Linguistics and the Book of Mormon

Linguistics and the Book of Mormon

According to most adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement, the Book of Mormon is a 19th century translation of a record of ancient inhabitants of the American continent, which was written in a script which the book refers to as "reformed Egyptian."[1][2][3][4][5] This claim, as well as virtually all claims to historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, are generally rejected by non-Latter Day Saint historians and scientists.[6][7][8][9][10] Nonetheless, linguistically based claims are frequently cited and discussed in the context of the subject of the Book of Mormon, both in favor of and against the book's claimed origins.

Both critics and promoters of the Book of Mormon have used linguistic methods to analyze the text. Promoters have published claims of stylistic forms that Joseph Smith and contemporaries are unlikely to have known about, as well as similarities to Egyptian and Hebrew. Critics of the Book of Mormon claim there are places where the language is anachronistic and suggestive of a 19th century origin consistent with Joseph Smith's upbringing and life experience, as well as the books and other literature published just preceding the time the Book of Mormon was published.[6]

The problem with linguistic reviews of the Book of Mormon is that the claimed original text is either unavailable for study or never existed. Joseph Smith said that he returned the Golden Plates to an angel after he finished the translation.


Native American language-development

In 1922, LDS General Authority B. H. Roberts reviewed in depth the current research at the time regarding language development and dialects among the native American peoples, which was published in 1985 as Studies of the Book of Mormon after his death in 1933.[11]

Under the assumption that the majority of the Native Americans descend from the peoples described in the Book of Mormon, Roberts noted that linguistic evidence among the Native American peoples does not appear to support the Book of Mormon narrative, inasmuch as the diverse language stocks and dialects that exist would not have had enough time to develop from a single language dating from 400 A.D. (the date of the conclusion of the Book of Mormon record). He noted:

The facts...developed up to this point seem to be--
1. That there are a large number of separate language stocks in America that show very little relationship to each other.
2. That it would take a long time - much longer than that recognized as "historic times" - to develop these dialects and stocks where the development is conceived of as arising from a common source of origin - some primitive language.
3. That there is no connection between the American languages and the language of any people of the Old World. New World languages appear to be indigenous to the New World.
4. That the time limits named in the Book of Mormon - which represents the people of America as speaking and writing one language down to as late a period as 400 A.D. - is not sufficient to allow for these divergences into the American language stocks and their dialects.[12]

Apologists from FARMS have published studies that claim that the linguistic evidence cited by Roberts above does not necessarily contradict narrative of the Book of Mormon. Specifically, if one adheres to the Limited Geography Model, then it is possible that many of the peoples of the Book of Mormon are not the principal ancestors of the Native Americans.[13][14] One Mormon linguist has published a survey of similarities between Semitic languages and Uto-Aztecan.[15]

Specialists in the languages of Native America have accepted no proposals for a relationship between any Native American language or language family and the languages of the ancient Near East.[16]

Linguistic anachronisms

Critics of the church have claimed that a variety of linguistic anachronisms exist in the Book of Mormon which cast doubt upon its historical authenticity. Linguistic anachronisms, in the Book of Mormon, are words that represent concepts that are not believed to have existed in the Americas between 2500 B.C. and 400 A.D., or in the Jewish world of Lehi's time - the period of history covered by the narrative of the Book of Mormon. Mormon apologists dispute these claims, with some counterarguments pointing out that during the translation of the golden plates, Joseph Smith may have chosen words that he knew that were closest in meaning to the original concept written on the plates (i.e., a "translator's anachronism").[citation needed]

"Christ" and "Messiah"

The words "Christ" and "Messiah" are used several hundred times throughout the Book of Mormon. The first instance of the word "Christ" dates to between 559 and 545 B.C.[17] The first instance of the word "Messiah" dates to about 600 B.C.[18]

"Christ" is the English transliteration of the Greek word Χριστός (transliterated precisely as Christós); it is relatively synonymous with the Hebrew word משיח, pronounced Ma-SHEE-ach and rendered "Messiah." Both words have the meaning of "anointed," and are used in the Bible to refer to "the Anointed One".[19] In Greek translations of the Old Testament (including the Septuagint), the word "Christ" is used for the Hebrew "Messiah", and in Hebrew translations of the New Testament, the word "Messiah" is used for the Greek "Christ".[20] Any passage in the Bible that uses the word "Christ" can substitute the word "Messiah" or "the Messiah" with no change in meaning (e.g. Matthew 1:1, 16, 18).

The Book of Mormon uses both terms throughout the book. In the vast majority of cases, it uses the terms in an identical manner as the Bible, where it does not matter which word is used:

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall" (Helaman 5:12).
"And after he had baptized the Messiah with water, he should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world." (1 Nephi 10:10).

Jeff Lindsay notes that Joseph Smith's use of the form commonly used in English in the translation does not indicate that the original text used the same form. Joseph may have translated the original title into the more common English form.[21]

Richard Packham argues that the Greek word "Christ" in the Book of Mormon challenges the authenticity of the work[22] since, Joseph Smith clearly stated that, "There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of the Lord, translated the Book of Mormon."[23]

Apologists note that the word "Christ" is a translational equivalent to the term "Messiah", arguing that "It is no more anachronistic for pre-Christian era Book of Mormon peoples to believe in a coming Messiah/Christ than it was for Old Testament prophets to believe in a coming Messiah/Christ." [24][25]

"Church" and "Synagogue"

The word "church" first occurs in 1 Nephi 4:26, where a prophet named Nephi disguises himself as Laban, a prominent man in Jerusalem whom Nephi had slain:

"And he [Laban's servant], supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me" (1 Nephi 4:26).

According to the Book of Mormon, this exchange happened in Jerusalem, around 600 B.C. The meaning of the word "church" in the Book of Mormon is more comparable to usage in the Bible than Modern English. The concept of a church, meaning a convocation of believers, existed among the House of Israel prior to Christianity. For instance, Psalms 89:5 speaks of praising the Lord "in the congregation of the saints"; the Septuagint contains the Greek word ecclesia for "congregation," which is also translated as "church" in the New Testament.

A similar question regards the word "synagogue", found in Alma 16:13:

"And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews" (Alma 16:13).

Critics[who?] of the Book of Mormon note that synagogues did not exist in their modern form before the destruction of the temple and the Babylonian captivity. The oldest known synagogue is located in Delos, Greece has been dated to 150 BC.[26] Mormon apologist William J. Adams cites archaeologist Lee I. Levine in suggesting that synagogues did in fact exist before the Babylonian captivity, though in a different form.[27]

Other anachronisms

Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner and Marvin W. Cowan contend that certain linguistic properties show possible anachronisms in the text which question its claim as a historical document.[28] [29] These critics cite linguistic anachronisms such as:

  • The Americanized name "Sam" 1 Nephi 2:5 & 17
  • The French word "Adieu" Jacob 7:27
  • Exact copies of many verses of the King James version of the Bible, which was not published until 1611

Scholars Gee, Roper and Tvedtnes report that the name Sam is found on a bronze ringmounted seal dated in the 7th century B.C.[citation needed] They also note that the name Samuel in Hebrew is a combination of two words—Shem and El. In early Hebrew, the same letter was used for “s” and “sh” and vowels were not specified. Judges 12:6 demonstrates that the tribe of Joseph pronounced the letter that Shem began with as “s.” Lehi was a descendant of Joseph.[30]

Daniel H. Ludlow contends that the anachronism of the French word "adieu", and others, may have been the result of Joseph Smith choosing the best word available to convey the meaning of the original text.[31]

Professor Craig L. Blomberg has pointed out several verses in the Book Mormon apparently similar to biblical verses in the King James version of the Bible. According to Blomberg, 2 Nephi 31:13 includes overt references to Acts 2:38, Matthew 3:11, 1 Corinthians 13:2, and were most likely written with their direct influence in mind. Furthermore, Blomberg claims that 2 Nephi 31:21 contains allusions to Acts 4:12. Blomberg summarizes his overall position on Book of Mormon anachronisms as follows: "Indeed, the entire Book of Mormon abounds with explicit references to Christ, to his life and ministry and to the three persons of the Godhead long before New Testament times... even though none of these concepts or terms ever appear in these forms in the Old Testament or any other ancient Jewish literature."[32]


Chiasmus is a form of rhetorical parallelism wherein key ideas familiar to the reader are inverted, usually for some kind of emphasis. Chiasmus appears in many languages, including English,[33][34] Ugaritic, Biblical Hebrew,[35] Aramaic, Greek,[36] and Latin.[37] It is found in the Bible and other ancient Middle Eastern poetry; for example, Genesis 9:6:

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed.

Chiasmus has been identified in modern poetry and prose.[38] The first lines of John Keats' On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, for instance, run,

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
and many goodly states and kingdoms seen.

Here "realms of gold" and "goodly states and kingdoms" are bookended by the verbs "travelled" and "seen" to form an ABBA pattern.

The Book of Mormon

Examples of chiasmus can be found in the Book of Mormon. Some have argued chiasmus is evidence of the text's historical authenticity, suggesting it reflects the Semitic background of Nephi and other authors of the Book of Mormon. They claim that such findings support claims of Hebrew origins in the text on the basis that chiasmus is often found in Hebrew texts such as the Bible.

Others argue that chiasmus is not evidence of Hebrew origin.[39]

In 1969 John W. Welch, later LDS Law and religion scholar, discovered a variety of instances of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and along with his discovery came attention to the phenomenon.[40] The most commonly cited example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is the prophet Alma's religious experience, as recorded in Alma 36. John Welch claims that it is unlikely, although not impossible,[41] that Smith knew about chiasmus at the time of the Book of Mormon's publication[42] implicating that chiasmus could only be present in the text if indeed the text is a translation and not a fabrication.

Many though, argue against this being true chiasmus, and do not see a correlation between presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and its authenticity[citation needed]. And still others disagree on the extent to which chiasmus occurs in the text. With regard to the Alma 36 chiasmus, one critic alleges that John Welch "fashioned a chiasm by selecting elements from repetitious language, creatively labeling elements, ignoring text, pairing unbalanced elements, and even including asymmetrical elements".[43]

Welch himself offers the following caution regarding a tendency of enthusiastic readers to see chiasmus where it is not actually present:

Some people, of course, have gone overboard with this search, and caution must be employed; otherwise, it is possible to find chiasmus in the telephone book, and the effort becomes meaningless…One must be careful in this quest, however, to avoid the problems of the "hammer syndrome"—to the person holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To the person who knows only chiasmus and no other form of literary composition, everything may start looking like a chiasm.[44]

Further, Hugh Pinnock, an LDS General Authority, stated:

"Because the study of Hebrew writing forms in the Book of Mormon can strengthen testimony and be quite exciting, a number of researchers and laypersons have become overly enthusiastic, much to the detriment of the subject and integrity of their studies."[45]

Critics[46] argue that there is no correlation between the appearance of chiasmus and the authenticity of the Book of Mormon because among other things chiasmus appears in many languages including eighteenth and nineteenth-century English literature.

Occurrence in other LDS scriptures

Some claim writings in the form of chiasmus can also be found in the Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price, two other works of scripture in the LDS cannon written by Smith.[47] Critics believe this supports their claim that Joseph Smith knew about chiasmus, and that it may have been a characteristic of his personal writing style[citation needed].

Apologists argue these examples should be considered a type of sporadic repetition rather than the full fledged chiasmus (that is claimed to be found in Alma 36), Charles G. Kroupa and Richard C. Shipp are notable for publishing arguments for chiasmus in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1972.[48] Shipp also produced a masters thesis out of BYU titled "Conceptual Patterns of Repetition in the Doctrine and Covenants and Their Implications" in 1975 claiming that writings found in the Doctrine and Covenants had literary patterns similar to chiasmus.[49] In 2004, a study was published by LDS researchers which used statistical analysis to determine the likelihood that a chiastic structure in LDS works appeared by chance as opposed to being created deliberately. Mathematical formulas were used to calculate a set of probabilities that provided the ability to distinguish between strong and weak chiastic structures.[50] The authors concluded (as published by BYU):

Based on these estimates, we conclude that the likelihood is high that chiastic structure appeared by design in the Pentateuch and in the Book of Mormon. Our estimates do not support such a conclusion for the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Abraham… indicating instead that chiasms could have appeared in these works by chance.[51]

Other works containing chiasmus

Chiastic patterns have also been found in the Book of the Law of the Lord,[52] a purported translation of an ancient text by James J. Strang. This book is not considered authentic by most Latter Day Saints.

Critics point out that the presence of chiasmus in Strang's writing as well as in the literature of other cultures implies that the source could be non-Hebrew. Additionally, they claim that the examination of a post-translation text might make identifying chiasmus in the original language difficult, and that the presence of chiasmus is not necessarily indicative of ancient origins.[53]

Stylometry (Wordprint Studies)

Statistical analysis

Stylometry is a method of statistical analysis used to determine authorship of various texts. It has been used to analyze disputed works of Shakespeare, contrast books of the Bible, identify the authors of twelve disputed Federalist Papers, and compare styles of various authors such as Jane Austen. In 1980, researchers at Brigham Young University used stylometric techniques they called "wordprint analysis" to examine the possible authors of the Book of Mormon. They reached the conclusion that none of the Book of Mormon selections they studied resembled writings of any of the suggested nineteenth-century authors, including Joseph Smith.[54]

Jerald and Sandra Tanner challenged their findings on various points, most notably questioning the reliability of the data sources used and the methodology of the "wordprint analysis."[55] Additionally, D. James Croft wrote in Sunstone that there were several flaws in the methodology that were vulnerable to criticism.[56]

A more sophisticated approach was taken by Mormon researcher John Hilton and non-LDS colleagues at Berkeley,[57] who "went to great pains to immunize the methodology from criticism" [58] through the use of control tests.

The Berkeley Group first used a variety of control tests with non-disputed authors (e.g. works by Mark Twain, and translated works from German) in an effort to:

  1. Demonstrate the persistence of wordprints despite an author's effort to write as a different 'character'
  2. Demonstrate that wordprints were not obliterated by translation (e.g. two different authors rendered by the same translator would still have different wordprints).

John Hilton concluded that, if wordprinting is a valid technique, then this analysis suggests that it is "statistically indefensible" to claim that Joseph, Oliver, or Solomon Spaulding wrote the 30,000 words in the Book of Mormon attributed to Nephi and Alma.[59]

One prominent Mormon scholar, John A. Tvedtnes, has rejected the use of wordprint evidence as the foundation for a testimony of the Book of Mormon's validity, though he never dismissed its possible usefulness as a scientific tool to investigate the book's origins.[60] Upon review of the Berkeley study, another scholar, Kevin L. Barney, remains unconvinced of the validity of wordprint analysis:

"I have always felt that the basis assumptions underlying Book of Mormon wordprint studies are faulty. I concur with the assessment of John Tvedtnes, who points out that (1) an English translation should reflect the language of the translator rather than the original author, and (2) the particles used in wordprint studies (such as "of") are often non-existent in Hebrew, which tends to use syntax to express the meaning of English particles."

However, in the same article, Barney confessed, "I frankly do not understand the statistics well enough to offer a useful critique of the studies."

In a new peer-reviewed study using a traditional authorship method and a new pattern classification technique, several researchers at Stanford University concluded that Rigdon, Spalding, and Cowdery were more likely to have written the book out of a pool of authors that also included Parley Pratt, and two statistical control authors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Joel Barlow. Joseph Smith himself was not included in the pool of authors because a set of original works written by Smith alone could not be identified with confidence.[61] However, this study only examined the possibility of one of the five above mentioned authors writing the study, not the possibility that an author or authors outside of the pool of authors mentioned above writing the book.[62] Another study was recently published in the same journal that critiqued the methodology used in the Jockers et al. 2008 study and, using Joseph Smith's personal writings written in his own handwriting, concluded that stylometric evidence supports neither Joseph Smith nor Spaulding-Rigdon authorship.[63]


Non-Mormon Thomas Donofrio claims to have found hundreds of parallels between peculiar wordings in the Book of Mormon and the writings of well-known historical and religious figures of the 18th and 19th centuries.[64] Unlike the earlier studies, Donofrio's research has not been peer-reviewed. Respondents to this study point out that the use of parallels to prove derivation can be used to illogical extremes. As an example, LDS apologist Jeff Lindsay composed a documented essay "proving" the parallels between The Book of Mormon and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which was published 25 years after the Book of Mormon.[65]

LDS scholars, however, say that the Book of Mormon is a translation, not originally written by Smith, but translated into the language with which he was familiar. While wordprint studies (by the same team used to verify the identity of the Unabomber in court) may be compelling, the inclusion of modern phraseology shouldn't surprise anyone. The word book, for example, was not used by the ancient Hebrews. Yet both in the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, the word appears anachronistically. Scholars point out that this could well be the logical result of an ancient work translated by a modern man using the wording best suited to convey the ideas to a modern reader.[66][67]

Proper Names

Hebrew names

Apologists note that many of the proper names in the Book of Mormon are Hebrew names found in the Bible (e.g. Lehi, Lemuel, Ammon, and Enos). Tvedtnes, Gee, & Roper argue that there are a number of Hebrew names found in the Book of Mormon which do not appear in the Bible but occur in other ancient sources. Examples of these are Aha, Ammonihah, Chemish, Hagoth, Himni, Isabel, Jarom, Josh, Luram, Mathoni, Mathonihah, Muloki, and Sam.[30] Hugh Nibley also claims that many non-biblical names found in the Book of Mormon resemble words from ancient Hebrew (e.g. Sariah, Jarom, and Josh).[68] Some, like Alma, are attested Hebrew names. Milton Hunter and Thomas Ferguson allege that Hebraic fragments and roots appear discernible in Nephite / Mulekite names such as "Zarahemla".[69] These names are often interpreted as evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon, since Joseph Smith's knowledge of Hebrew was limited to names found in the Bible.[30]

Critics have pointed out that many of the names in the Book of Mormon that are not drawn from the King James Bible are found in the local environment around Palmyra, New York and would have been known to Smith.[70][71][72] Richard Packham has pointed out that several Biblical Hebrew names, including Aaron,[73] Ephraim,[74] and Levi[75] are listed as Jaredites in the Book of Ether. He argues that these are anachronisms, since the Jaredites are supposed to have originated from the time of the Tower of Babel, and did not speak Hebrew.[22]

Mesoamerican Names

LDS archaeologist Bruce W. Warren has noted that some Jaredite names may have become a part of later Nephite culture, suggesting that there may have been survivors or refugees of the great Jaredite battle besides Coriantumr. He cites the names Kib, Kish, Shule, and Com as examples of Jaredite names that are similar to names found in ancient Mesoamerica.[76]

Egyptian names

Some Mormon scholars, including John Gee, John A. Tvedtnes, and Hugh Nibley, argue that some Book of Mormon names appear to be Egyptian. Tvedtnes, Gee, and Roper note that William F. Albright considered the names Paanchi and Pahoran to be Egyptian names.[30] In his book Lehi in the Desert, Dr. Hugh Nibley compares names found in the Book of Mormon with ancient Egyptian names from Upper Egypt. The comparisons show that many names in the Book of Mormon are similar to names in a certain region and era of ancient Egypt. Nibley postulates that names do not match exactly due to the process of metathesis. Parallels drawn by Nibley between Egyptian names and Book of Mormon names include the aforementioned Paanchi and Pahoran, and further include several others including Korihor (Kherihor, a High Priest at Thebes) and Morianton (Meriaton, an Egyptian prince[77]), and Ammon (Amun, the most common name in ancient Egypt).[78]

Thomas Finley rebuts such claims by Nibley and other writers[79][80] Critics claim that the parallels drawn by Nibley and others ignore the possibility of simple coincidence, and lack a defined methodology for assessing the importance of the parallels.(See Parallelomania section below). Tvetdnes and Roper responded by noting that there are too many coincidences for such an assessment to be credible.[81] Joseph Smith, in a letter written in 1843 to the Latter Day Saints' publication, the Millennial Star, wrote that the name "Mormon" came from "the Egyptian Mon, hence with the addition of more, or the contraction, mor, we have the word Mormon, which means, literally, more good."[82] Benjamin Urrutia suggests the name Mormon is derived from Egyptian Mor, "Love," and Mon, "firmly established" rendering Mormon as "Love is firmly established." [83] Richard Packham criticizes Smith's interpretation, stating that the English word "more" or "mor" is out of place in an Egyptian name.[84]

Greek names

Joseph Smith stated in a letter to the editor of Times and Seasons, "There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of the Lord, translated the Book of Mormon."[23] Brian D. Stubbs has stated that though the language of the Mulekites isn't put forward in the Book of Mormon, it could have consisted of Phoenician, Greek, or Arabic.[85]

Nevertheless, Richard Packham points out that the Book of Mormon contains some Greek and Latin names, some of which are Hellenizations of Hebrew names (e.g. Antipas, Archeantus, Esrom, Ezias, Judea and Zenos) and some of which are Greek or Latin.[86] These are found in the King James Version and would have been known to Joseph Smith.

Word Choice in Translation

The mechanics of the method by which the Book of Mormon was claimed to have been translated have been examined by various scholars in order to determine how words were chosen. Various accounts from witnesses to the translation process exist, including David Whitmer and Martin Harris, two of the Three Witnesses. Statements of the exact methods used in translation vary depending upon the account. A number of these accounts were written many years after the events occurred.

Method of translation

LDS Church authorities do not claim to know the exact method by which translation and word choice was accomplished. In an address given 25 June 1992 at a seminar for new mission presidents at the Missionary Training Center, Mormon Apostle Russell M. Nelson stated that “[t]he details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known.” In order to illustrate this, Nelson quoted the words of Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer (who had not served as a Book of Mormon scribe), who wrote regarding the use of a seer stone in the translation process over 50 years after it had occurred,[87]

Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.[88]

Nelson also noted statements made by Joseph's wife, Emma Hale Smith, who gave her account of the translation method in 1856:[87]

When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.[89]

Martin Harris (as quoted by Edward Stevenson in the Deseret News in 1881) described the translation process as follows:

By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet... when finished [the Prophet] would say "Written," and if correctly written that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.[90]

Word substitution

One challenge in performing a linguistic analysis of the Book of Mormon is that no original text is available for analysis; only handwritten printers' copies transcribed from the original handwritten copies of the original English text, and a few pages of the original translation produced by Joseph Smith are available. As with any translation, the influence of the translator is inextricably part of the translated text in matters of word choice. Some Mormon scholars have theorized that when words are found in the Book of Mormon that seem anachronistic, or that refer to items not known to have existed in the pre-Columbian Americas during the period of time covered by the Book of Mormon (e.g. horse, elephant, chicken, cattle, swine, barley, bull, calf, and hilt), these words could be an approximation in translation to things that did exist in pre-Columbian America.[91]

One common criticism of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is the belief that, if the accounts of the translation process are accurate, then there is very little room for error in the word choices used in the translation of the Book of Mormon (since each word was believed to be divinely approved and could not be written incorrectly). "Steel" must mean steel, "hilt" must mean hilt, "elephant" must mean elephant, and so forth. However, as Whitmer was never directly involved in the translation and Harris was involved for only a brief period of time, LDS scholars consider it unlikely that either of these accounts is as accurate as the accounts of Smith and Cowdery.[92]


Several critics have pointed to grammatical errors in the Early Modern English style of the Book of Mormon and made the argument that because the first edition of the Book of Mormon contained hundreds of grammatical errors (removed in later editions), the book was therefore fabricated by J. Smith and not divinely inspired.[93][94][95] Examples include (page numbers from 1830 edition):

  • "Adam and Eve, which was our first parents" (p. 15)
  • "This he done that he might subject them" (p. 225)
  • "They did not fight against God no more" (p. 290)

(Page numbers from an unknown edition before the text was divided into chapters and verses)

  • “thou remembereth” (page 27)
  • "and I have not written but a small part of the things I saw" (page 35)
  • "therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they had ought" (ibid.)
  • "and this he done" (page 225)
  • "and the words of Amulek which was declared unto the people" (page 245)
  • "now the object of these lawyers were to get gain" (page 251)
  • 2 Nephi 1:30-32, Lehi speaks to Zoram: "And now, Zoram, I speak unto you: Behold, thou art the servant of Laban...if ye shall keep the commandments of the Lord, the Lord hath consecrated this land for the security of thy seed with the seed of my son." You/ye are plural pronouns and thou/thy are singular pronouns, but the text inexplicably switches back and forth between them.
  • 2 Nephi 3:1, Lehi says: "And now I speak unto you, Joseph, my last-born. Thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions..." You is incorrectly used when addressing a single individual.
  • Mosiah 2:19-20, King Benjamin says: "O how you ought to thank your heavenly King! ... if you should render all the thanks and praise...." You is the object form of the second person plural pronoun ye is the subject form, but the object form is incorrectly used in subject position here and also in dozens of other places throughout the text.

LDS leader President George Albert Smith responded to this issue thus: "...[when] the Lord reveals anything to men He reveals it in language that accords with their own. If any of you were to converse with an angel, and you used strictly grammatical language he would do the same. But if you used two negatives in a sentence the heavenly messenger would use language to correspond with your understanding, and this very objection to the Book of Mormon is an evidence in its favor." [96]


Critics of Book of Mormon linguistic studies often reject the claims of Mormon scholars on the grounds that the parallels they draw between Book of Mormon and other sources amounts to "parallelomania", which is defined as the "over use or improper use of parallels in the exposition of a text."

In Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, one researcher, Douglas F. Salmon, alleged that Mormon scholars' work in drawing parallels between the Book of Mormon and other sources fits this classification.[97] Salmon notes:

There has been an exegetical trend during the last several decades to draw endless parallels to text from the ancient Near East and beyond in an attempt to validate the writings in the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price. The pioneer and leader in this effort has been the great LDS scholar Hugh Nibley. In recent years the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) has continued this legacy. The number of parallels that Nibley has been able to uncover from amazingly disparate and arcane sources is truly staggering. Unfortunately, there seems to be a neglect of any methodological reflection or articulation in this endeavor.[98]

Douglas also notes that Nibley himself was a critic of parallelomania where it is used to disparage the Book of Mormon, despite his extensive scholarship on the subject in defense of the Book of Mormon, noting that Nibley "ignores" the fact that parallels may suggest a unity of religious thought, or simple coincidence.[99] He also goes on to demonstrate several instances where Nibley misrepresented the parallels, and jumped to conclusions regarding the significance of his examples.

Douglas' analysis of Nibley was itself later critiqued in a response to his article from William Hamblin of FARMS .[100] Among other things, Hamblin criticized Douglas for critiquing a few weakly supported parallels made by Nibley while ignoring both much more strongly supported parallels made by Nibley and "a broader analysis" of Nibley's arguments.

Book of Mormon linguistic and textual issues are not discussed in missionary lessons or in Sunday School, but are typically addressed in LDS institute classes and religion classes at BYU, as well as in books and magazine articles published by the Church.[101]


  1. ^ Mormon 9:33
  2. ^ Elder Dallin H. Oaks: "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon"
  3. ^ Book of Mormon/Historicity - FAIRMormon
  4. ^ Orson Pratt (1850). Divine authenticity of the book of Mormon. 
  5. ^ Mormon Truth and Book of Mormon Evidences: Not Proof, But Indications of Plausibility Archived 17 January 2010 at WebCite
  6. ^ a b The Book of Mormon: Ancient or Modern
  7. ^ Simon G. Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (2004, Signature Books)
  8. ^ Jerald & Sandra Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? (1972, Modern Microfilm Company)
  9. ^ Statement of Smithsonian Institution regarding Book of Mormon
  10. ^ A Linguist Looks at Mormonism
  11. ^ His papers were published posthumously by Brigham D. Madsen, ed., B. H. Roberts: Studies of the Book of Mormon, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985
  12. ^ Roberts, B. H. Studies of the Book of Mormon. Signature Books, Inc. Salt Lake City. 2nd Edition. 1992. pg.91-92.
  13. ^ Sorenson 1992
  14. ^ Peterson 1997 See citations in Note 4 therein
  15. ^ Brian D. Stubbs. 1996. Looking Over vs. Overlooking: Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void. Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages: 1-49. Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1996.
  16. ^ Lyle Campbell. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford. "Before turning to the more seriously entertained proposals, I provide a small selection...of the many proposals which would link languages of the Americas with languages from elsewhere in the world. Although some of these proposals have been expounded in more detail than others, none reaches a level of plausibility that makes it worthy of additional attention. Each is near the 100% probability that the languages are unrelated...the confidence ratings in these instances also approach 100%." (pg 261)
  17. ^ See 2 Ne. 10:3
  18. ^ 1 Ne. 1:19
  19. ^ - MESSIAH
  20. ^ A searchable online Bible in over 50 versions and 35 languages Archived 26 July 2007 at WebCite
  21. ^ LDS FAQ/Mormon Answers: Questions about Book of Mormon Problems and Alleged Contradictions
  22. ^ a b Packham, Richard. "A Linguist Looks at Mormonism". April 30, 2007. Online version can be found here
  23. ^ a b Times and Seasons, Vol.4, No.13, May 15, 1843, p.194
  24. ^ Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Pre-Christian Christianity - FAIRMormon
  25. ^ Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, pp. 167-68, discusses the origin, interchangeability, and translated use of the terms “Messiah” and “Christ” as they appear in scripture. Dr. Nibley points out that the Arabic word al-masih, for instance, could be translated using the Hebrew term “Messiah” or the New Testament term “Christ” depending on the context and translator. See also “Meshiach” (מָשִׁיחַ), “anointed”, Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon
  26. ^ The Oldest Original Synagogue Building in the Diaspora: The Delos Synagogue Reconsidered," Monika Trümper Hesperia, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 2004), pp. 513-598
  27. ^ William J. Adams Jr. (2000), "Synagogues in the Book of Mormon", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9 (1): 4–13, "Lee I. Levine, a leading scholar on the history of the synagogue, has suggested that synagogues did exist before the Babylonian captivity in the form of chambers in the city gates. Such gates have been excavated by archaeologists at such important Old Testament sites as Beersheba, Gezer, Lachish, and Megiddo" 
  28. ^ Beckwith, Francis (2002), The New Mormon Challenge, Zondervan, pp. 367–396, ISBN 978-0-310-23194-3 
  29. ^ Cowan, Marvin (1997), Mormon Claims Answered 
  30. ^ a b c d Tvedtnes, Gee & Roper 2000
  31. ^ Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 163
  32. ^ Blomberg, Craig L. (1997), How Wide the Divide?, InterVarsity Press, pp. 48–49, ISBN 978-0-8308-1991-1 
  33. ^ Chiasmus appears in Shakespeare: Romeo (lines 175-176, lines 175-182, lines 159-170)
  34. ^ Davis, William L. "Better a Witty Fool Than a Foolish Wit: The Art of Shakespeare's Chiasmus." Text and Performance Quarterly 23 (2003): 311-30
  35. ^ More Than Cake: Chiastic Structures in the Scripture
  36. ^ Cedric M. Whitman. Homer and the Heroic Tradition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958.
  37. ^ Chiasms have been identified in Cicero’s oration Pro Archia Poeta and Seneca the Younger, Thyestes
  38. ^ For some examples in modern speeches and poetry see
  39. ^ A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 33 No. 4, Winter 2000, p 163, by Robert Patterson, "Hebraicisms, Chiasmus, and Other Internal Evidence for Ancient Authorship in 'Green Eggs and Ham'"
  40. ^ Welch 1969
  41. ^ John W. Welch, "How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): 47–80.
  42. ^ Welch 2003
  43. ^ Earl M. Wunderli, "Critique of Alma 36 as an Ex tended Chiasm", published in Dialog: A Journal of Mormon Thought
  44. ^ Welch 1997, pp. 200, 202
  45. ^ Hugh Pinnock, "Finding Biblical Hebrew and Other Ancient Literary Forms in the Book of Mormon," Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (1999): 11.
  46. ^ Critics at
  47. ^ Possible chiasmus in other LDS scripture: Doctrine and Covenants 88:34-38, Doctrine and Covenants 18:-38, Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-26, and Abraham 3:16-19
  48. ^ Kroupa & Shipp 1972
  49. ^ Shipp 1975
  50. ^ Edwards & Edwards 2004, p. 107
  51. ^ Edwards & Edwards 2004, p. 123
  52. ^ "Chiasmus". 
  53. ^ See Ancient Chiasmus Studied (scroll to p 147) or Chiasmus and the Book of Mormon.[dead link]
  54. ^ Larsen, Rencher & Layton 1980
  55. ^ Tanner & Tanner 1993
  56. ^ Book Of Mormon "Wordprints" Reexamined, D. James Croft, Sunstone, March 1981, Vol. 6:2, p. 15-22 - online at
  57. ^ Reynolds 2002
  58. ^ Kevin L. Barney, "Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring 2000, pg. 85 - available online at The University of Utah library website
  59. ^ Hilton 1990
  60. ^ Barney 2000, pp. 85–87
  61. ^ Jockers, M. L., D. M. Witten, and C. S. Criddle, 2008. Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification. Literary and Linguistic Computing, to appear.
  62. ^ Life On Gold Plates: A New Book of Mormon Wordprint Analysis
  63. ^ .Schaalje, G. Bruce, Paul J. Fields, Matthew Roper, Gregory L. Snow. Extended nearest shrunken centroid classification: A new method for open-set authorship attribution of texts of varying sizes.Literary and Linguistic Computing,to appear,
  64. ^ " Tories". 
  65. ^ "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?". 
  66. ^ Edward J. Brandt, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1985, 17 link
  67. ^ Mike Ash: Translation of the Book of Mormon | Deseret News
  68. ^ Since Cumorah, pp. 171, Nibley discusses non-biblical Hebrew names present in the Book of Mormon
  69. ^ Milton R Hunter and Thomas Stewart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, pp. 151-52, offer a possible Hebraic derivation: “zara-hamullah”
  70. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 72
  71. ^ This is a long list of Book of Mormon names with possible sources either in the King James Bible or in works available to Smith.
  72. ^ A Linguist Looks at Mormonism, More on Book of Mormon Names
  73. ^ Ether 1:15-16
  74. ^ Ether 7:9
  75. ^ Ether 1:20-21
  76. ^ Warren, Bruce, "Surviving Jaredite Names in Mesoamerica", Meridian Magazine,  See also Blaine M. Yorgason, Bruce W. Warren, and Harold Brown. New Evidences of Christ in Ancient America, Book of Mormon Research Foundation. Provo: 1999, Chaper 2, “Jaredite Connections with Mesoamerica,” pp. 17-19).[dead link]
  77. ^ Nibley makes the comparison in Lehi in the Desert, page 27. His source for the Egyptian name is Die Agyptischen Personennamen ("The Egyptian Personal Names"), by Hermann Ranke, Gluckstadt: Augustin, 1935.
  78. ^ See Lehi in the Desert, pages 25 through 31.
  79. ^ Finley, Thomas "Does the Book of Mormon Reflect a Near Eastern Background" in Beckwith, Mosser and Owen, New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, Zondervan, 2002,
  80. ^ "Rising to the Challenge"[dead link]
  81. ^ One Small Step - Matthew Roper, and John A. Tvedtnes - FARMS Review - Volume 15 - Issue 1
  82. ^ Gallacher, Stuart A, "Mormon: An example of folk etymology, Western Folklore, Vol 8, No 1, January 1949, p. 23
  83. ^ Urrutia, "The Name Connection," New Era, June 1983, page 39.
  84. ^ Packham, Richard. "A Linguist Looks at Mormonism: Notes on linguistics problems in Mormonism". Published on the web in April 2003, available here
  85. ^ Stubbs 1996, p. 1
  86. ^ A Linguist Looks at Mormonism, More Greek Names
    A Linguist Looks at Mormonism, Lucifer
  87. ^ a b Nelson 1993, p. 61
  88. ^ David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Missouri: n.p., 1887, p. 12
  89. ^ (Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History, Jan. 1916, p. 454.)
  90. ^ Edward Stevenson, "One of the Three Witnesses," reprinted from Deseret News, 30 November 1881 in the Millennial Star, 44 (6 February 1882): 86-87
  91. ^ Sorenson 1985, pp. 293–294
  92. ^ Ricks 1986
  93. ^ Perry Benjamin Pierce, 1899, "The Origin of the 'Book of Mormon'", American Anthropologist n.s. 1:675-694.
  94. ^ Abanes, Richard (2003), One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church, Thunder's Mouth Press, p. 73, ISBN 978-1-56858-283-2 
  95. ^ Richard Packham. A Linguist Looks at Mormonism. Retrieved on 25 January 2009
  96. ^ Journal of Discourses 12:335, November 16, 1868
  97. ^ Salmon, Douglas F., Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Saint Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 2000, pg. 131 - online version available here
  98. ^ Salmon, Douglas F., Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Saint Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 2000, pg. 129 - online version available here
  99. ^ Salmon, Douglas F., Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Saint Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 2000, pg. 130 - online version available here
  100. ^ Joseph or Jung? A Response to Douglas Salmon - William J. Hamblin - FARMS Review - Volume 13 - Issue 2
  101. ^ Bitton 1994


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