An Imperfect Book
What follows is an abridged report, the complete text is available on our website.
At our regular monthly meeting on Thursday, March 13, Earl Wunderli, a longtime member of our chapter, spoke about his recently published book, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself.
The history in the Book of Mormon is primarily of Lehi’s family of Israelites who, under God’s direction, emigrated from Jerusalem in 600 BCE and sailed across the Pacific Ocean to the Americas. The family almost immediately split into two factions, one following the faithful Nephi, Lehi’s fourth son, and the other following the rebellious Laman, Lehi’s oldest son. The Lamanites were cursed with a dark skin because of their disobedience. The history follows these two factions, their wars and the Nephite proselytizing, for 1000 years, from 600 BCE to 400 CE. Their history ends with a civil war in which all the Nephites are killed except Moroni. The Lamanites survived as American Indians.
Moroni’s father was Mormon, who abridged all the records kept by the Nephites down to his time. Moroni survived him and wrote the last 10% of the record, buried the entire record in the hill Cumorah near where Joseph Smith lived, and, as an angel, revealed the record to Joseph Smith. When Joseph Smith had dictated the first 116 pages of Mormon’s abridgment down to 130 BCE, his scribe took the pages home to show his skeptical wife and the pages were lost, never to be seen again. Joseph Smith did not retranslate these 116 pages but another record kept by Nephi and his successors, which ended where the 116 pages had ended. Thus about the first 25% of the Book of Mormon consists of first-person accounts written by Nephi and his successors, about 65% abridged by Mormon in the third person, and the final 10% written by Moroni.
Is this story true? or could the little-educated Joseph Smith in his early twenties have dictated it without any editing?
Each alternative seems equally implausible. Wunderli’s book argues that, based on the internal evidence, Joseph Smith wrote the book.
One issue in the air at that time was why there were changes in the Book of Mormon if it had been translated by the gift of God, as Joseph Smith claimed. Wunderli’s wife had acquired a facsimile of the first edition of the Book of Mormon before their move to Connecticut. In the evening, he would read to her the then current edition and she’d note each change in the first edition. There were many changes but primarily of backwoods English, such as from “this they done” to “this they did,” although there were a few substantive ones.
Another issue in the air was whether the several writers of the Book of Mormon–primarily Nephi, his brother Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni—were different. His work on the changes gave him the idea to look for any differences among the several writers in the Book of Mormon. The value of this internal evidence, he thought, was that it was accessible (no need to be a historian, archaeologist, or linguist to understand the evidence); unchanging (unlike the new findings and developments in external evidence such as history, archaeology, and linguistics); complete (the Book of Mormon is a fixed canon); and certain (the facts are not subject to dispute).
By 1976, Wunderli had eight boxes of 3” by 5” cards, one for each of the 5250 words in the Book of Mormon and how each word was used and by whom. Getting that deep into the Book of Mormon uncovered so much other evidence regarding, for example, the proper names, prophecies, and curiosities, that he thought he should find a way to make his findings known. Since then, he has read what critics and defenders of the book have written, given talks on some of his findings, written a couple of published articles, made several stabs at writing a book, and finally went to press last year.
Wunderli then turned to the evidence. In the book of Third Nephi, Jesus Christ appears to the Nephites after his resurrection. The Jesus who gives the Sermon on the Mount (the biblical Jesus) is clearly different from the Jesus who spoke another 8,000 words (the Book of Mormon Jesus). For example, the Book of Mormon Jesus refers to the Father 147 times, but the biblical Jesus never uses the Father but only your Father, thy Father, our Father, and my Father (the Book of Mormon Jesus uses my Father eight times). Furthermore, the biblical Jesus often couples “Father” with “which is in heaven,” which the Book of Mormon Jesus never does.
A second difference is that when Jesus first speaks to the people, he addresses them as “O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel.” He addresses them thereafter with progressively shorter salutations—“O ye people of the house of Israel,” then “O ye house of Israel,” and finally “O house of Israel”—and then gives his Sermon on the Mount to the same multitude but never addresses them as “O house of Israel,” although he does so 14 times after his Sermon.
A third difference, and there are others, relates to the 1569 different words that are used just once in the Book of Mormon. Of these, the biblical Jesus uses 38, the Book of Mormon Jesus uses 14. The biblical Jesus uses one for every 66 words on average, or more than seven per page, eight times more frequently than the Book of Mormon Jesus, who uses one for every 575 words, or less than one per page.
There is one similarity, however. Each Jesus uses “Verily (verily) I say unto you,” the biblical Jesus 21 times and the Book of Mormon Jesus 49 times. But this similarity may have been by design. Joseph Smith may have recognized that the two Jesuses had to sound the same and hit on the expedient of using this expression, which characterizes the biblical Jesus. Joseph Smith then used it with abandon, much as an impersonator exaggerates an obvious mannerism. There are indications that this is what happened. Jesus uses the expression five times in the Bible; in the Book of Mormon, these five are retained and 16 are added. In the Bible, Jesus uses “verily” only singly in his sermon, but in the Book of Mormon, Jesus uses “verily, verily” eight times in his sermon. Indeed, one of Jesus’s single verilys has been changed to a double one. The Book of Mormon Jesus also quotes Isaiah, changing Isaiah’s “therefore” to “verily I say unto you” (Isaiah uses “verily” only once in the Bible, and without “I say unto you”).
Wunderli argued that all these added verilys serve no purpose other than to make the two Jesuses sound alike.
If the differences between the two Jesuses suggest two different persons, does a clear difference between Mormon and Moroni also suggest different persons? Does the fact that Mormon uses many more therefores and many fewer wherefores than Moroni indicate that they are different persons? Therefore and wherefore are interchangeable except for six uses of therefore by the biblical Jesus (e.g., “After this manner therefore pray ye,” which is yet another difference between the two Jesuses). More specifically, therefore is used 663 times in the Book of Mormon. Only 13 of the 5250 different words in the Book of Mormon are used more, such as yea and behold. Wherefore is used 415 times; only 32 words are used more. Mormon, who wrote about 65% of the Book of Mormon, uses 90% of the therefores and 3% of the wherefores, while Moroni, together with Nephi and his successors, wrote about 35% of the Book of Mormon but use only 10% of the therefores but 97% of the wherefores.
Does this clear disparity indicate that Mormon was different from the other writers and, indeed, a different person? Well, there are some anomalies. One is that Moroni wrote the final two chapters of Mormon’s book of Mormon (small b) within the Book of Mormon. Down to these two chapters, Mormon had used 51 straight therefores with no wherefores, and this continues in Moroni’s two chapters, where he uses four therefores and no wherefores, sounding more like Mormon than his later writings. A second anomaly is that in the book of Moroni, the final book in the Book of Mormon, Moroni uses only wherefore, 36 times. In the book of Mormon, Mormon writes two epistles to Moroni, in which he uses 11 wherefores but no therefores, sounding more like Moroni than his earlier writings.
What appears to have happened is that when Joseph Smith came to the book of Ether, which comes after the book of Mormon and before the book of Moroni and is a history of an earlier people, the Jaredites, condensed by Moroni , he recognized that Mormon and Moroni should sound different, analogously to his recognition that the two Jesuses should sound the same. Since therefore and wherefore were common, interchangeable words, he hit on the expedient of having Moroni use wherefore rather than therefore to distinguish him from Mormon. The book of Ether shows a slow transition from the use of Mormon’s therefore, which is used 24 times, to Moroni’s wherefore, which is used 63 times.
There is much other evidence of Joseph Smith’s authorship. For example, he anachronistically copies Isaiah 48-54, which is from Deutero-Isaiah, written after the Babylonian captivity long after Lehi left Jerusalem. He also, again anachronistically, quotes from Paul’s epistles. Other evidence relates to proper names (there are seven identical Nephi and Jaredite names and another 14 within one letter of being identical); prophecies (40% are of past events and 25% of events in the Book of Mormon, and are all specific and unconditional, and 35% are of future events and are vague, conditional, or eschatological); political, scientific, and religious ideas; and curiosities.
Wunderli concluded by noting several things about Joseph Smith that support the idea that he could have written the Book of Mormon. For example, according to his mother, before he was 20, he would occasionally regale his family with tales of the ancient inhabitants of this continent and many details about them. He was well versed in the Bible and quite intelligent; he was much more than a barely educated farm boy.
Often when I am thinking about what I want to say in my president’s message, I feel a little guilty that I almost always have some criticism or something to complain about. But I can’t help it. For me lately I seem to be getting to a point of oversaturation with regards to conservatives. I admit that lately I have a hard time even listening to some of them. But what I find most distasteful about conservatives for a long time is first their constant obstruction of just about everything. Second, is the way they will weaken or (when they are in power) ignore) entities such as the EPA to the point that it is only marginally effective at best. Then after they have done all the damage they can, they point at it and call it a failure. This, “way of the conservative”, is also apparent in the lies and distortions that have been part of their efforts to damage what they call Obamacare. Rather than getting on board in what appears to be the trend in the world, Some type of universal health coverage for all in our society, they try to kill it or weaken it. And then, again after they have attacked it changed it, damaged it, they call it a failure. These practices of theirs are apparent throughout the political landscape.
Yet, as my rant drifts a little, it links conservatives to religion as one of the key motivators of conservatism (And you say “what else is new”). Perhaps I can express it this way. I have in my mind a kind of editorial cartoon of a human figure shackled to a ball and chain. The human figure wants to move ahead…to progress. But the ball and chain that is religion slows the figure down. The ball and chain of religion is also further anchored to the dead past and would like to pull humanity back into the practice of many of the past’s horrible traditions.
But they are doing a pretty good job in the here and now as we see them roll out their budget, with more cuts to programs that help citizens with needs of various kinds. How much further will they try to degrade struggling people in this country? Every bit as much as they can it appears.
Well, I better move on or I’ll start bitching about what the Religious Right is trying to do to education. Which really makes me crazy.
Anyway, on a positive note, I am happy to announce that our request for AHA chapter grant funds was granted in the sum of $800.00. As I have mentioned before, we are building event kits or kiosks. This money is granted for this purpose and along with some of our chapter funds and I have already purchased a quality canopy and some of the other items. Sometime in the near future I plan to have a learning session so that those of us who will be using the canopy this summer at various events can have a “dry run,” to learn how to put it up properly. It’s a nice ten by ten canopy with a back wall and two side half walls. It is pretty easy to put up, but it is a two person job.
I’m excited about Humanists of Utah and our other local groups using this kit through the summer to promote humanism and free thought ideals where ever we can.
Finally, don’t forget to check the speaker announcement for this month. Dan Ellis of the Atheists of Utah will speak. I’m sure he will fill us in on the upcoming American Atheists Association Convention this month. I sure hope some of you go and enjoy as I always have when I have been to humanist conventions, mingling with like-minded people from all over.
Hope to see on the 10th to hear Dan. I’ll bring the cookies as usual.