: "Israel is laid waste, his seed is no more." That is, Merneptah claims in his victory stele to have wiped out Israel. Yet, very, very few historians would entertain the view that Egypt annihilated Israel to the point of extinction in 1208 BCE. But here we have artifacts and evidence. If I were to claim that Lehi never visited the Arabian NHM, how could you disprove that statement? We aren't even talking about testimony evidence in the stuff that is in your list - what you have doesn't even rise to that level.

I think you are just evading my point. You must also know that a substantial amount of "history" rests on historical statements that are far from proven. Yes, there are some historical statements that we know are dubious. But there are many others which historians tentatively use in their theories, despite their lack of verification. The same goes for testimonial evidence. Many legal arguments rest on testimonial evidence that doesn't rise to the level of fact. Many anthropological arguments do the same thing, such as with interpretations of iconography that seem plausible but which can't be verified. And so on and so forth. You must know that this is true. You must know that the notion that evidence = facts in these fields is just demonstrably false. 

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6 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

In other words, you seem to be saying that if multiple causes can explain an observation, then the observation can't qualify as evidence because it hasn't yet been proven which cause the evidence actually supports? If so, this standard would actually disqualify the very thing that you just claimed was evidence of plagiarism. Remember, you said:

No, no, no.

This isn't what I am saying at all. Let me try to illustrate through an example. Person A is shot and killed with a 9 mm pistol. Persons B, C, D, and E all have a 9 mm pistol. Is the observation that Person A was shot and killed with a 9 mm pistol evidence that Person C killed Person A. No. It is evidence for the proposition that whoever killed Person A use a 9 mm pistol. So we can consider persons B, C, D, and E as suspects, but the observation isn't useful as evidence for the proposition that a specific person in that group is the killer, or even that a person in that group is the killer (unless of course we could demonstrate that only those four individuals had possession of a 9 mm pistol).

Observations can be used as evidence of propositions, but any particular observation may not be valid evidence for any particular proposition (this should be obvious - in the above example, the fact that person D had a parent named Marvin would generally be a completely irrelevant proposition). If an observation leads to a hypothesis, and you then find a way to test that hypothesis. In this case, the observation leads to creating a list of suspects (a list of hypothetical suspects). We could then get a search warrant for their weapons, test ballistic data, and look for a match. Whether we get a match or not for each suspect - that test is evidence - and it is evidence that either supports or rejects the hypothesis.

6 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Do you see the problem? In one statement, you disqualify my initial observations as "evidence" on the grounds that they could be explained by multiple causes, but then you randomly turn about and say that a substantial word sequence is indeed evidence of plagiarism, even though you readily admit that the word sequence could also be due to some other cause.

I think that you are still misunderstanding my position. I am not sure, at this point, whether or not this is deliberate. One of the possible outcomes from any test devised to collect data as evidence to support a theory or proposition is the recognition that the test is poorly designed (incapable of providing conclusive results). The simple test of word sequences creates evidence - but the use of these word sequences as evidence requires certain other conditions to be true. If we find the sequences, this is evidence unless we can conclusively demonstrate that the assumptions are not met. Going back to my example, having a 9 mm pistol becomes irrelevant if the potential suspect has an airtight alibi - that is, they couldn't possibly be there. Even ballistic data is only capable of demonstrating that the gun (and not its person) was at the scene of the crime. So a ballistics match, much like a sequence of words, can be evidence for a proposition, but not proof of that proposition.

At some point, the theory runs into reality. Word sequences have a cause even if we cannot determine what that cause is. If our test fails because the test was flawed, we not get usable data. If the test was reasonable and the data isn't useful in supporting the premise, then we have either produced evidence against our proposition or we have data that is inconclusive, but which may help us refine the test process. In the end, we may discover that we can prove our proposition, we can disprove our proposition, or we may discover that there is no way to prove the conclusion. But this is a process. You seem to be suggesting that we should stop in the middle of the process before our evidence has become proof, and that we should conflate that evidence from proof in terms of how we respond to it. You understand that this is what I am arguing that you are doing right - that you are taking possibility and using it as plausibility.

This string of words example is useful in this context because we have a container idea - intertextuality. We can conclude with some certainty that our shared word strings represent an intertext without being able to specific that this intertext is in fact plagiarism. This is because a proposition of intertextuality in comparison with a proposition of plagiarism is not exclusive (as is the propositions about Persons B, C, D, and E above). If we can demonstrate intertextuality, it can leave open the possibility of plagiarism without contributing to the likelihood of a particular proposition of plagiarism. This is even more so because of the problematic nature of plagiarism. You can, for example, plagiarize yourself (at least so we are told in academia). And we can argue that the word strings are evidence of plagiarism more broadly, even if we cannot determine the specific source of the plagiarism. And so on. As I have said several times, plagiarism is a complicated issue because the definition involves intent.

6 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

It looks very much like an arbitrary double standard, where one observation is counted as evidence while another isn't, simply because one follows after the other in your understanding of the scientific method. Yet there is nothing substantively different about the two observations in relation to the hypothesis. Neither of them can completely rule out competing explanations. 

I think you are mistaken about things being substantively different relative to the hypothesis. You seem to be suggesting here that an identical sequence of words has the same value to claims of plagiarism as does an observation of a change in writing style. And my response is that it doesn't. And I have tried to explain why this is the case above. The change in writing style tells us very little (if anything) about what is the cause. The long string of words provides us a certainty of intertextuality.

One last note - the proposition is important in issues like plagiarism. One defense against saying I didn't plagiarize from X because I plagiarized from Y. As another brief exercise, we could discuss the two in terms of a court case over an accusation of plagiarism. The plaintiff gets up and says, see, here are two writing samples from the defendant. See how this writing sample is so much different from the other? There must be plagiarism.

Or, the plaintiff gets up and says, here, the defendant uses this exact sequence of 25 words that I used in my publication.

Which of these do you think would be considered evidence? Even as evidence, in the second one, the defendant could say - but look here, this same 25 word sequence occurs here, and here, and here and here. How do you then prove that I stole them from you instead of from one of them? How do you prove that you didn't steal your published words from any of these other sources?

Clearly, the long word sequence isn't proof. But it is evidence that can be used for plagiarism and not for some competing exclusive proposition (like help from parents or from a student writing lab). And that is a very important difference.

I hope I have done a better job explaining it this time. I am not holding my breath though.

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