the thinker

Recent Defenses of the Book of Mormon

NOTE: This webpage taken entirely from mormonstudies

Recent Defenses of the Book of Mormon





The Arm of God

Jacob's Literary Style


The Translation Process



Land of Jerusalem



Lehi's Exodus from Jerusalem

The Narrative of Zosimus

Mesoamerican Codices




Scholars associated with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) have produced a series of publications providing evidence for the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document. Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne, appeared in 1991. This was followed in 1992 by Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John Welch, and in 1997 by Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel Reynolds. We will examine some of the more important claims put forth in these books. Citations from the Spalding manuscript refer to page numbers in the 1910 edition.


In "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon," John Tvedtnes asserts that the Book of Mormon uses words in ways typical of Hebrew: "These Hebraisms, as I will call them, are evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon" (Sorenson 1991, 77). But of course, if we can find similar usages in Solomon Spalding's manuscript, these "Hebraisms" would not authenticate the Book of Mormon. Let's examine the categories discussed by Tvedtnes. Tvedtnes' examples will be listed first, followed by examples from the Spalding manuscript.

A. A possessive or descriptive relationship between two nouns:

"plates of brass" instead of brass plates (1 Nephi 3:24)
"works of righteousness" instead of righteous works (Alma 5:16)
"words of plainness" instead of plain words (Jacob 4:14)
"chains of hell" instead of hell's chains (Alma 5:7)
"voice of the Spirit" instead of the Spirit's voice (1 Nephi 4:18)
"skin of blackness" instead of black skin (2 Nephi 5:21)
"night of darkness" instead of dark night (Alma 34:33)
"rod of iron" instead of iron rod (1 Nephi 8:19)
Examples from the Spalding MS include:
"men of brave hearts" instead of brave-hearted men (p. 37)
"order of battle" instead of battle order (p. 38)
"ambush of the Sciotans" instead of Sciotan ambush (p. 38)
"complaints of his subjects" instead of his subjects' complaints (p. 45)
"standard of Hamboon" instead of Hamboon's standard (p. 97)
"shades of evening" instead of evening shades (p. 102)
"sword of Sambal" instead of Sambal's sword (p. 112)
B. Prepositional phrases used in place of adverbs:
"with patience" instead of patiently (Mosiah 24:15]
"with much harshness" instead of very harshly (1 Nephi 18:11)
"with joy" instead of joyfully (Jacob 4:3)
"in spirit and in truth" instead of spiritually and truly (Alma 34:38)
"in righteousness" instead of righteously (1 Nephi 20:1)
"with gladness" instead of gladly (2 Nephi 28:28)
Examples from the Spalding MS include:
"with such dexterity and gracefulness" instead of dexterously and gracefully (p. 66)
"with the greatest speed" instead of speedily (p. 66)
"with great vehemence" instead of vehemently (p. 80)
"with great joy" instead of joyfully (p. 81)
"with firmness and courage" instead of firmly and courageously (p. 90)
"with incredible fury" instead of furiously (p. 91)
"in abundance" instead of abundantly (p. 12)
"in proportion" instead of proportionately (p. 16)
"in safety" instead of safely (p. 19)
"in peace" instead of peacefully (p. 39)
"in tears" instead of tearfully (p. 47)
"in justice" instead of justly (p. 77)
"in triumph" instead of triumphantly (p. 110)
C. Related words which have the same root:
"work all manner of fine work" (Mosiah 11:10)
"judge righteous judgments" (Mosiah 29:43)
"build buildings" (2 Nephi 5:15; Mosiah 23:5)
"the desire which I desired" (Enos 1:13)
"work a great and a marvelous work" (1 Nephi 14:7)
"taxed with a tax" (Mosiah 7:15)
"cursed with a sore cursing" (2 Nephi 1:22; Jacob 3:3)
Examples from the Spalding MS include:
"clothed themselves in cloth" (p. 21)
"colored with different colors" (p. 21)
D. Compound prepositions:
"by the hand of your enemies" (Mosiah 17:18)
"by the hand of my industry" (Alma 10:4)
"by the hands of his brethren" (Alma 10:3)
"by the mouth of all the holy prophets" (1 Nephi 3:20)
"by the mouth of angels" (Alma 13:22)
"from before my presence" (1 Nephi 4:28; 1 Nephi 11:12)
"from before my face" (1 Nephi 11:29)
The Spalding MS contains:
"by the hand of Lobaska" (p. 43)
Would Tvedtnes regard the following compound prepositions as examples of Hebraisms?
"effaced by the ravages of time" (p.1)
"united by the solemn covenant of marriage" (p. 58)
"blinded by the sordid advice of a menial junto of Councilors & priests" (p. 65)
"surprise occasioned by the story of the flight" (p. 65)
"Undaunted by the cruel demand & haughty menace of the Sciotan government" (p. 72)
"beloved by the subjects of the empire of Kentuck" (p. 92)
"exhausted by the fatigues of a most bloody contest" (p. 94)
"prevented by the arrival of Hamboon" (p. 101)
"encircled by the walls of a fort" (p. 102)
"destroyed by the cruel sword of Sambal" (p. 112)
E. The repetition of conjunctions along with prepositions, articles, or possessive pronouns:
"And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness" (1 Nephi 2:4)
"we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things" (1 Nephi 3:22)
"All mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state" (1 Nephi 13:36)
"My gospel . . . and my rock and my salvation" (1 Nephi 13:36)
"The city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen" (3 Nephi 9:10)
"All their men and all their women and all their children" (Mosiah 24:22)
Examples from the Spalding MS include:
"our meat and our fish" (p. 12)
"The King and his chiefs and many of his principal subjects" (p. 19)
"their armies routed & their warriors bleeding under our swords -- their helpless women and children expiring by thousands & their country in flames" (p. 77)
"a defence which will extend to our wives and our children . . . . We must either submit to behold our property torn from us, our houses in flames -- & our dearest friends expiring" (p. 86)
"My father . . . and my only brother . . . . my father and my brother . . . . my father and my brother (p. 88)
"finish with your spears and your swords" (p. 90)
Spalding frequently repeated articles and possessive pronouns:
"in their dress, in their cookery and in their houses" (p. 22)
"their countenance, their gesture, and the tone of their voices (p. 26)
"a just, a good and gracious prince" (p. 45)
"in their manner of living, their dress, their habits and manners (p. 53)
"the wisdom, the art, and the works of men -- what avails their valour, their strength and numbers" (p. 55)
"the ease, the gracefulness and modesty" (p. 56)
"his pride, his haughtiness, the pomposity of all his movements (p. 58)
"the amiable, the innocent Heliza" (p. 107)
"the brave, the amiable youth" (p. 109)
F. Using "and" with the meaning of "but":
"Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land: and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence" (2 Nephi 4:4).
"And when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it" (Moroni 9:4).
"He commanded the multitude that they should cease to pray, and also his disciples. And he commanded them that they should not cease to pray in their hearts" (3 Nephi 20:1).
Spalding uses "and" with the meaning of "than" or "when":
"Scarce however had they passed the last sentinel, and the alarm was given" (p. 99)
"Scarce had he spoken and Haboon plunged his sword" (p. 99)
He also sometimes uses "that" in a peculiar manner:
"Lamesa was captivated with his person, and was impressed with those ideas and sentiments, that her happiness fled" (p. 57)
"conceived that opinion of you, that I hope you will not be displeased" (P. 57)
Here are examples of a similar use of "that" in the Book of Mormon:
"And Shared wounded Coriantumr in his thigh, that he did not go to battle again" (Ether 13:31)
"Shiz smote upon Coriantumr that he gave him many deep wounds" (Ether 14:30)
G. Parenthetical introduction of a name.
"Zoram did take courage at the words which I spake (now Zoram was the name of the servant) and he promised" (1 Nephi 4:35).
"They took him (and his name was Nehor) and they carried him" (Alma 1:15).
Although this example does not strictly fit the pattern, the Spalding MS includes:
"Elseon, for this was the name of the young Prince, was, soon after" (p. 56)
H. Use of "and also" to emphasize close links between two things:
"They . . . worshipped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name" (Jaocb 4:5).
"The Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma" (Mosiah 27:14).
"What the Lord had done for his son, and also for those that were with him" (Mosiah 27:21).
"Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them" (Mosiah 27:8).
The Spalding MS contains:
"Their settlements extended the whole length of the great River Ohio . . . . And also along the great Lakes of Eri & Mishigan" (p. 54)
I. Preposition plus "that":
"And because that they are redeemed from the fall" (2 Nephi 2:26)
"because that my heart is broken" (2 Nephi 4:32)
"because that ye shall receive more of my word" (2 Nephi 29:8)
"and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross" (3 Nephi 27:14)
"after that I am gone to the Father" (3 Nephi 28:1)
The Spalding MS does not contain examples of these uses, but Spalding's letter appended to the manuscript does contain this:
"I do not believe certain facts and certain propositions to be true merely because that my ancestors believed them" (p. 115)
J. A relative clause not immediately following the word it refers to:
"Our brother Nephi . . . has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren" (1 Nephi 16:37).
"The Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh" (1 Nephi 17:27).
"Then shall they confess, who live without God in the world" (Mosiah 27:31).
Examples from the Spalding MS include:
"what would you have us do, who have had the woeful luck not to get mates" (p. 10)
"Innumerable hordes of this description of people were scattered over an extensive country, who gained their living by hunting" (p. 11)
"That in each assembly a learned holy man shall preside, who shall lead your devotion" (p. 31)
"This Bombal was the most haughty & powerful prince, who reigned in this part of the western Continent" (p. 36)
"dispatched a messenger to Hadoram, who thus proclaimed" (p. 36)
K. "Above" used in comparisons:
"a land which is choice above all other lands" (1 Nephi 2:20)
"the tree which is precious above all" (1 Nephi 11:9)
"most abominable above all sins" (Alma 39:5)
"the fruit . . . which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure" (Alma 32:42)
The Spalding MS contains:
"honoured above all the other princes" (p. 68)
L. "Women" used to mean "wives"
"Our women did bear children" (1 Nephi 17:1)
"Our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children" (1 Nephi 17:20)
"For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children" (Alma 10:11)
The Spalding MS contains:
"for the accommodation of our women and children" (p. 19)
"their helpless women and children expiring by thousands" (p. 77)
Clearly the examples provided by Tvedtnes are not so uniquely characteristic of Hebrew that they cannot also be found in an English document. They do not constitute evidence that the Book of Mormon displays truly Hebraic patterns of word usage, which authenticate the ancient origin of the book.


In "Poetry in the Book of Mormon" (Sorenson 1991), Richard Rust claims that rearranging passages of prose text in the Book of Mormon into poetic form makes its structure apparent and reveals features characteristic of Old Testament poetry.

Rust begins with 2 Nephi 2:25, which he arranges in four lines:

Adam fell
that men might be;
and men are,
that they might have joy.
We can find similar passages in the Spalding manuscript, which can also be arranged in poetic form:
They may secure happiness
to themselves in this life,
and immortal happiness
beyond the grave (p. 44)

Blessings will attend you,
if ye fulfill,
but curses,
if ye transgress. (p. 50)

In friendship ye lived,
and in life and death you were joined. (p. 99)

Rust cites 2 Nephi 4:15-35 as the Psalm of Nephi. Here are verses 19-22:
And when I desire to rejoice,
my heart groaneth because of my sins;
nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

My God hath been my support;
he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness;
and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.

He hath filled me with his love,
even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies,
unto the causing of them to quake before me.
Here is what I will call the Psalm of Fabius from the Spalding MS:
O that my head were waters,
and my eyes a fountain of tears.
Then my intolerable burthen
should be poured forth in a torrent,
and my soul set at liberty.

But behold the light springs up
and beams upon my soul.
She brings in her train Hope,
that celestial goddess,
that sure and strong anchor,
that dispenser of comfort and pleasing anticipation,
and that dispeller of corroding grief and black despair. (p. 16)
Rust quotes 2 Nephi 4:23 as an example of contrast with intensification:
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day,
and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime.
The Spalding MS contains:
They found them lying in a profound sleep,
for the fatigues of the day
and the revels of the night
had brought weariness upon them. (p. 98)
Rust says that poetry is the language of prophecy, which is evident in Book of Mormon passages where there is a transition from prose to poetry, for example Helaman 10:3:
As he was thus pondering . . . the wickedness of the people of the Nephites, . . . a voice came unto him saying: . . .
Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God.
Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels,
that ye shall have power over this people,
and shall smite the earth with famine,
and with pestilence,
and destruction,
according to the wickedness of this people.
A prophecy is similarly delivered in the Spalding MS:
I hear a thundering voice proceeding from the great throne of him who rules the world, proclaiming thus:
Corn shall not grow on Sciotan fields,
nor mammoth yield their milk,
nor fish be taken in the snare,
but pestilence shall roam,
unless Sciota shall avenge the crime of Elseon. (p. 75)
Rust cites 2 Nephi 4:28-30 as an example of inverted parallelism, where words are repeated in reverse order:
1 Awake, my soul!
2 No longer droop in sin.
3 Rejoice, O my heart,
4 and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
5 Do not anger again because of mine enemies.
6 Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
7 Rejoice, O my heart,
8 and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever;
9 yea, my soul will rejoice in thee,
10 my God, and the rock of my salvation.
"Soul" and "heart" in lines 1 and 3 are repeated in reverse order in lines 7 and 9. "Sin" and "enemy of my soul" in lines 2 and 4 are contrasted with "Lord" and "God" in lines 8 and 10. We can find a similar example of reverse parallelism in the Spalding MS:
1 Not the tremendous roar of ten thousand thunders
2 could have produced greater surprise.
3 His countenance was all amazement; it was for a moment covered with paleness.
4 His lips quivered,
5 his knees smote together
6 and his gigantic body trembled
7 like the shaking of a tower under the effects of an earthquake.
8 But soon his reflections and cogitations
9 caused the blood to return with a tenfold velocity into his face.
10 He assumed the attitude of terrific majesty
11 and poured forth his feelings
12 in a voice more terrible than the roaring of a volcano. (p. 68)
"Roar" in line 1 parallels "roaring" in line 12, while in line 3 "countenance" parallels "face" in line 9 and "paleness" contrasts with "blood." In addition, lines 4 through 7 repeat the same idea (intensification of thought, as Rust would say): "quivered," "smote together," "trembled," and "shaking." Lines 1, 7, and 12 also repeat the similar ideas of "thunders," "earthquake," and "volcano."

In "Antithetical Parallelism in the Book of Mormon" (Welch 1992), Donald Parry discusses another literary form found in the Book of Mormon, in which an idea in one line is contrasted with an opposite or antithetical idea in a second line. He cites the following examples:

Whatsoever is good
cometh from God,
and whatsoever is evil
cometh from the devil. (Alma 5:40)

If they have been righteous
they shall reap the salvation of their souls,
according to the power and deliverance of Jesus Christ;
and if they have been evil
they shall reap the damnation of their souls,
according to the power and captivation of the devil. (Alma 9:28)
In the Spalding MS we find similar contrasts, the first of which we have already noted:
Blessings will attend you,
if ye fulfill,
but curses,
if ye transgress. (p. 50)

Now O man attend to thy duty
and thou shalt escape the portion of the wicked
and enjoy the delights of the righteous. (p. 29)

I have then transgressed no divine law,
but have obeyed the divine will. (p. 72)

We will then display our valour
by inflicting upon them a punishment
which their crimes deserve.
Yes our valiant warriors
shall gain immortal renown
by their heroic exploits. (p. 78)
For more examples of poetry in the Spalding MS, we can cite the following:
Let your earnest prayers ascend for pardon
and your transgressions will flee away like shadows,
and your sins will be carried by the smoke
into the shadows of oblivion. (p. 12)

His mind was uncultivated by science,
and his passions were subject to no restraint.
His resentment was quick and fiery,
and his anger knew no bounds.
Nothing was concealed in his heart,
whether friendship or enmity,
but always exhibited by expressions
strong and extravagant.
He had a soul formed for war. (p. 81)
And here is what I will call the Song of Elseon:
You shall be mine.
This heart shall be taken from my bosom
and these limbs from my body,
nothing else shall prevent our union
and complete enjoyment of happiness.
Can the ancient scribbling of a great sage
or the decree of an emperor
prevent the streams from uniting with the ocean?
With the same ease and propriety
can they prevent the union of our hands,
since our hearts are united.
With your consent,
you shall be mine! (p. 61)
Later Elseon also says:
But if the Almighty,
whose benevolence is infinite,
has designed the union of hands
where hearts are united,
I have then transgressed no divine law,
but have obeyed the divine will. (p. 72)
Obviously, Spalding had a strong inclination to use poetic forms of expression in his prose writing, and if he authored the Book of Mormon, he would have had the psalms of the Bible to hone his poetic proclivity. Again, poetry in the Book of Mormon does not provide evidence for the book's authenticity as an ancient document.


Chiasmus is essentially the same as reverse parallelism -- repeating words or ideas in reverse order. John Welch discovered chiasmus in the Book of Mormon in 1967, and it has since been touted as evidence of authenticity. Examples of chiasmus have been found in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Ugaritic literature, as well as both the Old and New Testaments. But it has also been noted in Greek and Latin literature. Chiasms in the Book of Mormon cited by Welch include Alma 36 and Helaman 6:7-13. We have already discussed one example of chiasmus in the Spalding MS (see above). Here is another passage which reveals a chiastic structure:
a Behold the conflagration of the city.
b The flames in curls ascend towards heaven,
c and as the darkness of the night had now commenced,
   this added to the horror of the scene.
c' The illumination spread far and wide,
b' and distant villages beheld the reddening light ascend,
a' as a certain pioneer of their own conflagration,
   should the war continue to rage. (p. 102)
Both a and a' contain "conflagration;" "flames . . . ascend" in b is paralleled in b' by "reddening light ascend;" and "illumination" in c' contrasts with "darkness" in c. We can also find a chiastic pattern in another passage from the Spalding MS:
The emperor and the whole court still manifested toward him every token of high respect and sincere friendship. Without any hesitation the emperor cheerfully complied with his request . . . . The morning arrived. The sun shone with radiant splendor. Not a cloud intervened or was seen to float in the atmosphere. It was the fourth day after Lamesa had received the letter which doomed her to the embraces of Sambal. . . . The Emperor then . . . expressed his firm determination to maintain a sincere friendship . . . . Elseon . . . then thanked the emperor and whole assembly for the high respect they had shown him. (pp. 63-64)
The structure can be shown thus:
a The emperor and the whole court
b sincere friendship
c cheerfully complied
d sun shone
d' not a cloud
c' doomed her
b' sincere friendship
a' the emperor and whole assembly
Again both a and a' contain "the emperor and whole court/assembly;" both b and b' contain "sincere friendship;" "cheerfully" in c contrasts with "doomed" in c'; and "not a cloud" in d' parallels "sun shone" in d.

It appears then that Solomon Spalding was capable of producing "chiastic patterns" unconsciously in his writing, and if he consciously imitated biblical style, he could have produced even stronger chiasms.

The Arm of God

In his article "The Image of the Hand of God in the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament" (Sorenson 1991), David Seely notes references to the arm of the Lord in 1 Nephi 22:10-11 ("he shall make bare his arm . . . . will proceed to make bare his arm") and in Enos 1:13 ("by the power of his holy arm"). However, the Spalding MS contains similar language: "this arm shall visit your crimes upon your head" (p. 69), "I myself will lead the van and mingle my arm with those who fight" (p. 70), and "his almighty arm will add strength to your exertions" (p. 79).

Jacob's Literary Style

In "Jacob and His Descendants as Authors" (Sorenson 1991), John Tanner claims that Jacob, the brother of Nephi, has a unique style, using particular words: "For example, half the book's references to anxiety occur in Jacob, and over two-thirds of the references to grieve and tender (or their derivatives), as well as shame, are Jacob's. He is the only person to have used delicate, contempt, and lonesome. Likewise, he is the only Book of Mormon author to have employed wound in reference to emotions; and he never used it, as everyone else did, to describe a physical injury. Similarly, Jacob used pierce or its variants frequently (four of the ten instances in the Book of Mormon), and he used it exclusively in a spiritual sense" (Sorenson 1991, 59).

Spalding used many of the same words: anxiety appears in his manuscript 10 times, anxious 10 times, grieve does not appear but grief is used 4 times, tender occurs 7 times, tenderhearted once, tenderness twice, shame once, delicate once, contempt twice, lonesome does not appear. Wound occurs once and in connection with emotions. Pierce, pierced, and piercing occur 8 times, and one use is in a spiritual sense.

In fact we should compare the Book of Mormon with some examples of Spalding's use of these words.


"this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning" (2 Nephi 1:16)
"For because of faith and great anxiety, it truly had been made manifest unto us concerning our people, what things should happen unto them." (Jacob 1:5)
"And this he did because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed." (Mosiah 28:12)
"to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word -- Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them." (3 Nephi 3:3)

"As the sun . . . dispels the clouds of anxiety which rest upon my soul" (Spalding, p. 57)
"But when they arrived & found that the greatest part of the citizens were in the fort this afforded no small aleviation to their anxiety and grief" (Spalding, p. 102)
"And indeed their escape was owing to the great anxiety of Elseon & his warriors to visit their friends in the fort & to ascertain the extent of the massacre that Sambal & his army had made." (Spalding, p. 111)
"Such was their anxiety to precipitate their march that it was scarcely in the power of their commander to retard their steps" (Spalding, p. 102)

"But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen" (1Nephi 1:20)
"I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies" (1 Nephi 8:8)
"did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them." (Ether 6:12)
"your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God" (Jacob 2:7)
"For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness" (Jacob 2:33)
"Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children" (Jacob 2:35)

"they extoled the loving-kindness and tender mercies of their God" (Spalding, p. 5)
"they manifested a great regard for the rights of the other sex & always treated them with attention, civility & tenderness" (Spalding, p. 48)
"& when parents were treated by their children with great tenderness & respect" (Spalding, p. 52)
"the tender hearted maid" (Spalding, p. 15)

"will bring you to stand with shame and awful guilt before the bar of God" (Jacob 6:9)

"with respect to other Laws, they were calculated to wound the pride of & ambition of the transgressor, & produce shame & regret" (Spalding, p. 52)

"many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God" (Jacob 2:7)

"But now a most singular & delicate subject presented itself for consideration" (Spalding, p. 8)

"instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds" (Jacob 2:9)
"many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds" (Jacob 2:3)

"Had the Lightning flashed from the clouds & pierced her heart" (Spalding, pp. 61-62)
"When such scenes present themselves to my view they pierce my soul like dagers" (Spalding, p. 88)
"They broke thro' their Ranks -- peircing with deadly wounds their indignant foes" (Spalding, p. 91)
"Many warriors say they lie there, pierced with mortal wounds" (Spalding, p. 94)

For more textual parallels like these, see the Spalding Authorship Page.


Advocates of wordprint studies claim that every author has a unique and unconscious pattern in the frequency of use of such noncontextual words as: and, in, of, the, to. The first wordprint study of the Book of Mormon was published in 1980 by Wayne Larsen and Alvin Rencher. Their work was criticized by James Croft. Among Croft's objections were: (1) the notion of stable, measurable writing styles, which is questioned by some experts in statistical stylistics; (2) the use of edited manuscripts as raw data for the study; (3) the assumption that every word in the Book of Mormon can be accurately assigned to its real author; (4) the use of the current edited version of the Book of Mormon, rather than the 1830 edition; (5) failure to distinguish between word patterns used in different styles of writing, such as oratory and narrative; (6) failure to perform paired comparisons between authors; and (7) use of text sample sizes which are not large enough for valid statistical analysis. In the fall of 1980, John Hilton started working with a group of researchers to develop wordprinting techniques further and published a study of the Book of Mormon in 1987. In his article "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship" (Reynolds 1997), Hilton claims that he has overcome most of Croft's objections to the Larsen-Rencher study. His team used "the earliest available Book of Mormon manuscripts," rather than the current edited version; they used 5000-word texts as test samples; and they performed paired comparisons between texts. Hilton also claims that "our new wordprint technique is essentially insensitive to the textual changes introduced by the differing literary parameters of genre, subject matter, writing period, position in an author's career, or normal publication editing" (Reynolds 1997, p. 236).

As Hilton states, the validity of the methodology rests upon the standard produced by the control studies. For the control tests Hilton used 26 noncontroversial 5000-word texts written by nine different authors, including: Mark Twain, William Dodd, Robert Heinlein, Samuel Johnson, English translations of works by Harry Steinhauer, Heinrich Von Kleist, and Christoph Wieland, and various writings of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith. Hilton made paired comparisons between texts written by the same and different authors. The results of these control studies were then used to evaluate tests comparing texts from the Book of Mormon with each other and with the writings of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Solomon Spalding.

Several points should be noted here. Although Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were included in the control studies, Solomon Spalding was not, so his writings did not help shape the control standards for subsequent tests. Second, every person included in Hilton's control group is a modern author, although the Book of Mormon is supposed to be an ancient book. Therefore, Hilton really has not established that his techniques are valid for ancient authors. Third, although Hilton emphasizes the importance of the control studies, he seems to go out of his way to avoid telling us what writings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery he used. In the case of Joseph Smith, Hilton says that he used two selections of autographic letters written between 1834 and 1838, and the Joseph Smith History included in the Pearl of Great Price (1:1-75), "dictated and carefully polished with the assistance of his clerks" (Reynolds 1997, 247-48). For Oliver Cowdery, Hilton used two selections of "written religious discourse and biographical essays from Messenger and Advocate (1830)" (Reynolds 1997, 247). (The date listed is incorrect, since the Messenger and Advocate was not published before October 1834.) It is apparent then that the 5000-word control texts used for Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were not continuous blocks of text, but consisted of collections of letters and articles. And as Hilton acknowledges, the Joseph Smith History was carefully edited with the assistance of clerks.

More problems arise with regard to the texts which Hilton chose from the Book of Mormon. Again he does not tell us specifically what texts were selected, but says only that he used 5000-word texts from the "didactic" writings of Nephi and Alma. And again these texts apparently are not continuous blocks, but collections of various selections. Furthermore, since there are no noncontroversial, uncontested writings of Nephi and Alma, Hilton was not able to include such writings in his control studies. Therefore, Hilton is not comparing contested writings of Nephi and Alma with their known writings, but is comparing contested ancient writers Nephi and Alma with other known modern writers. We must rely on Hilton's assurance that his method provides a reliable way to determine authorship in such a comparison. Hilton also does not tell us what sections of Spalding's manuscript he used in his tests.

Hilton states that wordprint techniques yield "reliable answers when measuring singly authored documents of at least a few thousand free-flow, original words. (In the context of wordprinting, free-flow words are written without outside influence or superimposed structures that change an author's personal word selection)" (Reynolds 1997, 227). He also says: "However, if the author consciously imposes an external structure, the free flow of the author's wordprint pattern is modified, and accurate wordprint measurements become more difficult to obtain" (Reynolds 1997, 228). Studies of Nephi and Alma leave doubts about whether their writings provide the required free-flow texts. For example both Terrence Szink and Alan Goff (Sorenson 1991) propose that Nephi deliberately wrote the account of his family's departure from Jerusalem using words and ideas from Exodus and Numbers to parallel the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. But this is found not only in Nephi's narrative, but also in his didactic writings. Nephi's prophecy in 2 Nephi 26:15-16 incorporates words from Isaiah 29:3-4. John Welch has pointed out that Alma's instructions to Helaman in Alma 36:22 repeat "twenty-one words that are quoted verbatim from the vision of Lehi (see 1 Nephi 1:8)" (Welch 1992, 152). And Grant Hardy states that "distinguishing Mormon's paraphrases from the original words of authors like Mosiah or Alma is virtually impossible" (Sorenson 1991, 19). Can we be certain that we have obtained accurate wordprint measurements, if Book of Mormon authors borrow from the Bible and from other Book of Mormon authors, and if we cannot even be certain whether text is a direct quote or a paraphrase?

Hilton's tests not only measured the use of noncontextual words, but also patterns involving those words. Three of those patterns involve a word's position in a sentence: first word, last word, or second to last word. Word-pattern ratios were developed by A. Q. Morton, and Hilton apparently adopted Morton's definition of a sentence "as all groups of words ending in a logical full stop" (Reynolds 1997, 244). The number of occurrences of word patterns are sometimes divided by the number of sentences in the text to produce a ratio. Testing such patterns using the autographic letters of Joseph Smith and the Spalding manuscript poses particular problems. Joseph Smith frequently wrote without using end of sentence punctuation. For example Joseph's letter to his wife Emma, dated 18 May 1834, consists of twenty-three printed lines, but does not contain a single end of sentence marker. Solomon Spalding, on the other hand, frequently used dashes in his writing, and it is not always possible to determine whether what follows the dash is the beginning of a new sentence or a continuation of what precedes the dash. We must assume, therefore, that Hilton made his own determination of where sentences begin and end in the writings of Joseph Smith and Solomon Spalding. In other words the patterns which he tested depend, at least to some extent, on his editing of the texts.

One pattern tested was "and" as the first word in a sentence. But this pattern could easily be affected by someone consciously trying to write in a biblical-sounding style. For example, an author might normally write: "My son, you are still young, and I urge you to listen to me and learn from what I tell you." But adopting a biblical style, the same sentence might be written: "And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me" (Alma 36:3). A sentence normally written as "He spoke to us like the voice of thunder," might be written as "And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder" (Alma 36:7). The phrases "And now" and "And now behold" at the beginning of sentences occur at least fifteen times in Alma 37 alone. (These phrases occur 650 times throughout the Book of Mormon, and with only a few exceptions, they appear at the beginning of sentences.) Another pattern tested was "of" as the second to last word in a sentence. But again this pattern could be altered by a biblical style. For example, Alma 36 has four sentences which end with the words "of God": "not of the carnal mind but of God" (verse 4); "seek no more to destroy the church of God" (verse 9); "that I had been born of God" (verse 23); "the knowledge which I have is of God" (verse 26). Hilton states in a note: "Further, deliberately writing to an externally imposed pattern which restricts the normal noncontextual word choices of the writer or repetitively using normally noncontextual words in textually important ways can also change the wordprint patterns" (Reynolds 1997, 249).

The Book of Mormon claims that it was written in reformed Egyptian. But what was reformed Egyptian? Did it use the same kinds of noncontextual words as English, or were the noncontextual words which appear in the Book of Mormon supplied by Joseph Smith's translation? Even our English translation of the Hebrew Bible interpolates words which are not a part of the Hebrew text. If even some of the noncontextual words in the Book of Mormon are not a part of the original author's style, then wordprint studies are measuring patterns of the translation, not the ancient text. Mormon states that "there are many things which, according to our language, we are not able to write" (3 Nephi 5:18). John Sorenson speculates that reformed Egyptian was a script which evolved from hieratic Egyptian writing (found on the brass plates of Laban), in which the characters were "logographs or ideographs, that is, representing whole concepts, yet it also allows for a phonetic element" (Reynolds 1997, 455). Sorenson believes that this would explain why Mormon and Moroni express frustration in trying to express themselves clearly. Royal Skousen, however, argues that the original manuscript of the dictated Book of Mormon provides evidence which supports the accounts given by witnesses of the translation process. Skousen accepts the fact that the interpreters used by Joseph Smith provided an English translation of the characters on the plates, and that "every word was distinctly visible even down to every letter" (Reynolds 1997, 66). It appears then that the interpreters were capable of giving a precise translation, even though the characters were logographs representing whole concepts, with all of the uncertainties of interpretation entailed in such a script. Given this scenario, it is difficult to understand how Joseph Smith's English translation could faithfully preserve the individual word patterns of the original authors.

Although Hilton rectified a number of the problems of the original Larsen-Rencher study, there are still many uncertainties connected with his techniques and the fundamental assumptions of the study. Hilton really does not take seriously either the Book of Mormon's claim of being an ancient document, or the Spalding theory. Instead of treating the Book of Mormon as a document written in an ancient, unknown language, he tests it with a standard based on word patterns in modern authors, and he totally ignores the issue of determining how the original document was translated. Nor does Hilton take into consideration the conditions imposed by the Spalding theory. It is claimed that Spalding consciously and deliberately adopted a biblical-sounding style, which, as Hilton acknowledges several times, can change an author's wordprint. The theory also claims that Spalding's manuscript passed through the hands of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who altered the text, which again could skew wordprints. The Book of Mormon is potentially a mixture of the wordprints of Solomon Spalding, Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdery, with the added external pattern of attempting to write in a biblical style. Indeed, if the Spalding theory is correct, wordprint techniques are a wholly invalid method of determining authorship. There are simply too many problems to justify Hilton's assertion that it is "statistically indefensible" to propose Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or Solomon Spalding as the author of the Book of Mormon.

The Translation Process

For over seventy years Mormon scholars insisted that accounts provided by witnesses of the translation of the Book of Mormon were not accurate descriptions of the process. The witnesses said that by using the interpreters, Joseph Smith could actually see an English translation of the characters on the plates, which he read off to a scribe. These accounts created some embarrassing problems, such as explaining the grammatical errors and misspellings, and the obvious fact that the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon are quoted from the King James Bible. Beginning with B. H. Roberts, scholars maintained that Joseph Smith was very much involved in the act of translating. To support this position, they cited a revelation received by Joseph for Oliver Cowdery, who had been granted the gift of translating. This revelation (D&C 9) instructs Oliver that he must study the translation out in his mind, and if it is right, he will feel a burning sensation in his bosom, but if it is wrong, a stupor of thought will overcome him. In an article written in 1903, B. H. Roberts gave his version of the translation process:
All the circumstances connected with the work of translation clearly prove that it caused the Prophet the utmost exertion, mental and spiritual, of which he was capable, and while he obtained the facts and ideas from the Nephite characters, he was left to express those ideas in such language as he was master of. This, it is conceded, was faulty, hence here and there [are] verbal defects in the English translation of the Nephite record. Now when the Prophet perceived from the Nephite records that Isaiah was being quoted; or when the Savior was represented as giving instructions . . . Joseph Smith undoubtedly turned to those parts of the Bible where he found a translation, subsequently correct, of those things which were referred to in the Nephite records, and adopted so much of that translation as expressed the truths common to both records . . . . (Roberts 1985, 8)
Roberts did not say whether ideas were communicated to Joseph pictorially or in vision, but it could not have been through words, since Joseph had to struggle to find the right words to express the ideas. This account would explain why it was necessary for Oliver to "study it out" in his mind, but it does not agree with those witnesses who said that the English words appeared when Joseph looked into the interpreters or seer stone. Several years later, Roberts reformulated his explanation to bring it more into line with these descriptions.
That is, the Prophet Joseph Smith looked into the Interpreters or Seer Stone, saw there by the power of God and the gift of God to him, the ancient Nephite characters, and by bending every power of his mind to know the meaning thereof, the interpretation wrought out in his mind by this effort -- "by studying it out in his mind," to use the phrase of the revelation above -- was reflected in the sacred instruments, there to remain until correctly written by the scribe. (Roberts 1957, 1:132-33)
According to Roberts, the interpretation of the characters as it appeared on the stone was only the reflection of what Joseph thought the characters meant, but Joseph could be wrong. Roberts admits that on at least one occasion Joseph delivered a false revelation by means of the seer stone.

Other Mormon scholars formulated variations of Roberts' theory. Sidney Sperry argued that when a seer uses the interpreters, he is in a mental or spiritual state in which the unknown is "manifested or mirrored to his mind."

Stating the principle in another way: the celestial stones of the Urim and Thummim enabled the Seer, by concentrating all of his spiritual faculties, to pass into the realm of the unknown and have the truth made known to him. . . . When, for example, Joseph Smith was translating the Nephite record, the Urim and Thummim enabled him to receive what the Germans would call sprachgefuehl or linguistic feeling for the unknown language. For the time being the Prophet had an intuitive sense of, or natural feeling for, the Nephite language, which enabled him to understand the writing on the gold plates in his possession. He then proceeded to convey the thoughts expressed on the plates into the best English at his command. . . . The Lord is not to be blamed for the imperfections of language found in the Book of Mormon. (Sperry 1968, 29-30)
Daniel Ludlow also explained the translation process by saying that Joseph Smith received "impressions" while translating, although he did not specify the nature of these impressions (Ludlow 1976, 141-42). By making Joseph, rather than the interpreters, responsible for the translation, Roberts, Sperry, and Ludlow could account for the grammatical mistakes and quotations from the KJV. But their explanations exact a great price by sacrificing the accuracy of the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon is expressed in Joseph's own words, it obviously is not a literal translation. And if Joseph committed many mistakes in grammar, he might also have made many errors in expressing the meaning of the characters.

It is then perhaps not very surprising that Mormon scholars have for the most part abandoned these interpretations. But there are other reasons for this change. Much of the new evidence offered as authentication of the Book of Mormon as a genuinely ancient document -- Hebraisms, poetry, antithetical parallelism, chiasmus, wordprints -- can be valid only if the Book of Mormon is a literal translation which faithfully preserves the literary forms and word patterns of the original authors. If Joseph Smith merely received ideas, intuitive feelings, or impressions which he had to express in his own words, then the new studies only provide evidence about Joseph's own literary style. On the other hand, if the Book of Mormon is a literal translation by means of the interpreters, Mormon scholars must again explain the bad grammar and quotations from the KJV. Royal Skousen discusses ways in which scribal errors may have been committed during dictation, but he merely dismisses the grammatical mistakes by saying that the Lord "apparently does not share our insistence on 'proper English' (see D&C 1:24)" (Reynolds 1997, 90).

See also Evidence from the Book of Mormon Manuscript


In addition to literary forms, Mormon scholars appeal to other evidence to validate the Book of Mormon, such as the discovery of the name Alma. Daniel Peterson reports that Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin discovered a document from the early second century A.D., which turned out to be a land deed containing four names, one of which was "Alma, son of Yehudah." According to Peterson, this find "demonstrates Alma to be an authentically ancient Semitic masculine personal name, just as the Book of Mormon presents it." (Reynolds 1997, 146). But how exactly does it prove this? The fact is that Jewish names (of both individuals and cities) changed under Greek and Roman influence. For example, Josephus, the first century A.D. Jewish historian, refers in The Jewish War to Eleazar, son of Dinaeus, and Joseph, son of Dalaeus. Does this prove that Dinaeus and Dalaeus were "authentically ancient Semitic" names? Yadin's discovery does not provide a basis for concluding anything about the origin of the name Alma. It could be Semitic, but it could also be derived from Greek, Latin, or some other language. We simply do not know what its derivation is. And Yadin's discovery relates to a period 700 years after Lehi left Jerusalem.


Another claim is that the name of Mulek, son of Zedekiah, has been traced to the Bible. Robert Smith reports that "Jeremiah 38:6 speaks of a 'dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech . . . in the court of the prison.' But the Hebrew name here, MalkiYahu ben-hamMelek, should be translated 'MalkiYahu, son of the king,' the Hebrew word melek meaning 'king.'" (Welch 1992, 143). Smith then speculates that the short form of MalkiYahu might be Mulek. But then, if MalkiYahu was old enough to hold the important position of running a prison, how did he escape the notice of Nebuchadnezzar's men, who captured and slew Zedekiah's sons? And why is he not mentioned at Jeremiah 41:10 as one of those remaining behind, who were carried off by Ishmael, along with Jeremiah, Baruch and "the king's daughters"? As I have suggested in my parallels, it is much more likely that the name Mulek was derived from Meleck Yarfrick or Menilek, the son of Solomon.

Land of Jerusalem

Critics of the Book of Mormon have made much of Alma's prophecy that the Son of God "shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers" (Alma 7:10). Jesus was, of course, born in Bethlehem. In reply, Mormon scholars have cited the Amarna letters (1400 B.C.), which refer to "a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name," which is believed to be the city of Bethlehem. Although this reference is about 1,300 years before Alma's time, I have no particular problem with Alma 7:10. It is consistent with the Book of Mormon's other "land of" phrases. Daniel Peterson notes that "the Book of Mormon routinely refers to 'lands' that both surround and bear the names of their chief cities." Peterson also cites a Qumran document called Pseudo-Jeremiah, which refers to "the land of Jerusalem." He then concludes: "The prophecy of Alma 7:10 thus fits into antiquity very well. . . . Alma 7:10 'enhances the sense of historicity' of the Book of Mormon" (Reynolds 1997, 157). However, it is not necessary to resort to the Amarna letters or the Dead Sea Scrolls to find examples of lands which bear the name of their chief cities. This pattern is found frequently in The Travels of Marco Polo:
Khotan is a province eight days' journey in extent, which is subject to the Great Khan . . . . It has cities and towns in plenty, of which the most splendid, and the capital of the kingdom, bears the same name as the province, Khotan. . . .

Passing on from here we come to the province of Pem . . . . The most splendid city and the capital of the province is called Pem. (Polo 1958, 82)

Thus the author of the Book of Mormon may have adopted this pattern in order to enhance its "sense of historicity."


In "The Importance of Warfare in Book of Mormon Studies," William Hamblin argues that the details of military activity in the Book of Mormon are consistent with patterns of pre-modern warfare. For example, Hamblin states:
The Book of Mormon provides a great deal of incidental detail on military technology. . . . descriptions of weapons and armor in the Book of Mormon are all consistent with ancient patterns as represented in the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica. Indeed, the Book of Mormon consistently parallels Mesoamerica and differs from the ancient Near East in precisely those features that distinguish Mesoamerica from the ancient Near East. Coats of mail, helmets, battle chariots, cavalry, and sophisticated siege engines are all absent from the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica, despite their importance in biblical descriptions of ancient Near Eastern warfare. Studies on fortifications demonstrate that the Book of Mormon patterns of military architecture and engineering are also consistent with similar patterns in Mesoamerica. (Reynolds 1997, 530-31)
However, this really is not so very remarkable, considering that we have a great deal of information about ancient warfare in the writings of Julius Caesar, Livy, and Plutarch. I have already traced many parallels between the Book of Mormon and the histories of these men, and the fortifications of Moroni strongly resemble those of Caesar. Furthermore, the description of warfare in the Spalding MS is very similar to the Book of Mormon. For example, Spalding describes the Sciotan warriors: "Each man had a sword by his side and a spear in his hand, and on their breasts down to their hips and on their thighs they wore pieces of mamouth skins to guard them from arrows and the weapons of death" (Spalding 1910, 84). (Compare Alma 49:6. The Lamanites "had also prepared themselves with shields, and with breastplates; and they had also prepared themselves with garments of skins, yea, very thick garments to cover their nakedness.") The Sciotans wear caps and pieces of skin, but no helmets or coats of mail. They do not have battle chariots or cavalry (although the leader may ride on a horse) or sophisticated siege engines. Spalding gives a detailed description of military fortifications: "The ramparts or walls, were formed of dirt which was taken in front of the fort. A deep canal or trench would likewise be formed. This would still increase the difficulty of surmounting the walls in front. In addition to this they inserted a piece of timber on the top of the ramparts. These pieces were about seven feet in length from the ground to top, which was sharpened. The distance between each piece was about six inches, through which they could shoot their arrows against an enemy. Some of their fortifications have two ramparts, which run parallel with each other, built in the same manner, with a distance between of about two or three perches. Their gates are strong and well constructed for defense" (Spalding 1910, 54-55). (Cf. Alma 50) Hamblin presents no evidence based on warfare which authenticates the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican document.


In his article "Complexity, Consistency, Ignorance, and Probabilities," Melvin Thorne asserts that "one strong evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is that it interweaves dozens of complex stories and patterns with an uncanny consistency that is never caught in a slip or contradiction" (Reynolds 1997, 179). In response, I need only reference the section on this site entitled "The Revised Book of Mormon," where you will find many slips, contradictions, and other problems. Surely, Thorne and other Mormon scholars have noticed at least a few of these difficulties in the text.

Lehi's Exodus from Jerusalem

In "Lehi's Arabian Journey Updated" (Reynolds 1997), Noel Reynolds asserts that Mormon scholars now know the location of sites corresponding to the account of Lehi's journey through the wilderness, after leaving Jerusalem. This is based on the work of Warren and Michaela Aston. The Astons identify Book of Mormon Nahom, where Ishmael died, with Nehem, located northeast of Sana'a in Yemen, while Bountiful, located near the Irreantum Sea, corresponds with Khor Kharfot, situated east of Nehem near Oman's Dhofar coast. Reynolds thinks that Nephi's account of Nahom and Bountiful correspond so well with the sites located by the Astons that it "could only have been written by one who had personally traveled the area" (Reynolds 1997, 382). Reynolds asks:
How did he [Joseph Smith] know that a group traveling due east from NHM [Nehem] would meet the sea at a uniquely fertile and hospitable spot that was suitable for building and launching a ship? How did he know that Oman had ample resources for ship building and sailing, and that there were mountains and cliffs on the sea shore itself?

These important details run directly counter to all knowledge of Arabia in Joseph Smith's day and to most popular belief about Arabia even today. The simplest and most reasonable explanation is that Joseph Smith and his contemporaries did not know these things . . . . (Reynolds 1997, 388)

Actually, people in Joseph Smith's day knew more about Arabia than Reynolds supposes, as is attested by the following passages from Voltaire's "The Philosoophy of History":
. . . but Arabia Felix deserved that name, as being surrounded with thick woods and a tempestuous sea, it was sheltered from the rapacity of robbers . . . . This advantage is far above its aromatics, its incense, its cinnamon (which is of inferior quality) or even its coffee, which now creates its riches. . . .

As to that extensive part called Happy, half of it consists also in deserts; but upon advancing some miles into the interior parts, either to the east of Mocha, or to the east of Mecca, there is found the most pleasant country in the world. The air is continually perfumed, during a perpetual summer, by the odor of the aromatic plants which nature spontaneously produces. Thousands of streams flow from the mountains, and preserve an incessant coolness, which moderates the heat of the sun beneath the evergreen shades. It was particularly in this country, that the words garden and paradise implied celestial favor.

The gardens of Saana, towards Aden, were more famous among the Arabians, than were those of Alcinous among the Greeks. And this Aden or Eden was called the place of delights. . . .

This vast country of Yemen is so fine, its ports are so happily situated upon the Indian ocean, that it is said Alexander was desirous of conquering Yemen, in order to make it the seat of his empire, and the emporium of trade for the whole world. (Voltaire 1927, 400-401)

Edward Gibbon also gives this description of southern Arabia:
The high lands that border on the Indian Ocean are distinguished by their superior plenty of wood and water: the air is more temperate, the fruits are more delicious, the animals and the human race more numerous: the fertility of the soil invites and rewards the toil of the husbandman; and the peculiar gifts of frankincense and coffee have attracted in different ages the merchants of the world. If it be compared with the rest of the peninsula, this sequestered region may truly deserve the appellation of the happy . . . . (Gibbon n.d., 3:58)
As sources for his information on Arabia, Gibbon lists not only ancient writers like Pliny and Strabo, but also the works of Pocock, who published extracts and notes on Arabian antiquities in his Specimen Historiae Arabum. Gibbon also refers a number of times to books by Carsten Niebuhr and Jean Bourguignon D'Anville, who published maps of Arabia. Nephi's account does not require any more knowledge of Arabia than was available in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Astons claim that Lehi's group travelled in the same direction as an ancient trade route along the east shore of the Red Sea. However, there was another main trade route, in use at least as early as 336 B.C., which ran across central Arabia to Gerrha on the Persian Gulf. Gibbon refers to these two routes:

The treasures of Africa were conveyed over the peninsula to Gerrha or Katif, in the province of Bahrein, a city built, as it is said, of rock-salt, by the Chaldaean exiles; and from thence, with the native pearls of the Persian Gulf, they were floated on rafts to the mouth of the Euphrates. Mecca is placed almost at an equal distance, a month's journey, between Yemen on the right and Syria on the left hand. The former was the winter, the latter the summer, station of her caravans; and their seasonable arrival relieved the ships of India from the tedious and troublesome navigation of the Red Sea. In the markets of Saana and Merab, in the harbours of Oman and Aden, the camels of the Koreishites were laden with a precious cargo of aromatics; a supply of corn and manufactures was purchased in the fairs of Bostra and Damascus . . . . (Gibbon n.d., 3:62)
Concerning Nahom, the Astons present two kinds of evidence: (1) the meaning of "Nehem," and (2) a place in South Arabia named Nehem. Let's consider each of these.

(1) The Astons state that there are two Semitic roots for Nehem. One means "to comfort, console, to be sorry," while the other means "to roar, complain, or be hungry." The Astons think that "both these roots relate in significant and very specific ways to the experiences of Lehi's group while at Nahom. . . . It is hard to imagine any place-name that would be more appropriate in view of what Nephi tells us happened there. Not only do the two roots of Nahom refer unquestionably to both mourning and consoling (and perhaps also to fasting) in connection with Ishmael's death and burial, but they seem to go still further and echo the complaining and the rebellion that followed his burial" (Aston 1994, 12-13). However, this is all quite irrelevant. Why? Because the text states and the Astons acknowledge that Nahom was already named before Lehi's group arrived there (1 Nephi 16:34; Aston 1994, 10). The fact that Ishmael died at Nahom is purely coincidental and is not connected in any way with the meaning of Nehem/Nahom. This does not constitute evidence verifying Nephi's account. Furthermore, the name Nahom is not remarkable, considering that the Bible contains the names Naham, Nahum, and Nehum. In addition, NHM is not the same word in South Arabian as it is in Hebrew and is not pronounced the same. In Hebrew, NHM is a verb, but in South Arabian, it is a noun meaning "pecked masonry," referring to a technique of roughening the finish of the stone using chisels. Why would Lehi's group insult the Arab inhabitants of the area by giving the place a Hebrew name with a different meaning?

(2) The Book of Mormon refers to a place called Nahom, and there was actually a place named Nehem in South Arabia along an ancient incense trade route. Nothing could be simpler. But is it really that simple? Actually, according to the Astons, the trade route passed through the Jawf valley. Nehem was not the name of a city in the valley, but was a remote burial place in the mountains south of the Jawf valley. The Astons state that Lehi's group "could only have known about Nahom from someone outside the group," and "Likely the Lehite encampment was in the Jawf valley and Ishmael was carried up into the hills for burial" (Aston 1994, 10, 13). But this is not all. The Astons also say that there was another larger burial place east of the Jawf valley in the mountains near Ruwaik. They then conclude that either Nehem or Ruwaik "may well have been the place to which local people led Lehi's mourning party to bury Ishmael" (Aston 1994, 20). It seems then that it would have been quite possible for Lehi's group to travel through the Jawf valley without ever being aware of Nehem and that in any case Ishmael may not have even been buried there.

The Book of Mormon says that Lehi's group journeyed "many days" from Shazer to Nahom, and then after turning east from Nahom, they reached Bountiful, after spending eight years in the wilderness. However, according to the Astons' interpretation, the group would have already traveled a large part of their journey upon reaching Nahom. In fact Reynolds says that the Astons have "persuasively" argued that the course followed by Lehi's group to Nahom took "years to traverse what could have been covered in months" (Reynolds 1997, 381).

Reynolds says that one of the criteria used by the Astons in searching for the site of Bountiful is that "there must be a dangerous cliff where Nephi's brothers could attempt to kill him by throwing him into the sea" (Reynolds 1997, 383). However, the text does not in fact refer to any cliff or state that Nephi's brothers made an actual attempt to kill him; it merely states that Nephi's brothers "were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea" (1 Nephi 17:48). But when this occurred, Nephi had already made tools out of ore and was preparing to start building their ship. Nephi's brothers "were desirous that they might not labor" (1 Nephi 17:18). It is hardly possible that Nephi planned to build the ship on a cliff above the sea. If the Astons are permitted to speculate, we could conjecture as well that "depths of the sea" implies open ocean, and that Nephi's brothers planned to use a canoe or raft to take Nephi out to sea and throw him overboard. There may very well have been a cliff, but speculation should not be raised to the level of necessary criterion.

Neither Reynolds nor the Astons suggest an explanation for the strange name which the Book of Mormon confers upon the sea. Nephi states that upon reaching Bountiful, they beheld the sea, "which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters" (1 Nephi 17:5). Irreantum appears to be a name invented in imitation of the fact that at one time the Indian Ocean was called the Erythraean Sea. Greek "erythros" means "red," so the Indian Ocean was actually called the Red Sea. The Book of Mormon merely applies a different name to the sea, with a different meaning.

The Astons' interpretation fails to deal with certain peculiarities of the Book of Mormon account. I have argued that the Book of Mormon uses "Red Sea" with a special meaning, referring to what is now called the Dead Sea. The Book of Deuteronomy provides further evidence for this interpretation:

These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab. (There are eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea.) . . . On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law . . . . (Deut. 1:1-2, 5)
The text here refers to the plain on the east side of the Jordan "over against" the Red sea, which suggests that it is referring to the Dead Sea, which was perhaps thought to be connected with the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aqaba. Two other passages in the Bible refer to the Red sea, when the Israelites were travelling through the northern Sinai and Edom: "And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way" (Numbers 21:4); "Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days" (Deut. 2:1). Nephi says that the river Laman "emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof. And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!" (1 Nephi 2:8-9). Nephi also says that when they left the valley of Lemuel, "we did take seed of every kind that we might carry into the wilderness" (1 Nephi 16:11). Josephus describes a deep body of water in a cave beneath a large mountain: "Now the fountains of Jordan rise at the roots of this cavity outwardly; and, as some think, this is the utmost origin of Jordan . . . ." Later he also describes "a fountain by Jericho." Originally, this fountain of water had "a sickly and corruptive nature," causing harm to vegetation and new-born children. Elisha prayed over the fountain and made it "wholesome and fruitful." Josephus says that the ground watered by the fountain grew "most excellent gardens that are thick set with trees," and that the area produced honey and balsam. In another work, Josephus says that after Samson repented of his pride, God "raised him up a plentiful fountain of sweet water at a certain rock; whence it was that Samson called the place the Jaw-bone, and so it is called to this day." As William Whiston, the translator, pointed out, the Hebrew word for "jaw-bone" is Lehi: "This fountain, called Lehi, or the jaw-bone, is still in being . . . ." (See Josephus 1984, 1:77, 329; 2:334-35) I have argued that the use of "down" and "up" in the Book of Mormon indicates that Lehi's camp in the wilderness was north of Jerusalem, and that parallels with the stories of Moses and Joshua reveal that Lehi's group traveled a course opposite to that of the Israelites, when they crossed the Jordan and entered Canaan. Lehi may have camped near the "fountain by Jericho," and his river Laman, which emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, would have joined with the Jordan, which Lehi may have considered to be this fountain of the Red Sea. When the Book of Mormon says that Lehi's group traveled in a south-southeast direction, "keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea" (1 Nephi 16:14), it appears to be referring to areas east of the Dead Sea, not the long stretch of Arabia which borders the Red Sea. I have also suggested that Nahom, where Ishmael died, is a point east of Mount Hor, where Aaron died, and that after Lehi's group turned eastward from Nahom, they reached a point near the mouth of the Euphrates River on the Persian Gulf. The name Bountiful may be connected with the meaning of "Euphrates," which is "that which makes fruitful."

And finally we can suggest a simple explanation for the name Nahom, which does not require a knowledge of Semitic roots or the geography and place-names of South Arabia. The author of Nephi's record paralleled accounts of Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites, when they journeyed along the border of the Dead Sea and crossed the Jordan to Jericho (even the Astons acknowledge these parallels). But when he wanted Lehi's group to turn eastward, he started thinking of the trek of Abraham and his family from Ur to Haran. Abraham's brother was named Nahor, and it requires only the subsititution of one letter to change the name to Nahom. This I believe, is the real meaning and significance of Nahom, and it indicates that Lehi's group did not travel to South Arabia.

Lacking any archeological evidence which definitely links Lehi's group with specific sites, any suggested route of travel must remain speculative, and therefore it is difficult to take seriously Reynolds' claim that Nephi's account "must be seen as a powerful witness of the Book of Mormon's divine origins and ancient authorship" (Reynolds 1997, 388).

See also the discussion in Book of Mormon Georgraphy.

The Narrative of Zosimus

John Welch has noted similarities between the visions of Lehi and Nephi and a document called the Narrative of Zosimus, which was unknown in Joseph Smith's time. Welch thinks that there is an argument here, but he is quite uncertain what to make of it. He suggests five possibilities: (1) Lehi could have made contact with people in the Arabian wilderness, who preserved a memory of his dreams and prophecies; (2) Lehi, Nephi and the author of Zosimus had similar religious experiences; (3) Zosimus may derive from unknown words of Jesus; (4) both Lehi and Zosimus draw upon teachings or traditions associated with the Rechabites; (5) traditions or teachings were transmitted as part of a ceremony or ritual for initiates. Welch then concludes: "Whatever the final explanation may turn out to be, it can at least be said that these two texts share a considerable amount of common ground and that these close parallels corroborate the claim that the authorship of the Book of Mormon is rooted in the ancient Near East" (Reynolds 1997, 372).

Welch's parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Narrative of Zosimus are problematic, but granting them for the sake of argument, there is a much simpler explanation. The similarities could have been mediated by a popular tale from the Middle Ages called the Voyage of St Brendan. Parallels between this story and Zosimus are much more precise than those which Welch cites from the Book of Mormon, and D. H. Farmer says of the Voyage of St Brendan: "Its basic theme, the quest for a paradise on earth, can be traced back through early Christian writings to Greek, Roman and Egyptian literature. Parallels can be drawn with the Book of Enoch or the Shepherd of Hermas. But the closest resemblances are to the literature of Visions, some of which originated in Ireland and probably made use of pre-Christian Irish elements. The story of an adventurous sea-voyage is common in early Irish literature" (Farmer 1983, 12).

Zosimus was a virtuous man who lived in the desert for forty years, practicing an ascetical life. He asked God to show him the dewelling place of the Blessed Ones, who had lived during the days of Jeremiah. An angel appeared and said that he would show Zosimus the way. St Brendan also lived an ascetical life, being the abbot of a monastery. One day he was visited by a monk named Barinthus, who told Brendan about a place called the Island of Delights, discovered by his son Mernoc. Barinthus and his son Mernoc set sail in a vessel to find another isle called the Land of Promise of the Saints. After hearing Barinthus' story, Brendan became consumed with a desire to find this land.

Zosimus traveled for forty days and was then blown by a wind to a river: "And behold when I desired to cross the river, some one cried as if from the water, saying Zosimus, man of God, thou canst not pass through me, for no man can divide my waters" (Reynolds 1997, 333). Similarly, after Barinthus and Mernoc sailed to the Land of Promise, they traveled for fifteen days and came to a river. A man surrounded by an aura of shining light appeared and told them: "The river you see before you divides the island in two. You may not cross it" (Farmer 1983, 212).

Zosimus looked up and "saw a wall of cloud stretching from the waters to the heaven" (Reynolds 1997, 334). There are several parallels to this wall of cloud in the Voyage of St Brendan. The Land of Promise of the Saints was surrounded by a dense cloud, which Barinthus and Mernoc had to sail through, both when they arrived and departed from the island. Later, when Brendan and a group of monks also set sail in search of the Land of Promise, they stayed on an island, where a dense white cloud settled over them until daybreak. They sailed on and one day saw a column rising out of the sea: "Brendan gazed upwards but could hardly see the top because of its great height: it was higher than the sky" (Farmer 1983, 236). This column was surrounded by a large canopy. Finally, when Brendan's group came to the Land of Promise, they were enveloped in thick darkness before reaching shore.

Zosimus was transported across the river: "I went forward, whither I knew not, and that place was filled with much fragrance, and there was no mountain on either hand, but the place was level and flowery, all crowned with garlands, and all the land was beautiful" (Reynolds 1997, 336). In their travels, Brendan's group reached a place which is described thus: "The island itself was remarkably flat and low, and seemed to be literally at sea level . . . . It was very wide and was covered with purple and white caltae." Sailing on, they reached an island which "was thickly set in every part with trees bearing the same kind of fruit as the bird had brought them. . . . The island exhaled a fragrant odour" (Farmer 1983, 232, 234).

Zosimus saw a naked man and started conversing with him, telling him how he had come to that place. Brendan's group reached a small island where Paul the Hermit lived, and they were astonished to see that he wore no clothes at all. In response to Brendan's questions, Paul related how he had arrived at the island.

Zosimus looked up into heaven and saw that the man's face was "as the face of an angel, and his clothing as lightning." The man said, "I also am one of the blessed. Come with me, that I may lead thee to the elders. And laying hold of my hand he walked about with me and led me toward a certain crowd, and there were in that crowd elders like sons of God, and young men were standing beside the elders" (Reynolds 1997, 341-42). Brendan's group reached the Island of the Community of St Ailbe, where they saw an "old man with white hair and a shining face." Taking Brendan's hand, he led them to a monastery, where twelve monks welcomed them saying, "Rise up you holy ones of God." Later, when Brendan's group reached the island covered with caltae, they found that the place was inhabited by boys, young men, and elders. The boys wore "pure white garments," while the other men wore colored garments. (Farmer 1983, 223-24, 233)

Zosimus says that the elders gave him to the care of an attendant: "So the attendant receiving me led me to his cave, and we sat under a tree partaking of food. . . . then we ate, and the water came out from the root of the tree sweeter than honey, and we drank our fill, and again the water sank down into its place" (Reynolds 1997, 345). Brendan's group also had an attendant or steward, who provided them with food and water at various periods of their journey. Furthermore, when they reached the island of Paul the Hermit, Brendan "climbed up to the summit and saw two caves with their mouths facing each other . . . and a tiny spring gushing out from a rock in front of the mouth of the cave . . . . The spring water, as it fell, was at once absorbed by the rock." This spring provided Paul with water. The caltae which Brendan's group ate also "left a constant taste of honey in their mouths" (Farmer 1983, 234, 241).

People constantly came to look at Zosimus and ask him many questions. Similarly, when Barinthus visited Mernoc on the Island of Delights, the "monks poured from their cells like a swarm of bees to look at us" (Farmer 1983, 211). Zosimus was so wearied by the constant questions that he asked his attendant to lie and tell people that he wasn't there. The attendant was horrified by this request, likening it to the deception of Eve by Satan, and the elders ordered Zosimus to depart. However, Zosimus poured forth great lamentation and asked for forgiveness. On the first island which Brendan's group reached, Brendan warned them: "Be on your guard, brethren, lest Satan lead you into temptation. I can see him persuading one of those three brethren who followed us to commit an awful theft. Pray for his soul, for his body is given over to the power of the devil" (Farmer 1983, 216). One of the monks did in fact steal a necklace, and when he was discovered, he fell at the feet of Brendan and begged for pardon.

The elders tell Zosimus that when they fast for forty days, God sends manna from heaven to feed them. They also state that "among us there is no sickness, pain, fatigue to our bodies, mutilation, weariness, or temptations" (Reynolds 1997, 362). Similarly, Ailbe tells Brendan that God mysteriously provides bread for them to eat, and says: "It is eighty years since this began and we never feel any older or more feeble. . . . nor do we ever suffer from extremes of heat or cold." He also states: "And we have never known illness, either physical or mental, since we arrived" (Farmer 1983, 224, 226).

Clearly, there are many parallels between the Narrative of Zosimus and the Voyage of St Brendan. They may even belong to the same tradition. Thus, although it would not have been possible for someone in Joseph Smith's day to have known about Zosimus, they did have access to a very similar story in the Voyage of St Brendan. Therefore, Welch's parallels do not corroborate the Book of Mormon's roots in the ancient Near East.

Mesoamerican Codices

In a long and rambling essay, John Sorenson argues that the Book of Mormon shares many features typical of Mesoamerican codices and concludes: "Furthermore, it is totally implausible that such an array of similarities could have been produced by poorly educated Joseph Smith Jr. Significant information on most of the points discussed above had not been discovered or was inaccessible to him or any other American in 1829, so the Mesoamerican-like features of and in the Book of Mormon could not be due to any early-nineteenth-century author. Nor is it plausible that such a set of Mesoamerican features could have been produced as fiction by a Smith or any American creative writer of his era" (Reynolds 1997, 481). One way to test this assertion is to compare what Sorenson says about Mesoamerican codices with the Spalding manuscript to see if we can find any similarities. Therefore, let us examine the features discussed by Sorenson.

1. Kinds of Books and Their Uses. Sorenson lists various types of Mesoamerican records and information found in the records. One can find similar documents in the Spalding manuscript, including records of contemporary events, letters, political histories, wars and victories, sacred matters and rites, prophecies, lives of rulers, and adventures of heroes.

2. The Forms of Books. Mesoamerican documents were either written on paper made from bark, which was folded like an accordion, or inscribed on stones. In his story, Spalding claimed that he found a flat stone with characters inscribed on it. After raising the stone, he discovered a cave and a box containing twenty-eight sheets of parchment. He refers to the parchment as a "roll." The writing on the parchment (and perhaps on the stone as well) proved to be Latin, but Fabius also states that the Ohons wrote on parchment and that they had a sacred roll.

3. Lineage Histories. These documents include the origin story of a group (including migration traditions), trace the descent of the group from a common ancestor, and explain the existing social order. The Spalding manuscript includes two distinct groups of people -- the Deliwans and the Ohons. Its primary focus is on the Ohons, but Spalding did refer to Deliwan traditions that their ancestors came from the west. The story does not explain the origins of the Ohons, but it does include the great myth of Lobaska, the instructor and reformer of the Ohons. It was Lobaska who gave the Ohons their system of writing, the religious tenets included in their sacred roll, and their constitution and form of government. Originally, the Ohons were divided into independent city-states governed by chiefs, between which there were frequent "contentions and wars." Lobaska separated the Ohons into two empires (Sciota and Kentuck), established their constitutions, and installed his own sons as the emperors and high priests of the two nations.

Lineage histories were "maintained and interpreted by priest-scholars" (Reynolds 1997, 419). The Spalding story states: "Records are kept of the transactions of their governments. Their constitutions and laws are committed to writing [A sacred Roll in manuscript is preserved among the records of their emperors and kings] and are dispersed through the empire . . . . In all their large towns and cities they have deposited under the care of a priest a sacred Roll which contains the tenets of their theology and a description of their religious ceremonies" (Spalding 1910, 26).

4. Ethnocentric Bias and Politically Motivated Revision of History. Sorenson quotes various sources, claiming that "documents offer the official historical version of one city-state, laying particular stress upon the claims to legitimacy of its rulers" (Reynolds 1997, 429). The Spalding manuscript presents the different ways in which the Kentucks and Sciotans viewed the marriage of Elseon, prince of Kentuck, and Lamesa, princess of Sciota. According to the constitutions of the two empires, there was to be no intermarriage between the two populations. The Kentucks approved of the marriage, but did not regard it as a serious breach of the constitution, despite the fact that Lamesa went against the wishes of her father and had been promised as the wife of Sambal. The Sciotans, on the other hand, regarded the marriage as both a personal crime of robbery on the part of Elseon and as an affront to the dignity and authority of the Sciotan government. The Kentucks attempted to be conciliatory, but the Sciotans called for revenge and war.

5. Obscure Language. Sorenson writes:

One had to be deeply schooled in the relevant Mesoamerican language to catch its allusions. In native priestly schools, students were taught explanations of the paintings and glyphs in the codices accompanied by interpretive commentaries that they had to learn by rote. . . . Regarding the Maya glyphs, Dütting notes "a content dictated by the historical and ritual-religious interests of a small sophisticated nobility." Carrasco calls the central Mexican codices "part of the art of the ruling classes [that] contained stories painted and understood by very few individuals, usually the priestly sons of noble families who memorized the stories and pictorial conventions of their culture." (Reynolds 1997, 437)

The Spalding MS states:

It is a work of considerable labor and time to obtain such a knowledge of their characters and the application as to be able to read with fluency and to write with ease and accuracy.

In their principal cities and towns the government appoints learned men to instruct the sons of the higher class of citizens, and in the course of four or five years they will make such proficiency as to become tolerable scholars. . . .As only a small proportion of the people are instructed in the arts of reading and writing, of consequence the great mass, must possess a large share of ignorance . . . . (Spalding 1910, 26-27).

When Lobaska arrived and declared that he had invented a system of writing, "he then proposed to establish a school, for the instruction of the sons of the principal subjects of the king. . . . A house was immediately prepared for the accommodation of scholars, and in a short time the numbers amounted to near two hundred" (Spalding 1910, 34).

6. Writing Systems. Sorenson argues that there is evidence indicating that the plates of the Book of Mormon were "inscribed in a manner consistent with a Mesoamerican codex format, with vertical columns and other appropriate features . . . ." He also says that all Mesoamerican glyph systems "depended heavily on 'logographs,' which convey one concept per character. Potentially, one had to memorize thousands of characters, each character having a different semantic significance. . . . The systems also involved a phonetic principle, so that names and words could be, and often were, sounded out" (Reynolds 1997, 417, 446).

Spalding says that the Ohons "had characters which represent words, and all compound words had each part represented by its appropriate character. The variation of cases, moods, and tenses was designated by certain marks placed under the character. They generally wrote on parchment, and beginning at the right, wrote from the top to the bottom, placing each character directly under the preceding one, and having finished one column or line they write the next on the left of that and so continue on until they cover the parchment, if the subject require it." Spalding also says that Lobaska "had invented the art of expressing ideas by certain marks or characters" (Spalding 1910, 25, 34).

7. Mesoamerican Priesthood and Records. Sorenson writes:

The priesthood among the Mesoamerican peoples consisted of several levels of power and jurisdiction, and priests varied in their functions, but many of them had to do with books. Among the Maya of Yucatan, a "high priest" was held in general respect, and a similar office existed elsewhere in Mexico. He did little in the way of routine sacrificing or divination, but "provided [other] priests for the towns when they were needed, examining them in the sciences and ceremonies . . . and provided them with books and sent them forth." . . .

Both "prophet" and "seer" were established roles, and as indicated above, records of their statements were kept as part of the general historical archives of official documents of native states. . . . The Quiché Maya had hiq' vachinel, "far seers," who were prophetic diviners with second sight able to "see at a distance" or scrutinize (niq'oh) and peer into (vachih) things. Peering into special stones was widespread in Mesoamerica and elsewhere in the world. . . .

One specific function of foretelling was related to war. A highland Guatemalan high priest, his assistant, and four other priests would meet to ascertain "by sorcery and enchantment" . . . if they should make war, or if foes were coming to attack them. They then told the caciques, or rulers, "whether they should go to meet them." (Reynolds 1997, 462-65)

The Spalding MS describes the creation of the office of the high priest, who had four assistant priests: "They shall exercise a jurisdiction over all the priests of the empire and shall see that they faithfully perform the duties of their office. They shall attend to the instructors of learning and shall direct that a suitable number are provided throughout the empire" (Spalding 1910, 44). It also states: "In all their large towns and cities they have deposited under the care of a priest a sacred Roll which contains the tenets of their theology and a description of their religious ceremonies. This order of men publish comments upon these sacred writings; they publish some tracks on moral philosophy, and some containing a collection of proverbs and the wise sayings of their sages." In addition, the story says that Sambal, who wanted to foment war with Kentuck, "had recourse to a class of men, who were denominated prophets and conjurers to favor his design. . . . As they pretended to have the art of investigating the councils and designs of the heavenly hierarchy and to have a knowledge of future events, the people with pleasure listened to their predictions . . . . Drofalick their chief prophet extended his arms and cast up his eyes towards heaven. . . . Hamack then arose and in his hand he held a stone which he pronounced transparent, though it was not transparent to common eyes. Through this he could view things present and things to come, could behold the dark intrigues and cabals of foreign courts and discover hidden treasures, secluded from the eyes of other mortals" (Spalding 1910, 26, 74-75). Hamack pretended to see the Kentucks mutilating an effigy of Sambal.

8. Mesoamerican History and the Calendar. This is Sorenson's murkiest category. He briefly discusses the Mayan calendar cycles and then says that predictions were made on the basis of these cycles, and there was a strong sense of fate tied to the calendar. The Mexica or Aztecs, however, believed that fate could be molded by rituals, astrology, and divination. Sorenson then tries to link prophecies in the Book of Mormon with Mayan calendar cycles, but his examples are unconvincing, and he ends by saying that "all these notions are speculative" (Reynolds 1997, 476). A calendar system is implied in the Spalding manuscript, when the festivals of the Deliwans are described: "They held festivals at stated times . . . . At one of their annual festivals their ceremonies were peculiarly singular and different from any that were ever practiced by any nation. . . . When the time arrives, which is in September, the whole tribe assembles." A sense of inevitability and decreed fate can also be found in the words of Lakoonrod, the high priest, when he denounces the crime of Elseon: "No reparation can of consequence be received except it be a return of the stolen treasure or the blood of the transgressor. Nothing else can satisfy the righteous demand of the great and good Being. He therefore calls upon the civil power to execute his vengeance, to inflict an exemplary punishment. And as it is his cause, and you are employed as his instruments, you may be assured that his almighty arm will add strength to your exertions and give you a glorious victory over your enemies" (Spalding 1910, 11, 79).

Sorenson clearly is wrong in claiming that "the Mesoamerican-like features of and in the Book of Mormon could not be due to any early-nineteenth-century author." Solomon Spalding's manuscript fulfills almost every feature listed by Sorenson.


Could Joseph Smith, with his limited education and knowledge, have written a complex work like the Book of Mormon in 1829 in the space of a few months? It is extremely implausible. However, the arguments amassed by Mormon scholars to validate the Book of Mormon as an authentically ancient document fail on closer examination. Even the Spalding manuscript, which appears to be an experimental, unpolished, and unfinished story, seems to qualify as an ancient work according to the requirements proposed by scholars. Indeed, it is ironic that the very arguments meant to authenticate the Book of Mormon point to Solomon Spalding as the book's author.

See also Evidence from the Book of Mormon Manuscript


Aston, Warren P. and Michaela Knoth Aston. 1994. In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi's Journey across Arabia to Bountiful. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Croft, D. James. "Book of Mormon 'Wordprints' Reexamined." Sunstone (March/April 1981): 15-22.

Farmer, D. H., ed. 1983. The Age of Bede. Rev. ed. Translated by J. F. Webb. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Gibbon, Edward. N.d. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 3 vols. New York: The Modern Library.

Josephus, Flavius. 1984. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. 4 vols. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Larsen, Wayne A. and Alvin C. Rencher. "Response to Book of Mormon 'Wordprints' Reexamined." Sunstone (March/April 1981): 22-26.

Ludlow, Daniel H. 1976. A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Polo, Marco. 1958. The Travels of Marco Polo. Translated by Ronald Latham. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Reynolds, Noel B., ed. 1997. Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins. Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

Roberts, Brigham H. 1957. A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 6 vols. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press.

-------. 1985. Studies of the Book of Mormon. Edited by Brigham D. Madsen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Sorenson, John L. and Melvin J. Thorne, eds. 1991. Rediscovering the Book of Mormon. Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

Spalding, Solomon. 1910. The "Manuscript Found": Manuscript Story. Liverpool: Millennial Star.

Sperry, Sidney B. 1968. Book of Mormon Compendium. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.

Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet). 1927. The Best Known Works of Voltaire. New York: Blue Ribbon Books.

Welch, John W., ed. 1992. Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates. Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.