(A Reply to Ben McGuire and Others)
by Thomas E. Donofrio
Mr. McGuire's "Parallelomania" paper has recently been made available on the web and its contents call for a
short exercise in clarification and opinion-giving, for the benefit of Book of Mormon defenders and for students
of Mormon apologetics alike. Besides Mr. McGuire, other defenders have addressed some of the issues he raises:
a few brief remarks will suffice as my reply to all of them.
I have found it consistently predictable, that when an analysis of my research is conducted by defenders,
they deftly avoid discussion of the "liberty, property, wives and children" theme in Revolutionary War writing
and the similar "liberty, lands, wives and children" theme in the Book of Mormon. The fact that both sets of
documents (viewing the Mormon volume as a collection of texts) "take up arms" to defend these things makes the
sets of parallels especially significant. I find the defenders' general evasion of the theme an indication of
that significance. I'll provide some heterogeneous examples:
Jeff Lindsay on his web pages avoids discussion
of the theme. Lindsay has taken on small pieces of my research findings which could easily be debated. Initially
he offered no web link to that research for his readers to consult. I did not mind the critique but pressed him
to post the link out of intellectual fairness (and to his credit he eventually did so). Lindsay says that
Leaves of Grass, published a few years after the Book of Mormon, could be manipulated to make it appear
as a source for the Book of Mormon. His style of logic was meant to render my research inert, but Mr. Lindsay
failed to realize that, by his own logic, the Book of Mormon falls into the same era as the Revolutionary War
Lindsay gives a disclaimer on his web pages that he does not speak for the LDS Church -- saving The Brethren the
trouble of reminding him of that fact, perhaps -- nevertheless I find his arguments about "much better evidence"
not only unconvincing but evasive.
Van Hale, a Salt Lake City radio talk show host,
attended an ExMormon Foundation conference where I presented some of my findings. During the Saturday
presentation I gave the audience a handout that reproduced a pamphlet by George Washington, in which the
General discussed taking up arms to defend the liberty, property, wives and children of America, (Paralleling
Moroni in the Book of Mormon). The following Sunday Van Hale read from my handout on his show. I listened
with interest as he went down the list of comparisons, and it came as no surprise to hear him skip over the
"liberty, property, wives and children" portion of my report. The vast majority of his audience did not have
access to the handout and thus was not aware of his selective avoidance of this material; neither did Mr. Hale
provide a web link to his audience. In private email later I later addressed his avoidance of the quote, and he
replied that it really didn't matter, since the material was all the same.
Richard Bushman, in private correspondence with me a few years ago, offered the same observation as
Van Hale had -- stating that this stuff was floating around and was of no real significance, (though he
admitted there were "striking similarities" between Washington and Moroni). Dr. Bushman's defense was to explain
that I would have a difficult time proving the transmission route from the Revolutionary sources to Joseph
Smith's mind. While that may be true, it leaves the "no significance" answer unexplained. Are "striking
smilarities" of "no significance," because their insertion into the Book of Mormon cannot be documented?
Larry Morris, of FARMS affiliation, makes an interesting point, in
a note to one of his online articles:
"Believers in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham have every reason to move cautiously when citing
parallels in support of their belief, because the use of parallels is a two-edged sword. Critics of the Book
of Mormon, for example, have long cited parallels between that book of scripture and Ethan Smith's View of
the Hebrews (published before the Book of Mormon) as evidence that Joseph Smith borrowed freely from
Ethan Smith. Similarly, Thomas E. Donofrio has recently attempted to prove that Joseph Smith drew on such
sources as David Ramsay's Life of George Washington and Mercy Otis Warren's History of the Rise,
Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution in producing the Book of Mormon. Donofrio cites
phrases common to both the Book of Mormon and either Ramsey or Warren, such as "the cause of liberty," "in
the cause of their country," "surrendered themselves prisoners of war," and "supply of provisions," concluding
that "the tally of similarities begin[s] to defy random chance." Donofrio's material is at the following
Web site: www.post-mormons.com/tories.htm (accessed 6 April 2004)."
Perhaps I should thank Dr. Morris for placing my reporting alongside View of the Hebrews. To his credit
he gave the correct web link at the time (its is now
http://www.postmormon.org/tories.htm and additional material
is available at http://www.mormonstudies.com/early1.htm.
But, like the other defenders, Dr. Morris did not bother to mention the significant theme of "liberty, property,
wives and children." I have requested the people at FARMS to review my material, but so far there has been no
response -- perhaps Mr. McGuire's paper serves as a substitute.
One published LDS author has suggested ESP as an explanation for textual parallels. I suppose anything is fair
game for such a defense, though most Book of Mormon apologists would not go that far.
Ben McGuire, a more recent respondent, has offered a creditable paper in some respects, but I fear he has
massaged some search-engine results in much the same fashion as Jeff Lindsay, in an effort to demonstrate that
there is no statistical significance in my research findings. To Mr. McGuire, the books I have pointed out are
no more relevant than any other book of their era, in linguistic comparisons with the Book of Mormon. None of
of these critics have offered to explain why and how such parallels got into the "Nephite Record" in the first
place. Perhaps they simply do not view them as "significant" enough for serious consideration.
Writers for the LDS Church are generally vague when they describe the "translation" process for the Book of
Mormon and perhaps for a good reason. They cannot afford to be very specific, for by doing so they might paint
themselves into a religious and historical corner. Such defenders are left to the consequences of self-imposed
restrictions, and one of those consequences is that non-members rarely take them seriously.
Testimonies of people close to the LDS leader are generally consistent, in saying that Joseph Smith, Jr. dictated
the Book of Mormon as he gazed at one or two seer stones in a hat. In some versions of the story, characters
from the "reformed Egyptian" Book of Mormon would appear beneath his gaze, with the proper English equivalent
adjacent to them. If God himself was selecting the English words for Smith to write, then this process was not
an interpretation of foreign words by a translator, but rather direct, divine dictation -- by the "gift and power
of God?" Not all modern Mormon writers rely on this old description, but I have yet to see them refute it.
It borders on the ridiculous to think that ancient Nephite writers used the same phraseology (often the exact
same language) as Revolutionary Americans. If God was giving Joseph Smith each word, or even directing him in a
slightly less robotic way, then the defenders must assume that God was directing the interpreting. Logically,
God is thus forced into the role of a textual borrower -- but there is no logic in any of this scenerio.
I have heard such lame excuses as, "God would put things into language that the people of Joseph Smith's time
could relate to." Such an excuse overlooks the problem of God quoting human writers -- a practice inconsistent
with the actions of the biblical Supreme Being. In such explanations the logic loop begins to spiral downward:
"Well, God inspired America's Founding Fathers, its early biographers and historians, and the ancient Nephites
to say the same things!" Yes, I'm imagining here, but some Book of Mormon defenders present just such explanations.
Voila! Problem solved!
Mr. McGuire asked, what does it mean?
I'll tell you. It is highly problematic for the LDS defender to criticize my methods, when there are no gold
plates nor "reformed Egyptian" texts from the Book of Mormon available, with which we can conduct objective
analysis. Unreasonable standards are frequently set for unbelieving Book of Mormon critics, while the defenders
(speaking almost exclusively to members of their own religion) give the Book of Mormon an easy pass. This
inconsistency is one reason non-Mormon scholars cannot take the defenders' work seriously -- nor agree to be
governed by what they say is "significant" or not "significant."
There are no plates; there are no characters (save for a couple of meaningless scribbles). Until the LDS Church
and its apologists can come up with real ancient documents, they have little grounds to condemn any
methodology exployed by non-members to explain Book of Mormon origins to other non-members. If the evidence I
have presented falls short of conclusive proof, that fact should not trouble serious scholars -- it is superior
to no evidence at all.
Despite Mr. McGuire's ordered discussion of "random chance... data... methodology... availability..." etc.,
I see no reason to grant such defenders an exemption and meet them on their home ground. If they can present no
compelling evidence of their own, then critics such as myself have every reason (and right) to cite anything
factual in presenting differing conclusions. I do not quibble over Mr. McGuire's notions and examples -- were
we discussing a truly ancient text, they might be worthy of consideration. But we are not. In the end, textual
analysis boils down to what most informed people see as being "significant."
Perhaps no observant Mormon will ever see my textual parallels as significant evidence for borrowing in the
Book of Mormon -- or even borrowing in Solomon Spalding's preserved writings. Justice Potter Stewart, when
asked to define pornography said, "...I know it when I see it..." And, although the Mormon volume is literature
at the other end of the scale, the borrowings in the Book of Mormon are obvious and inescapable.
I know them when I see them -- the defenders see them too, and they avoid confronting that observation.