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Nephi’s Ark

Although it takes longer to get to this point in the Book of Mormon, the story of the Nephite oceanic crossing in 1 Nephi 17-18 is in reality Joseph Smith’s analog to the flood of Noah.  An elementary comparison of them both by the casual reader would make them appear of similar quality, yet further scrutiny reveals one is clearly of superior literary quality.  While the Biblical account of Noah in Genesis 6-9 is concise, multi-layered, and complex, the Nephite story is simple, long-winded exposition.

Typical for the entire Book of Mormon, nearly every sentence in this passage begins with “and” (most often Joseph Smith’s favorite phrase, “and it came to pass”), or sometimes the occasional “but”, “wherefore”, or “yea” that were characteristic of his making up the story as he went along.  In Genesis, the narrative is laid out in episodic pericopes, the typical style of the Pentateuch, which is arranged more like building blocks than a linear story.  Noah has no lines of dialogue whatsoever (something Smith would remedy in his “inspired translation” of the Bible), but the bulk of Joseph Smith’s story is another run-on speech in 17:23-51 (and if that weren’t enough, Nephi tells us after the speech that he said even more things that weren’t even written in the book!).

Joseph Smith evidently favored the first 9 chapters of Genesis over the rest of the Pentateuch; it is, after all, nearly the only extract of the Joseph Smith translation widely used in a Mormon holy book (the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price), and he revisited the creation passage again in the Book of Abraham (also in the Pearl of Great Price).  Particularly, he must have drawn on the antediluvian section because, on the surface at least, the civilizations and customs described therein are less specific than in later parts of the Bible, just as throughout the Book of Mormon.  Although Nephi talks at length about keeping the commandments in this story, Joseph Smith appears virtually ignorant of the Mosaic Law; there is no reference nor even a hint of awareness of the Hebrew purity code, sacrifice rituals, or the festivals in the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith was a storyteller, so his interest in the Bible was limited to its narratives, but his undoing was in never realizing the law and the lore were irrevocably intertwined.  Although Moses and Sinai are a great distance away, Genesis still demonstrates an awareness of near-eastern customs and traces of Mosaic law appear from the Lord’s creation sabbath onward.

One of the most astounding feats in the Flood story is that across the span of days and months, every event respects the sabbath starting from the seven days from which God sends the rains for forty days and nights (Gen. 7:4), to 150 days of standing floodwater (7:24), and beyond.  On top of that, each month of the flood corresponds to a day of Creation, starting in the second month (Gen. 7:11) when the heavenly floodgates are opened, in contrast to the firmament created on the second day (Gen. 1:6).  The 150 days, or 5 months, then signify the undoing of the 5 creation days of all life on Earth.  Finally, in the seventh month the ark rests, and after another month-day cycle, Noah and his family depart the ark on the next sabbath-month.  It’s incredible how much nuance and significance is crammed into this brief passage.

On the other hand, Joseph Smith’s imitation is uninterestingly devoid of subtlety or deeper meaning.  His intent here, as in his previously written flood narrative in the Book of Ether, seems to be to apologetically fill in the logistic cracks missing in Noah’s ark.  Here he explains in tedious detail the rather unimportant details of God directing him first where to find the ore so he can craft tools to build his enormous ship, how he made a bellows to blow fire, and even how he made the fire (17:11).  This is clearly a 19th century response to skeptics who questioned the logistics of Noah’s ark building.  Despite being a liar and a fraud, Joseph Smith was a pious fraud in the long line of pseudepigrapha authors from antiquity, and many of his fabrications were designed to offer solutions like this to his contemporary critics of Biblical literalism.

While on the voyage, Nephi’s rebellious brothers tie him up for the space of three days (18:11-14), obviously an anticipatory allusion to the burial of Christ, but with nowhere near the double-complexity in the Deluge.  With nothing else to mention in the undisclosed “many days” that followed, Nephi’s ark lands in the American promised land abruptly and instantly establishes a new civilization.  Here, all of Joseph Smith’s apologetic explanations are undone in one fell swoop, as the very next thing the Nephites do (18:25) is find cows, horses, and goats–none of which were indigenous to this hemisphere (Of course, he had already outdone himself in the Jaredite crossing by curiously mentioning elephants).  While most critics point out such flora and fauna anachronisms, it rarely is mentioned how immediately upon landing in the New World that it occurs.

even the church's artistic renditions of Nephi's ship capitalize on familiar images of Noah's ark

even the church's artistic renditions of Nephi's ship capitalize on familiar images of Noah's ark

Like a bad Hollywood sequel made long after the last installment, it’s undeniable to anybody, except the willfully blind, that Joseph Smith’s imitation is substandard compared to the original.  It certainly doesn’t read as methodically as one would think an ancient Hebrew would write, especially if they were chiseling words on metal plates.  It reads more like the first draft of a novel, or more specifically, like the transcription of a story as it was made up in dictation, which of course it was.

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LDS: A 19th Century Church

I’m always skeptical of churches that claim to be a 1st century church.  Aside from the fact that our customs and culture are simply too different for people in the present to relate to the 1st century, this attitude is generally associated with complete ignorance of church history in the intervening 1,900 years.  Instead, I think it’s better for churches to identify with the century in which they live, being aware of the mistakes and lessons learned throughout the ages before them.  The Mormon church, however, is an interesting case in that they resemble neither the current century nor the 1st century; in virtually every sense, the LDS church is still grounded in Joseph Smith’s 19th century.

The gap between the claimed and actual origin is demonstrated nowhere better than in the Book of Mormon itself, which despite claims of authorship in the 1st century and before, never existed at any point in history before it was delivered by the mouth of Joseph Smith in 1828-1829.  While its dependence on source materials unavailable to its claimed authors (but readily available to Joseph Smith) is alone enough to dismiss all claims of prior authorship, there is another phenomenon particular to 1 Nephi which also betrays it as a product of the 19th century.  Joseph Smith’s use of postdiction, or prediction after the fact, includes “prophecies” about Columbus (1 Nephi 13:12), the Revolutionary War with “mother Gentiles” as Mother England (13:16-19), and even prophecies about Joseph Smith’s restoration of the church (15:13) and the lost pages (19:3).  Despite how remarkably accurate these prophecies are (he gave the Nephites the name of Mary the mother of Jesus in Mosiah 3:4 and John the author of Revelation in 1 Nephi 14:27), the Book of Mormon’s foresight ends abruptly at the life of Joseph Smith, providing nothing after that.  One would think that the prophet’s death and the church’s Utah migration that followed would have been eventful enough to have at least had a mention.

The phenomenon of postdiction is hardly unique to the Book of Mormon, it can be found abundantly in the Puranic literature of Hinduism.  The Bhagavata Purana and others specifically name Lord Buddha in an effort to bring Buddhists back to Brahmanism.  The Bhavishya Purana is perhaps the most notable, as it “predicts” Christ, Muhammad, and even Queen Victoria.  But just like the Book of Mormon, these amazingly specific prophecies stop around the middle of the 19th century.  Nevertheless, it’s been used by both Hindu and Muslim apologists to try to win converts.  Even Mormons, however, would have to appreciate the simplest and most logical answer: that the Bhavishya Purana was actually an open system text that was finalized after the events it purports to predict, and the same is applicable to the Book of Mormon.

Prophecies, however, were not the only 19th century stamp on the Book of Mormon: it was also a godsend for resolving 19th century theological disputes.  The Biblical authors, for instance, saw no need for step-by-step outline on how to baptize like Jesus gives in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 11:22-27), because they weren’t writing an instruction manual.  This is consistent with the rest of Scripture, in which practices and customs often have little explanation, because it was assumed people already knew them.  This teaching makes sense in retrospect from a 19th century perspective, but not from the perspective of chiseling words on metal plates where space was limited.  Likewise, the Book of Mormon’s specific instructions on what to name the church (Nephi 27:3-5) seems ridiculous from a 1st century perspective when there was only a single sect of Christianity, but it seems logical from a 19th century point of view with hundreds of competing churches.  Similar to the Muslim forgery, the Gospel of Barnabas, which attempts to re-write the gospel narrative in line with Islamic theology, Joseph Smith’s fabrication attempted to prove doctrinal issues that were characteristic of his own time period, but not really of the 1st century church.

Virtually all of the anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, such as the presence of wheels, horses, livestock, or wheat in the Americas were everyday life for Joseph Smith.  Having no understanding of how civilizations actually develop, and certainly no knowledge about pre-Columbian America, he simply projected life in the 19th century to the 1st century, with embarrassing results.  Mormon apologists have been trying to excuse these away ever since, suggesting deer instead of horses, or corn instead of wheat.  The obvious question is why Joseph Smith wouldn’t have been able to correctly translate these terms which were equally familiar to him.  But no Mormon scholars have suggested any revision of the text itself, and as long as prospective converts don’t raise any questions the subject is never brought up internally.  The LDS church either devises outlandish explanations or ignores them altogether, when the easiest and most logical solution is to approach it from the point of view of Joseph Smith’s 19th century imagination.

The LDS church’s entrenchment in the 19th century even spills over into the late 20th century through their office of the president.  The church didn’t have a president who was born in the 20th century until 1994 (Howard W. Hunter, 1907-1995), and probably only because all the 19th century candidates had died by that time.  And even though the Latter-day Saints pride themselves on having a living prophet at all times in the form of their president, prophecies and revelations have been sparse compared to what it was during the lifetime of Joseph Smith.  Doctrines & Covenants contains 136 sections delivered by Joseph Smith between 1823-1844 (although the oldest on record is only as early as 1828).  While the Mormons named a university after Brigham Young, his only contribution to Mormon scripture is one section of D&C (section 136) in 1847, even though he lived and presided for another 30 years after that. In the hundred years following his death, the church has only managed to produce one more section (138) and two Official Declarations, but has not had a new revelation in print since blacks were admitted into the priesthood in 1978.  In other words, none of the missionaries active today have ever had a supposed revelation delivered in their lifetime.

As much as the LDS church tries to give the impression that they have living apostles receiving prophecies and revelations just like in their imagined 1st century era, the reality is that their church has been coasting off the momentum of Joseph Smith for the last 200 years.  It’s plain to see that Joseph Smith was an exceptionally charismatic and creative individual, capable of the deception and fraud necessary to start a movement like the Mormon church, and unparalleled by any of his successors.

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First Nephi Part 2

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.

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The Book of Mormon: First Nephi

Despite my criticism about the underwhelming way Joseph Smith started out the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi is actually one of my favorite sections.  There’s no other piece in all of literature that’s ever been written in the same method as the so-called “Small Plates of Nephi.”  The major distinctions that set 1st and 2nd Nephi apart from the rest of the Book of Mormon are:

Refined Narration

Joseph Smith had already told this story once before, then finished his complete book , and backtracked to re-tell the beginning again, replacing the content from the 116 pages Martin Harris lost.  It seems he was applying Jesus’ principle of the first being last and the last being first quite literally to his creative writing method.  I would go so far as to say that if not for this incident, the Book of Mormon would not have become the phenomenon that it is today.  Its original beginning would have probably exposed Joseph Smith’s development into an experienced writer, and certainly wouldn’t have contained more sophisticated elements like intertwining plotlines and foreshadowing (like the Jaredites), which he only did here because he already knew what would happen later.  Starting out with polished writing has also been advantageous to other sacred texts, like the Urantia Book and the Qu’ran, which were written backwards or out of order respectively.  If there’s anything to be learned here by aspiring authors, it would be to go back and re-write the beginning after you finish your novel to make it an instant hit.  The fact that most Mormons aren’t even aware of the order their book was actually written is probably the only thing keeping many of them in the faith.

The Most Source Diversity

While Joseph Smith didn’t seem to have a detailed plot outline when he first started (the 116 lost pages caused him to tighten his plotting later), one thing that’s apparent was that he always intended his book to be an analogue to the Bible:

And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

2 Nephi 29:3

It’s not by accident that an oceanic crossing parallels the flood narrative and also the Exodus in the beginning of each book, the chronicles of kings and judges at about the same place as Judges, Kings, and Chronicles, or the visitation of Christ at the same place as the Gospels, followed by paraphrasing of Paul at the end.  It seems Joseph Smith was concurrently reading through the Bible for inspiration for his dictation, and one can see a residual influence of Biblical materials from the point after he passes them in his reading.  By the time he gets to the re-write in 1 Nephi, he’s clearly read the entire Bible and the Apocrypha.  Nephi is, after all, the only section to plagiarize from the Apocrypha–the name “Nephi” is even derived from 2 Maccabees 1:36!  1 Nephi also has some of the broadest variety of quotations from the Bible, and the dreams of Lehi and his son Nephi are apparently his Apocalypse, written last but not at the end of the book (Lehi’s dream is also copied from a dream had by Joseph Smith’s father, but that’s a story for another day).  While Joseph Smith seemed largely uninterested in the poetry of the Bible (even declaring Song of Solomon non-canonical), the only original composition of poetry in the Book of Mormon is the Song of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:16-35), probably an analogue to the Song of Moses in Exodus.

A Sign of Things to Come

Nephi is an important change in direction in Mormon revelation.  The reader can visibly see Joseph Smith’s loss of interest in his project of translating supposed gold plates and his newfound interest in re-writing the Bible.  Every single mention of the Mormon-specific wordprint “plain and precious things”, referring to doctrines supposedly edited out of the Bible, are limited to 1 Nephi.

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

1 Nephi 13:26

He actually commences this new project within the pages of 1 Nephi, re-working 2 chapters of Isaiah (48 & 49) near the end.  He devotes even more space for his revision of Isaiah in 2 Nephi (chapters 6-8, 12-27), and the remainder of the book is his commentary on these passages.  His methodology here is exactly the same that he would employ on his “inspired” Bible translation, omitting the words italicized in the KJV and adding new phrases periodically.  As if the Book of Mormon didn’t have enough occurrences of “And it came to pass”, he even adds one not found in the original text of Isaiah!

The Most Doctrine-changing Corrections 

Out of the thousands of changes to the text since the first edition, the weight of the major doctrine-altering corrections are found in the books of Nephi.  One of Joseph Smith’s primary motivations evident in the Book of Mormon was to provide clear proof-texts for Protestant doctrines that it seems Smith wanted to believe, but didn’t think were supported strongly enough in the Bible, such as the Trinity.  Joseph Smith unmistakably started to lean towards Modalism by mistake at the end of the Book of Mormon, calling Jesus “Jehovah” in the last verse (Moroni 10:34), and this trend continued seamlessly into 1 Nephi, and even into his “translation” of the Bible which followed soon after.  Observe these important Modalistic prooftexts which were edited out in the 1837 edition and every new edition thereafter:

And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of flesh.  1 Nephi 11:18

And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!  I Nephi 11:21

And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea,the Everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.  1 Nephi 11:32

And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall bestablish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.  I Nephi 13:40

Postdicted Prophecy

Another unique characteristic of 1 Nephi is postdiction, or prophecies written after the fact.  It looks as if knowing what would come up ahead in the plot gave Joseph Smith the idea to foretell events he knew would happen in history as well.  While he had already used this method to predict Biblical events like the virgin birth (Alma 7:10), now he started to predict events in American history, like Columbus and colonialism (1 Nephi 13:12), even referring to mother England as “mother Gentiles” (1 Nephi 13:17).

Giving the Nephites  such crystal clear prophecies like these and also the name of the virgin Mary (Alma 7:10) or John the Revelator (1 Nephi 14:27) really point out the magician-nature of Joseph Smith.  After all, these names were useless to a civilization far removed on another continent, and the future of American history was irrelevant to a people that would die out a thousand years before any colonies were established.  This information is absolutely meaningless to anybody except Joseph Smith’s contemporaries, the Americans to whom the Book of Mormon was targeted, and only reflect his flair for showmanship.

Retroactive clairvoyance is similarly deployed in other fraudulent holy books.  The Bhavishya Purana is an open system Hindu text that evolved over thousands of years, to the point that it included postdicted “prophecies” about Muhammad, British colonialism, and even Queen Victoria.  We can determine the close of this text occurs in the 19th century, when it ceases to predict any further future occurrences.  Similarly, the Bhagavata Purana and others predict “Lord Buddha” by name, but this is clearly a tactic devised to bring Buddhists back into the fold of Hinduism.  Rather than helping the case for the Book of Mormon, these postdictions are a damaging nail in its coffin of credibility.  Just like the Bhavishya Purana, these remarkably specific prophecies go only up to the point in history when they were actually written, and fall short of predicting anything after Joseph Smith’s restoration (1 Nephi 15:13).

The irony is that the Book of Mormon failed to deliver any prophecies that would have been useful to Joseph Smith’s church, among other things important events like the founding prophet’s death or the Mormon migration to Utah.  These so-called predictions were designed to inspire awe and make people believe in the Book of Mormon, and were not valuable for any other reason.  This is a marked deviation in the Judeo-Christian philosophy on prophecy, in which predictions are cautionary or instructive.  Joseph Smith’s view of predicting the future was not actually prophecy, but rather magic.  Ultimately, he was just a cheap magician.

American Exceptionalism

1 Nephi doesn’t just summarize Joseph Smith’s version of American history up to the 19th century, it presents his view of American Exceptionalism.  He saw America as God’s country with a special blessing, and particularly of note, that the white people shall inherit the earth:

And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.  1 Nephi 13:15

Colonizing America had a psychological effect on Christian settlers.  The Old World was mentioned throughout the Bible, with parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe being represented, but the New World was mysteriously overlooked, seemingly God-forsaken.  Proto-fundamentalists in the 19th century sincerely searched the scriptures for any reference that could remotely suggest another world, and they felt they had found their solution in an obscure phrase, “the isles of the sea.”  Joseph Smith took this vague expression and created an affirmative doctrine out of it:

But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren. 2 Nephi 10:21

All of the appearances of this phrase in the Book of Mormon are exclusive to Nephi, he even inserts it into his first lengthy quote from Isaiah (1 Nephi 21:8), from which he probably originally picked up the phrase.  His stream of consciousness is evident in the narrative flow, as he starts postdiction in 1 Nephi chapter 10 and stops in chapter 14.  After this follows several chapters of wholly original narrative, unusually lacking in Biblical wordprints, quotes, or paraphrases.  Then, in chapter 19 he picks up the “isles of the sea” phrase and carries that obsessively throughout the rest of 1 & 2 Nephi.

Nephi drips with American Exceptionalism, claiming that America is the best country on earth and was taken by God from the native Americans to be given to the Colonists:

Nevertheless, thou beholdest that the Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity, and have been lifted up by the power of God above all other nations, upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands, which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance; wherefore, thou seest that the Lord God will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren. 1 Nephi 13:30

This was actually a very prevalent belief at the time, but one couldn’t say the Book of Mormon is original in any of its message.  Just like Joseph Smith tried to augment theologies that he felt were too weak in the Bible, here he’s simply trying to provide a scriptural justification for beliefs his neighbors already held.  It’s no wonder Mormonism has been so successful (in America, at least; in the rest of world it’s made little progress, which is equally unsurprising), since it was designed to be compatible with the folk religion of his day.  In this way, Mormonism is perhaps the most American religion in the world, and this is why American Christians continue to convert to it on a daily basis.

Mormonism has made little progress outside of the Americas if their Temples are an indication

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In the Beginning (Sort of)

I had the hardest time trying to decide where to start blogging through the Book of Mormon.  Logically, you should start a book at the beginning, but the big question with the Book of Mormon is: which beginning?

The real beginning to the Book of Mormon was written in the 116 pages that are now lost to the ages, Joseph Smith resumed writing somewhere around Words of Mormon and Mosiah, and what appears at the beginning of the published book is actually the last part that was written.

There’s really no way to do a literary analysis without being aware of this structure.  Starting on page 1 is the fatal mistake that prospective converts make, and leads to understanding the Book of Mormon only within its own set parameters, the way all its believers understand it.  Reading in continuity from the end of the book of Moroni to the beginning of 1 Nephi reveals clues to Joseph Smith’s creative process that just aren’t evident any other way.  For instance, an apparent original idiom in the beginning of the book, “my words shall his forth”  (2 Nephi 29:2) , seems less remarkable when one knows that Joseph Smith first developed it while completing the final chapter of the book (Moroni 10:28).  The last verse of Moroni equating Jesus with Jehovah marks the real starting point of Smith’s Modalist phase that would later have to be edited out of 1st & 2nd Nephi.  The Book of Mormon reads very much like a stream of conscience in which ideas and idioms flow visibly into one another, as long as one knows what order to look for these trends.

Unfortunately, barring the Mormon history discovery of the Millennium, there’s no way to reference the original beginning from the lost pages.  Beginners can’t as easily jump into the middle of the narrative, either, so Chapter 1 of 1 Nephi is really the only serviceable, albeit inadequate, starting place.

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

It’s no “In the beginning.”  It’s not even “Call me Ishamel”, or “It was a dark and stormy night.”  One would think since this is Joseph Smith’s second attempt at writing the beginning of his book that his writing might have improved by now.  On the contrary, he seems to be phoning it in at this point.  After all, he only re-wrote the beginning because he had to, not because he really wanted to.  Unlike before, having to recreate the content from the lost pages required plotting, focus, and concentration, and after completing the initial narrative to get his Hebrews to the New World, he’s just taking up space.  At the point that he’s just reading 20 chapters from Isaiah in 2 Nephi, you can see that he’s already mentally checked out of this project and moved onto the next one.  Immediately after completing the Book of Mormon he would start work on his “inspired” translation of the Bible, continuing pretty much the same process he had started with Isaiah.

His writing style and creative process remained the same, even though he had better source material as a basis.  In the first chapter of Nephi, it’s certainly unusual for an ancient writer to identify himself in the first sentence, and even stranger to specify the language it’s written in.  Context of authorship are certainly not to be found in Genesis, and Joseph Smith appeared to view that as a deficiency to be remedied.  He even changed its famous first line to his favorite, most repeated (and most annoying) phrase, “and it came to pass.”

And it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven and this earth; write the words which I speak. (Gen. 1:1, JST)

Notice how he re-wrote Genesis 1 in the first person,

Yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest. (Gen. 1:3, JST)

His “I, Nephi” now became “I, God”:

And I, God, said, Let there be light, and there was light. (Gen. 1:6, JST)

These are notable since the earliest books (Mosiah through Ether, with the exception of Mormon) were written in the third person, yet from Moroni through 1 & 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, and into the JST Genesis, Joseph Smith persisted in the first person.  It makes me wonder if the original draft in the 116 lost pages was in the first or third person, but there’s really no way to know.  What we can see clearly, though, is that by the time he got around to re-writing the Holy Bible, he was corrupting it with his own bad writing sense.  One doesn’t even have to search for Hebrew manuscript evidence (there isn’t any to support his “translation” anyway) to be able to see that this is same author as 1 Nephi

1 Nephi

1 Nephi 1 in the 1830 edition

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Comparisons of the first line of the Book of Mormon to the Bible are inevitable, even among believers.  While they may seem like night and day to the non-Mormon, from an inside perspective one can see that Joseph Smith always intended them to be similar, even if he had to retroactively re-write the Bible to make them closer.  Unfortunately, he took a well-written passage of literature and butchered it to suit his non-literary concept of scripture.  It’s no wonder Mormons hardly even use his “inspired” translation of the Bible, just the occasional footnote, a few chapters in the Pearl of Great Price, and some excerpts in the back of their KJV Bible.  I can’t help but think that it’s not only because it would be a jarring red flag and an insurmountable obstacle to anyone remotely familiar with the Bible, but also because it’s obviously of inferior literary quality.

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