Book of Mormon origins (cont.)

For those who did not read my previous posting (“New light on Book of Mormon origins!“) closely enough, let me state plainly: it was a satire. It was, however, satire with a point, and (IMHO) a very sharp one at that. (Sadly, I predict that this information may show up — as a serious argument — on some anti-Mormon websites, as has happened elsewhere on the net with other satirical efforts.)

That post came about because I happen to be re-reading Arrian’s The Campaigns of Alexander at the same time that my wife and I — in our nightly joint reading of the Book of Mormon — are working our way through the ‘war’ chapters in Alma (Alma 45-63). In fact, the pattern for the past few weeks has been that I come to bed, read a chapter out of Alma out loud to my wife, and then (as she turns over to go to sleep) I read quietly out of Arrian for a while before going to sleep myself. Night after night, I was struck at the points of similarities between the two accounts — not the overall narrative, obviously, but much of the details and incidental points.

And while my previous post is written satirically, make no mistake: all of the similarities I list between Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandri and the Book of Mormon are real, and there’s quite a few more, to boot (which I will continue to add to the original post).

For me, the question is: how could a 19th Century farm boy with little education — and with no access whatsoever to the century-plus of movies and TV shows that we take for granted — so accurately describe various aspects of pre-Christian era warfare as they would appear and be chronicled in an ancient historical document? It really is quite striking how much Arrian’s account of Alexander’s campaigns sounds like Mormon’s account of Moroni’s and Helaman’s campaigns.

I have read both the Spaulding manuscript and Views of the Hebrews, and have seen the attempts (profoundly unconvincing, in my opinion) to draw parallels between them and the Book of Mormon. Jeff Lindsay just wrote about an even more laughable attempt to draw general (categorical, not detailed) parallels between the Book of Mormon and works of fiction, such as The Lord of the Rings. The Book of Mormon reads like none of these.

I have also seen the rather contorted efforts to show that Joseph Smith somehow could get access in upstate New York to various obscure, rare, or even not-yet-extant works (atlases, translated documents, etc.), often available only in Europe at the time of the Book of Mormon’s translation, in order to put passing references (e.g., “Nahom”) into the Book of Mormon. I don’t remember whether it was Wilfred Griggs or Kent Brown who — in reference to such efforts — joked about wanting to write an article, “Joseph Smith in the British Museum: The Lost Years”, so I gave both of them credit in my footnote.

And, of course, there are the efforts to explain the Book of Mormon as somehow being a natural production of Joseph Smith’s background, 19th Century Northeast America. Others have done a far better and more scholarly refutation of such claims than I can; my point is that, again, Mormon sounds far more like Arrian than like anything coming out of the early 1800s in upstate New York.

I appreciate the dilemma of those seeking a purely naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon, but it’s a dilemma of their own choosing. It reminds me very much of pre-Corpernican efforts to account for movements of the planets — with the unnegotiable foundational premise that the whole universe revolved around the Earth. This model ended up going through tremendous contortions, epicycles upon epicycles, but with this difference: the pre-Corpernican epicycles actually predicted planetary motion with great accuracy. In my opinion, the various naturalistic ‘models’ of the Book of Mormon fall apart once you move outside of their careful set of special pleadings. The simplest, most consistent, and most effective explanation of the Book of Mormon is the one Joseph Smith — and the book itself — gives.

So, no, I don’t think Joseph Smith somehow got hold of Rooke’s 1812 translation of Anabasis Alexandri and drew upon it in writing the Book of Mormon. I think that Joseph Smith translated a genuine ancient document, and that the Book of Mormon and Anabasis Alexandri sound a lot alike because they share a common focus, milieu and era. ..bruce..

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