Significant Parallels
(A Reply to Ben McGuire and Others)

Lindsay  |  Hale  |  Bushman  |  Morris  |  McGuire  |  Argument

Editor's Remarks

The following reply was written by Mr. Donofrio, shortly after the 2006 web-publication of Ben McGuire's "Parallelomania: Criticism of the Textual Parallels Theories." The present web-page is only a short response of opinion (with some minor editorial insertions) and is not intended as a recapitulation of the entire topic, nor a point-by-point rebuttal. For background on the subject matter, see Ted Chandler's Finding the Bible in the Book of Mormon and Mr. Donofrio's original paper, "Early American Influences on the Book of Mormon."

Significant Parallels
(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 comparisons.

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.

Tom Donofrio
November, 2006


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