Paul A. Douglas
5. How do you explain the large volume of material in the Book of Mormon lifted directly from the Bible, and the presence of numerous errors found in the Book of Mormon unique to the 1769 King James edition of the Bible, which we now know Joseph owned?
What is Plagiarism?
“No success in public life can compensate for failure in the home.”
– Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, 1804 – 1881
“No other success in life can compensate for failure in the home”
– David O. McKay, President of the LDS Church, 1873 -1970
That is plagiarism!
As well, how is it that some verbatim sections of the New Testament appear in the Book of Mormon at a date reported to be some eighty years before the birth of the Savior? On average one of every nine chapters in the Book of Mormon is copied from the Bible!
A major criticism of the Book of Mormon is that material was taken verbatim from other sources available to Joseph Smith at the time. I will discuss the View of the Hebrews and the Last War Between the United States and Great Britain, The Last Book of Napoleon and other possible sources later, but first, let’s examine the vast amount of text from the Old, and New Testaments found in the Book of Mormon.
Twenty-seven chapters in the KJV of the Bible are repeated almost verbatim in the 239 chapters of the Book of Mormon.
Twenty-seven out of 239 or 11.3% directly lifted from the Bible.
Let me put that in a Mormon perspective.
Danielle B. Wagner of The New York Times researched which television programs Mormon’s liked best. She found that they overwhelmingly liked fantasy and sci-fi programs at a much higher level than the general American population.
Who’d have guessed!
Their top eight favorites were:
- American’s Funniest Home Videos
- So You Think You Can Dance
- Vampire Diaries
- Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factor
Her map below shows just how the popularity of these programs are centered on Utah and Idaho.
I hope you TBMs will forgive some good-natured ribbing, but 11.3% is like 2 of the 13 episodes of your beloved Vampire Diaries being plagiarized from Twilight!
Joking aside, the table below details the passages copied from the Bible: 1
There are also many King James Bible translational errors contained within the Book of Mormon, specifically the 1769 version the Joseph Smith owned.
For example, in 2 Nephi 15:25 (which is the same as Isaiah 5:25). The correct translation of the Hebrew “cuwchah” is “filth,” not “torn,” as found in the Book of Mormon. Also in 2 Nephi 14:5, which again is the same as Isaiah 4:5, the word “Chuppah” is translated as “defense,” not the correct translation from the Hebrew of “canopy.”
The Book of Mormon certainly sounds ‘Biblical’ not only because, like the Late War Between the United States and Great Britain (a likely Smith reference) it was written in King James’ 16th-century language, but also because more than 27,000 words – hundreds of verses, are copied directly from the King James version of the Bible. Let me repeat that, hundreds of verses are copied verbatim.
There are cases where entire passages are lifted from the Bible. Sometimes the quotation is explicit, as in Second Nephi, which contains 18 chapters quoted from the Book of Isaiah, at other times it is a passage here and a passage there.
The bigger question is of course, how could the Book of Mormon contain anything whatsoever from the King James version of the Bible?
Moroni supposedly buried the gold plates in 421 A.D. The King James Bible came out 1,190 years later. Ergo, the Book of Mormon could not be based on plates buried in 421 A.D. since it contains translation errors that didn’t occur until 1,190 years later; not to mention that the language of the King James Bible was not the language of 421 A.D. or 1830 USA for that matter.
Another significant concern is the fact that italicized words from the King James version of the Bible also appear in the Book of Mormon. The italicized words in the King James version of the Holy Bible were not in the original Greek text but added by the translators to give greater clarity of thought because word meanings and idioms change. This is usually necessary when translating from one language to another, a fact that Joseph and his scribes it would seem were ignorant of.
The italicized words in the King James Bible are words that were added by the King James translators to help the reader, however, to make sure that everyone understood that these words were not in the available manuscripts they set them in italics.
Here are a couple of examples:
Isaiah 9:1 (KJV) Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
2 Nephi 19:1 Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first, he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.
Malachi 3:10 (KJV) … and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
3 Nephi 24:10 . . . and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Does this not indicate that Joseph Smith (or Oliver Cowdery) merely copied the passages from his Bible to the Book of Mormon?
The King James version was completed in 1611 AD and the Book of Mormon published in 1830.
Is this not indisputable proof that the Book of Mormon was written after 1611 and not twelve centuries before?
I believe, Curt van den Heuvel, contributed to this discussion greatly by highlighting the large number of words that appear in the King James context alone, implying that these words are the result of biblical quotations, and are not simply a coincidental part of the author’s vocabulary.
“A few examples – the word ‘manifestation’ (or its plural) is used in I Corinthians 12:7, in the phrase ‘…the manifestation of the Spirit…’. This verse (and a number of surrounding verses) is quoted in Moroni 10:8. This, in itself, is not an anachronistic quote, since Moroni lived long after the establishment of the New Testament canon (although it is a little unclear how these New Testament quotes managed to cross the continental divide.) However, we find that every time the word ‘manifestation’ is used in the Book of Mormon, regardless of context, author or time, it appears in the phrase ‘manifestation of the Spirit’. This can hardly be ascribed to coincidence.
As another example, the word ‘bitterness’ appears in Acts 8:23, in the phrase ‘…the gall of bitterness, and in the ‘bond of iniquity.’ We find that every time the word ‘bitterness’ is used in the Book of Mormon, it appears in the phrase ‘gall of bitterness’, again regardless of context or author. (Even more significant, the word, in all but one instance, also occurs with the phrase ‘bonds of iniquity’.) A final example: every time the word ‘intents’ is used in the Book of Mormon, it appears in the phrase ‘thoughts and intents of the heart’, as in Hebrews 4:12.” 2
I have provided below a small sampling of the numerous times Smith (or Cowdery or Rigdon) ‘copied’ directly from the King James Version of the Bible to the Book of Mormon, as shown in ‘The Skeptics Annotated Book of Mormon’ to show just how extensive the plagiarism is:
- 1 Nephi
- The mysteries of God —1 Corinthians 4:1 1:1, 2:16
- Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! –Revelation 15:3 1:14
- Being grieved for the hardness of their hearts —Mark 3:5 2:18, 7:8, 15:4
- To stir you up by putting you in remembrance —2 Peter 1:13 2:24
- Behold, I dreamed a dream —Judges 7:13 3:2
- Spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began —3:21 3:20
- It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. —John 11:50 4:13
- Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath… —Acts 12:11 5:8
- All nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues —Revelation 14:6 5:18, 11:36, 14:11, 19:17, 22:28
- They are not of the world. —John 17:14 6:5
- I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. —John 1:23 10:8
- There standeth one among you, whom ye know not … whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.John 1:26-27 10:8
- One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. —Luke 3:16 10:8
- In Bethabara beyond Jordan —John 1:28 10:9
The entire list of 769 examples of unattributed copying from the Old and New Testaments can be found at The Skeptics Annotated Book of Mormon.3
Why does the Church not concede that Joseph or his scribe (Oliver Cowdery) copied large amounts of material from the Bible? After all, this in itself is not terribly damaging. It is reasonable that when Joseph could see that the words of Isaiah were coming up passage after passage, he simply sped things along by just reading from his Bible to his scribe.
They could even argue Smith was inspired to do so.
I believe the reason this concession is not forthcoming is that the Church realizes that this admission opens the door to Joseph’s use of other resource materials behind the curtain; – The Late War, The View of the Hebrews, and so on. They just can’t afford to go down that rabbit hole.
Coincidentally, new evidence indicates that Smith was also guilty of plagiarism when he was creating his ‘Inspired Version of the Bible.” Two students at BYU, Haley Wilson and Thomas Wayment in a paper they produced in March of 2017 have recently claimed to have, ‘uncovered evidence that Smith and his associates used a readily available Bible commentary while compiling a new Bible translation, or more properly a revision of the King James Bible. The commentary, Adam Clarke’s famous Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, was a mainstay for Methodist theologians and biblical scholars alike, and was one of the most widely available commentaries in the mid-1820s and 1830s in America.”
Wilson and Wayment suggest that “the number of direct parallels between Smith’s translation and Adam Clarke’s biblical commentary is simply too numerous and explicit to posit happenstance or coincidental overlap. The parallels between the two texts number into the hundreds…” They go on to say, “A few of them, however, demonstrate Smith’s open reliance upon Clarke and establish that he was inclined to lean on Clarke’s commentary for matters of history, textual questions, clarification of wording, and theological nuance.”
While admitting that their research is not intended to be exhaustive, they nevertheless share the following: “Among the more compelling examples are two that witness the omission of entire biblical verses or the rearrangement of parts of biblical verses. In Colossians 2:20–22, Smith rearranges the KJV order so that a portion of verse 22 (“which are after the doctrines and commandments of men”) is appended directly to the end of verse 20, a verse which ends with a comma in the KJV. This change appears to directly reflect Adam Clarke’s statement regarding it, “After the commandments and doctrines of men? These words should follow the 20th verse, of which they form a part; and it appears from them that the apostle is here speaking of the tradition of the elders.”4 The change does little to smooth out the flow of the English translation and does nothing to change the meaning, but it can be no mere coincidence that the two sources relocate a portion of the verse in precisely the same way by adding a part of one verse to another verse earlier in the same passage.
They conclude their short paper by stating, “One of the larger questions raised by this study is whether this new information would alter the reception of Smith’s translation as a canonical or nearly canonical text.”
Haley Wilson and Thomas Wayment,
A Recently Recovered Source:
Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,
BYU Journal of Undergraduate Research, March 16, 2017
There are also examples of ‘Literary Fatigue’ in the Book of Mormon.
This phenomenon is another indicator of plagiarism. And is witnessed when one author is heavily dependent on another. It is evidenced by small errors of detail and continuity, resulting from the plagiarizing author’s omission of structural details while modifying the source document.
Curt van den Heuvel gives us a few examples in the Bible where we can observe this phenomenon in practice: 6
The story of the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5. The gospel records that there were so many people in the house, that the friends of the patient were forced to let him down through the roof.
Luke 5:19 And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. The problem is that Luke has failed to mention that Jesus is in a house.
Luke 5:17 And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
What has happened here is that the author of Luke, in using Mark 2 for his source, has forgotten that he did not set the story in a house, creating a minor aberration in the flow of the narrative when he finds that he has need of a housetop.
In the case of Luke there was no attempt to mislead or deceive as we might attribute to Joseph Smith.
“Alma 18 and 19 contains a story which is very similar to the resurrection of Lazarus as recorded in John 11. The most obvious difference is the fact that whereas Lazarus had died, and had been dead for some time, King Lamoni was in a deep sleep. Strangely enough, however, after informing his wife that the King is simply asleep, the prophet Ammon goes on to claim that he “…shall rise again” (19:8). This seems a rather curious phrase to use of someone who was merely asleep, especially when we consider that both times the phrase is used elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (Alma 33:22 and Helaman 14:20), it refers to a resurrection from the dead.
Could it be that in copying his source (the gospel of John), Smith used a phrase that made sense in John’s narrative (“…Thy brother shall rise again…” in John 11:23), but not in the Book of Mormon story?
A second example concerns the parable of the Vineyard, as recorded in Jacob 5. This is a long parable which casts the nation Israel in the metaphorical role of an Olive tree in a vineyard.
Jacob 5:3 For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.
The parable appears to be drawn from two biblical sources – the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, and Paul’s discussion of the relation of the Gentiles to the Jews in Romans 11. The problem for the author of the Book of Mormon is that Isaiah and Paul used slightly different metaphors – Isaiah that of a vineyard, and Paul an Olive tree. It is thus quite significant that halfway through the parable, Zenos appears to forget that he is using an Olive tree as his metaphor and begins to use the whole vineyard as his focus.
Jacob 5:41 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?
Significantly, the break appears at the same point that the Book of Mormon quotes a passage from Isaiah:
Isaiah 5:4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
From this point on, the prophet Zenos refers exclusively to the “fruit of the vineyard”, apparently forgetting that vineyards yield grapes, not olives.” 7
1 Source: Robert M. Bowman, Jr., The Book of Mormon and the Bible, March 2012
2 https://infidels.org/library/moder n/curt heuvel/bom_kjv.html
4 John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” from Opening the Heavens, Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844, p.77-213, (2005), Brigham Young University.
5 Elden J. Watson, Approximate Book of Mormon Translation Timeline, April 1995
6 Curt van den Heuvel, The Bible in the Book of Mormon (1999) Introduction.
FairMormon’s Comment on the Issue of Plagiarism
FACT CHECKING RESULTS: THIS CLAIM IS BASED UPON (sic) CORRECT INFORMATION – THE AUTHOR IS PROVIDING KNOWLEDGE CONCERNING SOME PARTICULAR FACT, SUBJECT, OR EVENT
FairMormon’s has proposed:
“Some of the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages generally match the version of Isaiah found in the Bible of the time. However, not all of them do.”
FairMormon also states:
“We do not know the specific mechanism by which the biblical passages were included in the translation, therefore we cannot answer this question based upon (sic) current historical information. The only description of the translation process that Joseph Smith ever gave was that it was performed by the “gift and power of God,” and that the translation was performed using the “Urim and Thummim.”
I interpret FairMormon’s response here as saying essentially; we don’t know why King James Bible Version errors would appear in the Book of Mormon because no one reports Joseph using it or source materials while he translated.
This is, of course, a very weak argument. I acknowledge all the quotes FairMormon includes from witnesses to the translation, indicating that Joseph had his head in his hat and/or behind a curtain during the translation.
The apologists use the following statement by Emma Smith as ‘proof ‘that her husband couldn’t have possibly copied from a Bible:
“I know Mormonism to be the truth, and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for [Joseph] I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he is sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”
Q: Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
A: He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
Q: Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A: If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.”
Yes, Emma tells us she never saw her husband referencing anything and I believe her.
But let’s get serious. The fact that Emma did not see Joseph referencing notes or the Bible certainly doesn’t mean he didn’t use these aids.
After all, if Joseph was wily enough to engage in dozens of sub-rosa sexual liaisons, ‘marriages’ for goodness sake, without Emma having a clue, surely it makes his ability to hide his referencing the Bible and/or other materials seem like child’s play.
As well, we know that Emma did not act as scribe for most of the translation and certain not when 2 Nephi, the portion containing many of the plagiarized chapters from Isaiah were being ‘translated.’ Emma’s involvement was very limited. She and her brother Reuben Hale acted as scribes between December 1827 and February 1828.4
Most of the plagiarism of Isaiah occurred in 2 Nephi:
BIBLE BOOK OF MORMON
Isaiah 2 2 Nephi 12
Isaiah 3 2 Nephi 13|
Isaiah 4 2 Nephi 14
Isaiah 5 2 Nephi 15
Isaiah 6 2 Nephi 1
Isaiah 7 2 Nephi 17
Isaiah 8 2 Nephi 18
Isaiah 9 2 Nephi 19
Isaiah 10 2 Nephi 20
Isaiah 11 2 Nephi 21
Isaiah 12 2 Nephi 22
Isaiah 13 2 Nephi 23
Isaiah 14 2 Nephi 24
Isaiah 48 1 Nephi 20
Isaiah 49 1 Nephi 21
Isaiah 50 2 Nephi 7
Isaiah 51 2 Nephi 8
Isaiah 52 3 Nephi 20
Isaiah 53 Mosiah 14
Isaiah 54 3 Nephi 22
We also know that chronologically 2 Nephi was written last – between June 12th and June 21st, 1829.
Elden J. Watson, Approximate Book of Mormon
Translation Timeline, April 1995
Oliver Cowdery was the exclusive scribe during all of the ed chapters of Isaiah. Indeed, as this quote by Royal Skousen indicates, Oliver was also the principal scribe for the production of the Printers Manuscript (P):
“The other manuscript, the printer’s manuscript (P), is virtually intact. Only three lines of its text, from the first leaf of the manuscript, have been worn away. This manuscript is owned by the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Oliver Cowdery is the main scribe for P: 5
Oliver Cowdery 84,6 percent
Scribe 2 of P. 14.9 percent
Hyrum Smith. 0.5 percent
We do not know which portion of the Book of Mormon was translated behind the curtain. It is far from inconceivable to believe that Joseph may have secreted a copy of the Bible and other reference materials into his hat or to his side of the curtain which separates him from his scribes.
I think we also need to ask, why the use of a curtain? It is not that Joseph was referencing the ‘gold plates.’
We know from numerous sources that Joseph translated through a stone in his hat. We are also told that the Gold Plates were not used directly in the translation process and indeed were often not even present.
Also, if fraud was at play, Oliver Cowdery, the principal scribe may have been in on it.
That said, why then was a physical separation from the scribe necessary other than to provide an opportunity to refer to other materials.
FairMormon’s attempts to justify Smith’s extensive Bible plagiarism by stating that, “New Testament writers literally quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah”
That is true, the Savior Himself often quoted the Old Testament Prophets, but I see this as somewhat different, the Lord let us know when he was quoting the Prophets and where it came from:
And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?
You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’
For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
“… saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
And Jesus answered him, It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and he only shall you serve.’
Can you see the difference?
In the case of the Book of Mormon, we have large tracts of material copied almost verbatim without any citation.
But again, I think this distracts us from the bigger question, which bears repeating; how could the Book of Mormon contain anything whatsoever from the King James Version of the Holy Bible?
Moroni supposedly buried the gold plates in 421A.D. The King James Bible came out 1,190 years later.
With regard to the King James Version errors appearing in the Book of Mormon, it seems to me there can only be two possible explanations:
- Joseph Smith or someone else in 1829 took passages from the Bible, errors and all and copied them into the Book of Mormon.
- God for reasons best known to Himself put the unique 1769 KJV edition errors as well as the translator’s italic clarifications into the ‘most correct book on earth.’
The second conclusion is, of course, absurd but the first is also highly problematic.
First, because so much has been made of the fact that Joseph did not use reference materials to aid in his translation.
And, second, the method of translation according to Smith himself, as well as many observers, saw English words or sentences appearing on the rock in his hat which Smith would then announce to the scribe.
We know from numerous sources that Joseph translated through a stone in his hat. We are also told that the Gold Plates were not used directly in the translation process and indeed were sometimes not even present. That said, why then was a physical separation from the scribe necessary other than to provide an opportunity to refer to reference material?
It is also worth noting that FairMormon failed to address the significant problem of the copying of the italicized words from the King James version of the Bible into the Book of Mormon. I think this was worthy of comment.
Next, How does Smith’s extensive ‘rap-sheet’ including his arrest, trial and likely conviction for money digging, treason, attempted murder and bank fraud comport with being a prophet of God?