This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
In a desperate attempt to debunk The Book of Mormon, skeptics point out a handful of parallels with old books that Joseph Smith did not even have access to. It is a futile exercise yet necessary for skeptics to make any actual case: they could tear down The Book of Mormon all they want, but until they can explain how Joseph Smith fabricated such a magnificent volume it will never be enough. There needs to be some kind of narrative for how the illiterate farm boy Joseph Smith could pull it off.
Skeptical researchers used computer technology to sift through 110,000 old books to find similarities with the Book of Mormon, and yet the best they could produce was a handful of coincidentally similar phrases with a book Joseph Smith did not have access to.
False – A similar emerging narrative focuses on the book of Ether in The Book of Mormon. Academics have long talked about the similarities between Ether’s story and Asian histories. For example, the Jaradites’ imprisonment and killing of family members to gain the throne was going on as recently as 1831 in Asia when Emperor Tao-kwang killed his son and his other son repeatedly tried to take the throne. This is similar to what we read in Ether, but of course the question is how Joseph Smith could have known about it. Comparisons to old books is supposed to answer that question–easy, Joseph Smith read it in this book!
Recently, someone named Keri Toponce pointed to a book titled ‘A Key To The Chronology Of The Hindus‘ by Alexander Hamilton as one of the “potential sources to the stories in the Book of Mormon” that may have been “inspirational for Joseph Smith.” Are there “undeniable” parallels with this book that make it a potential source for The Book of Mormon? Is this exercise of finding “parallels” even a reasonable scientific method for determining a book’s inspirational source?
The answer to both questions is, no.
Book Not Accessible To Joseph Smith
The author of this book, Alexander Hamilton, was not the Alexander Hamilton–the founding father who liked to write “like it’s going out of style.” This book was written by an Englishman in India and published in London. The scan of the text in Google Books comes from the New York City library. There are a few library listings scattered around the United States, but none that Joseph Smith would have had access to except perhaps New York City.
Joseph Smith could have traveled from western New York to New York City and come across this book in the library, right?
No he could not:
- The chronology of Joseph Smith’s life has been very carefully scrutinized and there is no mention of the family traveling east. Somebody would have said something about such a momentous trip.
- The New York City library did not have the book until after The Book of Mormon was published. The library catalog does not say when the book was acquired, but defender of the faith Jeff Lindsay has found a 1902 author who said the only copies available in 1902 were at the Oxford and Cambridge universities. Sylvester Clark Gould wrote: “A Key To The Chronology Of The Hindus… In the later seventies, a Mr. S. R. Bosanquet of England undertook to ascertain the name of the author of the anonymous work, and corresponded with several libraries, universities, and societies, and he only found that copies of it, were in the British Museum and in the Cambridge and Oxford University libraries… Hamilton’s work was a limited edition…” Jeff Lindsay points out: “The editors of Notes and Queries state in this 1902 publication that they have finally obtained a copy for themselves, apparently after advertising their interest for 20 years.” The New York City library certainly would be one of the first places anyone would check, and they apparently did not find it there. Back in 1829, there were probably no copies of this book in the United States at all! Jeff Lindsay has done a thorough and remarkable job debunking Keri Toponce’s narrative in an article for The Interpreter and at his site Mormanity.
- Joseph Smith only ever achieved a third grade education and wouldn’t have even been able to read such a book
Not Scientific Way To Determine Book Of Mormon Source
Joseph Smith Wouldn’t Remember Individual Words – Even if Joseph Smith’s family for some reason had traveled 315 miles by coach to New York City and wandered into the city library, why would Joseph Smith jot down notes of some names and particular small phrases? Obviously, he did not have a library card and would have a few hours at the most to read the entire book. Is that enough time to come up with a bunch of parallels to plagiarize into your own book of ancient scripture?
The nature of human memory is not to retain a dozen or so words or short phrases, but to remember the general gist of a plot line or story. For example, why would Joseph Smith remember the phrase “brother of Jared” and reproduce it in The Book of Mormon in a totally different context? Why would Joseph Smith take the mention of the element ether from this book–which is a very common thing for a book to talk about–and turn it into the name of a prophet? Keri Toponce and the rest of these phony skeptics are presenting a historical model that defies simple human nature. And if Joseph Smith had a chat with someone who read the book, it would make this kind of parallelism even less likely.
Simpler Explanations For Parallels – Each of the accusations of parallels with The Book of Mormon come down to four phony types of ‘parallels’:
- Common words and themes that any book might have, like “windows,” “cattle,” and “elephants.” Millions of books out there have these words in them.
- Biblical themes that we would expect The Book of Mormon to include, like “contrite heart,” “praying because of mercies shown to them,” and “negligent on worshiping God.” The Book of Mormon authorship originated with the same context as the Bible, so it is fitting for these parallels to exist, like two branches leading back to the same tree.
Many parallels between historical books are the result of both books going back to the same place. For example, scholars have found striking similarities between Abraham in the New Testament Lazarus story and an ancient Egyptian text about Setna II. Does that mean The New Testament plagiarized the Egyptian text? Well, some say the Egyptian text must be “the probable basis for the Luke tale.” But does that mean Luke plagiarized the Egyptians? No serious scholar would suggest that, because there are all sorts of explanations for this relationship. As I showed in great depth, the parallelism between Abraham and Osiris is consistent among archaeology and in our Book of Abraham–Joseph Smith consistently explains Osiris characters int he Facsimiles to be “Abraham.” The historical parallelism between Abraham and Osiris goes far beyond one New Testament author’s story. Instead of the New Testament forking off of an Egyptian text, both narratives apparently go back to a very ancient source where Abraham and Osiris were one and the same. The common context explanation is often a much simpler explanation than plagiarism.
The same goes for A Key To The Chronology Of The Hindus. A lot of the parallels are explained simply as things mentioned in the Bible–such as “both speak of Nimrod” and “confusion of tongues and Tower of Babel.” Of course a book that talks about biblical themes is going to have parallels with The Book of Mormon!
- A book about archaeological evidence would naturally contain claims that parallel The Book of Mormon’s claims. When I investigated parallelisms with View Of The Hebrews I found that many parallels were archaeological discoveries about ancient America. If The Book of Mormon is true and its mention of ancient scripture among the Native Americans is true, it makes sense that tribes would have legends about a “lost book of God” as View Of The Hebrews records. So, how is this evidence for plagiarism? The same goes for A Key To The Chronology Of The Hindus. The “stone that is placed in an ark/vessel to give light” is a theme that is found in extra-biblical ancient records (which Joseph Smith didn’t have access to). It is a common belief that Noah used a stone to receive light in the ark. If The Book of Mormon is true, it makes sense that stones would be used in a similar way.
- Entirely coincidental parallel phrases or themes. For example, “brother of Jared” in this book is described as “apostate” and “one of the fallen giants was [Enoch’s] uncle.” That is entirely different from the “brother of Jared” in the Book of Mormon. There would be no reason for a plagiarist to include this particular phrase.
Not A Valid Method For Detecting Plagiarism – Anti-Mormons are the only people I have ever seen seriously attempt to use parallelism to accuse a scripture’s author of plagiarism.
What does “parallel” even mean? Let’s start with that. The Literary Devices website defines parallelism as “use of components in a sentence that are grammatically the same; or similar in their construction, sound, meaning, or meter.” There are many types of parallelism, and they are frequently used by authors to add meaning. The Book of Mormon is rich with parallelism, both within itself and with the Bible, Book of Enoch, and other ancient scripture. It can be helpful to compare phrases between books to find some kind of relationship–for example, The Book of Mormon’s explicit use of Bible phrases about Moses to describe Abinadi. It probably is not by accident that Mormon used Moses-related phrases such as “stretch forth thy hand” and “his face shown with exceeding luster.” That is an interesting study.
But I have never seen parallelism used to determine a plagiarized source. Actually, strike that… I take that back. My Psychology 101 teacher in college accused me of plagiarism because some of the phrases in my essay were similar to a Google search of some web page (and probably because I was getting a D in the class.) I was outraged that I would be accused of such a thing over such circumstantial evidence, and rightly so. It was a ridiculous and nonsensical method to determine a writing’s origin.
I’ve pointed out, this parallelism between Anti-Mormon CES Letter and “Our Race” by British Israelite Charles A.L. Totten:
|CES Letter:||Our Race|
|“Jeremy… long as… King James Version… supposed to be… many of the… shall be… Truth has no fear of the light”||“Jeremy… long as…. King James Version… Truth has no fear of Light… shall be… many of the… supposed to be…”|
Does this mean CES Letter plagiarized “Our Race”? Only if you are going by the logic employed by CES Letter and other Anti-Mormon propaganda pieces that cite these phony parallelism studies.
If I were to copy some website for my psychology essay, why would I substantially change the language in most parts and leave a couple parts almost the same? Plagiarists either copy a substantial amount of material with a close resemblance, or they pick out a few striking parts that they explain in their own language. If I were to plagiarize Lord of the Rings I would either copy the whole thing and move some words around, or I would make up my own story and include a part where cloaked un-dead riders chase around the good guy and try to get a magic ring from him while his wizard friend helps. I would not grab a few tiny phrases such as “brother of Jared” or general themes that any fantasy book might have.
Merriam-Websters defines “a parallel” as “something equal or similar in all essential particulars.” Does that correctly describe Alexander Hamilton’s book about Hindus and The Book of Mormon? Of course not! Not at all! There is nothing equal about these books in any essential way. They are grasping for puzzle pieces and jamming them where they don’t belong. It’s like archaeologist re-constructing a dinosaur based on random bones they find scattered around the world. They are scouring hundreds of thousands of books for anything that resembles The Book of Mormon and not giving the slightest consideration for context, relationship, or alternative explanations. Keri Toponce doesn’t even bother mentioning that the author Alexander Hamilton is not the prominent American Alexander Hamilton but some obscure guy in India.
Confirmation Bias – Every so often another narrative about “Joseph Smith copied from this old book” crops up, and the framing is always the same. With CES Letter’s ridiculous narrative about the book ‘Late War Between Great Britain And The US‘ focuses on words words like “elephant” and “stripling soldier” as evidence. The alleged parallels are presented using extravagant adjectives like a carnival presenter would use: “astounding,” “phenomenally,” “very clearly and simply.”
Keri Toponce likewise hypes her “parallels” with extravagant adjectives:
- “I was BLOWN AWAY perusing the text” by the “notable parallels”
- “extremely interesting”
- “I can’t deny the parallels”
- “A MUST READ book”
- “The parallels between these two books is undeniable”
She would not need to be a salesperson for her parallels if they scientifically stood on their own merit. The biggest problem with her method is that it relies on the a priori assumption that the Book of Mormon is a fabrication. It inductively starts with that premise and strives to portray it as true through association, profiling, and nuance. It is very much like a police officer pulling someone over because he is wearing clothing that someone who commits crimes would wear. It is confirmation bias for those who have the slightest spark of suspicion that Joseph Smith made it up–which is the vast majority of people, including church members. That’s what makes it so effective. It is a shabby excuse for those who jump to conclusions and judge things based on their appearance rather than taking the time to research.