Thursday, November 16, 2023

Nonbiblical intertextuality database-supplement to Infinite Goodness

The debates about the origin of the Book of Mormon range from 100% naturalistic to 100% supernaturalistic.

(click to enlarge)

The explanation that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery gave--that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim--is the most rational and parsimonious. Alternative explanations, whether entirely naturalistic or entirely supernaturalistic, rely on the assumption that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone; i.e., they deliberately lied. 

Some people cite "eyewitness" testimony to support the stone-in-the-hat theory (SITH). Because translation is a mental process, no one can observe translation. A witness could observe Joseph dictating words, but, unless the witness also observed words on a document or source Joseph was reading to see if the words were English or not, the witness could not observe the origin of the words and thus could not know whether Joseph was reading, translating, or dictating from memory. The witness would have to rely on Joseph's explanation for the source. And Joseph always said he translated the engravings on the plates, after having copied and translated the individual characters by means of the Urim and Thummim.

Some people cite evidence of composition, such as passages, phrases, and terminology from the King James Bible, The Late War, and other sources presumably available to Joseph. However, evidence of composition is also evidence of translation because a translator, like an author, must rely on his/her mental language bank. No one can translate an English text into French if he/she does not know French. Similarly, no one can write or translate in English using words he/she does not know.

Every reader of the Book of Mormon who is familiar with the King James Version of the Bible recognizes biblical language in the text. Scholars such as Royal Skousen have documented these examples of intertextuality between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. 

However, a substantial portion of the text consists of words and phrases not found in the Bible. If Joseph was actually illiterate and uneducated (apart from his familiarity with the Bible), accounting for the nonbiblical language is problematic and supports both a naturalistic explanation (i.e., that someone else composed it, such as the Spalding theory) and a supernaturalistic explanation (i.e., that Joseph read words off the seer stone that he didn't know).

Evidence that Joseph was familiar with the nonbiblical language in the text supports his claim that he actually translated the engravings on the plates. 

The book Infinite Goodness: Joseph Smith, Jonathan Edwards, and the Book of Mormon makes a case for Joseph having become familiar with the works of Edwards, a prominent Christian minister and author from the 1700s. An 8-volume set of Edwards' works was on sale in the print shop in Palmyra that Joseph visited weekly, and Edwards' sermons were widely available in magazines, newspapers and separate pamphlets. 

When I wrote Infinite Goodness, I accumulated a database of nonbiblical terms in the Book of Mormon that I add to from time to time. This is the Nonbiblical Intertextuality Database or NID. On the site, I posted an early version of the NID in conjunction with the Mormon History Association in June 2022. However, as a .pdf file, that version of the NID was not easily accessible.

In the interim, I've added many new entries. I use the NID frequently. At present, the database is 1,382 pages in a Word document. Because so many people expressed interest in the NID, I have published it as a work in progress on Kindle.

Here is the link:

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