Mormons often think a blogger like me does nothing but read anti-Mormon websites for their research. Nothing could be further from the truth, I actually love to read Mormon apologetics. An apologist generally operates from the standpoint that their opponent probably knows every bit of damaging information already, so they’re much more likely to volunteer information that the missionaries might hold back (if they even know about it).
So it was when I was reading about the influence of the apocryphal book of Judith in 1 Nephi. Judith tells the story of a Jewish widow who seduces an enemy general, and once she has him passed out drunk in his tent, she decapitates him. This story is strikingly similar to the tale of Nephi finding his uncle Laban drunk outside his house and beheading him so he can recover the brass plates that he came to retrieve (Nephi 4).
Now the influence of the apocrypha in the Book of Mormon is too much of a stretch even for the Mormon concept of revelation. It’s one thing to suggest that God inspired two separate authors to compose the exact same text of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, but it’s another to have to accept that God inspired an author to borrow material from another book which wouldn’t have been available to him and, according to Joseph Smith himself, isn’t even inspired. The presence of apocryphal sources is a double-edged sword because it proves Nephi couldn’t have been the author, and also that Joseph Smith could have been. While reading on the Mormon apologetic website, FAIR, I came across this interesting defense:
It has even been pointed out by LDS scholars that if one were to look for potential parallels with the story of Nephi and Laban, that the story of David and Goliath would be a much better fit than the story of Judith
In retrospect the beheading of Goliath is so obvious, but I have to thank FAIR for pointing out the connection. What’s interesting about the Mormon defense, however, is how they think that a second influence apparently negates the first, as if it were impossible for Joseph Smith to have drawn upon both texts for material. It’s certainly not unreasonable to see the similarities, and knowing that the name Nephi is found in the Apocrypha also (sorry to burst FAIR’s grasping at straws to speculate an Egyptian name), it is reasonable to conclude this is just another similarity. I would actually go one step further and point out that this episode has at least a third influence in the book of Genesis.
As I’ve theorized, Joseph Smith had already read the entire Bible and Apocrypha by the time he backtracked over the lost pages. His design for the overall book always seemed to be analogous to the Bible, so 1 Nephi lifts much of its narrative from Genesis. In this story, I believe Nephi’s deception through disguise and even the name Laban were drawn from the marriage of Jacob and Leah in Genesis 29.
It seems rather obvious that Joseph Smith was capable of mining multiple sources that were available to him at the time, and the improved complexity of his writing in 1 Nephi supports this hypothesis. The only reason for not assuming both were influential sources would be if one had predetermined to believe Joseph Smith, which defeats the point of any rational apologetic argument at all. Omissions in logic like this may be satisfactory to Mormons who aren’t looking for a logical validation to their faith anyway, but they don’t actually communicate to non-Mormons approaching the text from a logical perspective.