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Hugh Nibley, the Book of Mormon, and the Lachish Letters

Hugh Nibley, the Book of Mormon, and the Lachish Letters


In an article published in 1982 Hugh Nibley proposes to demonstrate that the Lachish Letters are "the star witness for the correctness of the Book of Mormon, the opening scenes of which take place in exactly the same setting and time as the Letters." 1 His thesis is that various parallels between the letters and the Book of Mormon "are as alike as [two different] postcards of the Eiffel Tower."

"All of the parallels given [by Nibley] are invalid either because of a lack of a proper understanding of the Lachish Letters or because they can be explained more easily through parallels with the KJV."

In order for parallels to demonstrate that the setting of the Book of Mormon really goes back into the early sixth century b.c., one might expect the following criteria to apply:

1. A parallel should be specific enough that it cannot be explained other than by general human experience.

2. A parallel should be unique to the Lachish Letters and not more readily explained by sources that were easily available to Joseph Smith, such as the KJV.

3. Any parallel should be examined thoroughly to see how it functions in both contexts. It will not do to find something that immediately seems parallel but that on further reflection functions differently in the different contexts. Some parallels can be drawn, for example, between Jesus Christ and the Qumran Community. However, when these parallels are examined for how they function within the Qumran literature and the New Testament, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is evident.

4. One should always keep in mind the possibility of accidental parallels. For example, the English pronoun "she" has exactly the same form and meaning as the Akkadian corresponding term, yet the parallel is more easily explained as accidental than because of some relationship between the two languages. If a large number of parallels that meet the first three criteria begin to accumulate, then it becomes less and less likely that any parallels are accidental.

5. One should also remember the nature of the Lachish Letters themselves. They do not give comprehensive descriptions of their times but offer only brief and usually fragmentary insights into particular issues. They are also subject to various interpretations, especially because of their fragmentary nature.

Having noted these criteria, I will proceed to examine Nibley’s contentions as they appear in his paper. At the end of his work Nibley has a summary of eighteen points of comparison between the Lachish Letters and the Book of Mormon. I will summarize those in a chart that shows both Nibley’s comments and my response to them.

Nibley remarks that since potsherds "do not lend themselves to convenient filing, … the contents of important Lachish Letters were duly abridged for transfer to the official archives (T. 80) in the form of delathoth …."2 The term delet, according to Nibley’s reading of Torczyner (the original editor of the letters), meant originally a "door-board" and then developed the meanings of a "board, placque, plate, or tablet" (quoting T.). Further, "Torczyner finds the root meaning of the Accadic word edeln from wdl, ydl, ‘to lock or shut,’ the collective noun indicating things locked, hinged, or joined together — a reminder that the very ancient codex form of the book was joined pages of wood, ivory, or metal" (p. 105). From this Nibley concludes, "The scanty evidence, confined to the time of Jeremiah, is enough to justify speculation of the possibility of the delathoth being such ‘plates’ or metal tablets as turn up in the Book of Mormon story" (p. 105).

The term (delet) in letter IV:3 is somewhat disputed. Torczyner took it to mean a "page" or sheet of papyrus, a meaning he also applied to Jer 36:23.3 A. Baumann translates a "slate" or "board covered with writing" for the Lachish Letter but "columns of a scroll" in Jer 36:23. Baumann also points out that the sense in the letter "is also found in Ugaritic and Phoenician," adding that "[t]he common folded double boards, which scribes in the ancient Near East used for notebooks, are very similar in appearance to a double door."4 My understanding is that the "notebooks" to which he refers were covered with wax, and the scribe would make the cuneiform impressions in it to be used as a model for stone inscriptions. The new KB Hebrew Lexicon in English (1994) also has "columns of a scroll" for Jer 36:23, comparing it with the Ugaritic for "writing tablet."5 It makes perfectly good sense that as Jehudi read several columns, then Jehoiakim cut the scroll (probably leather) with his knife and threw the piece into the fire. For the Lachish Letter, the KB Lexicon compares , which would be a "tablet," like the tablets on which the 10 commandments were written. It is unlikely that the wax notebooks used by the ancient scribes ever amounted to anything like an "ancient codex form" with "joined pages of wood, ivory, or metal."6

It is hard to interpret what Nibley means by his footnote on p. 105. He translates delathoth with "leaves," yet he also refers to its rolled form (megillah, which is a "scroll"), saying that in Jer 36:23 something "solider than paper" must be referenced because "instead of ripping the roll to shreds in his wrath, the king had to go after it with a knife." Leather or papyrus seem like obvious materials that would fit Jeremiah’s description. Even a papyrus scroll would probably be too thick to rip to shreds.7 Plus, the point of the passage is that Jehudi first read the material by columns, then the king cut out that portion and burned it in the fire. The delathoth did burn up in the fire, so metal doesn’t seem possible.

Würthwein mentions the Copper Scroll of Qumran Cave 1 as a "special exception" in using metal as an ancient writing surface, though not for a biblical text.8 According to Bargil Pixner, "F. M. Cross dated the scroll on paleographical grounds within the broad limits 25-75 c.e. .... Its early Mishnaic Hebrew is not unique among the Qumran documents ...."9 In other words, the contents of the Copper Scroll should be dated to the time of the Qumran community.

How does any of this relate to Joseph Smith’s alleged metal plates? Certainly we cannot say metal writing material in antiquity was impossible, since the Copper Scroll does at least offer a broad analogy. I fail to see any support for Smith’s metal plates from the Lachish Letters, though. It is a long way from a wooden slate or sheet of papyrus to an entire book consisting of metal plates. Nor do I see any necessity for believing that Joseph Smith could not have made up the idea of metal plates. The similarities are general: metal was used in both cases. The differences are specific: about 600 years later than the alleged Nephi for the Copper Scroll; a scroll-form rather than plates; and different genres for the material inscribed on the Mormon plates and on the two sheets of copper bound together as a scroll for the Copper Scroll (apparently containing directions to hidden treasures). Additionally, the Copper Scroll consists of only two plates, joined together and rolled into a scroll, whereas many plates were required for the Book of Mormon.

In any case, Joseph Smith would not have needed divine knowledge to know of the ancient use of metal plates as a writing surface. Historian Dan Vogel has documented legends in early nineteenth-century American (pre-dating the Book of Mormon) of "a lost Indian book" and metal plates engraved with writing by the ancient Indians. The Mormon prophet most likely simply borrowed this exotic idea from the popular culture of his day.10

Another "specific resemblance" that Nibley finds between the Lachish Letters and the Book of Mormon is "the same obsessive concern with writing and recording and the same association with the name of Jeremiah." How specific is a concern with "writing and recording"? It seems like a strong biblical "obsession" that anyone somewhat familiar with the Bible could have adopted. Actually, it could be described as a human "obsession."

As for the association with Jeremiah, the resemblance seems more specific. Being unfamiliar with the era of Joseph Smith, I cannot really make any pronouncements about why he included this in his account. The book of Jeremiah itself hints at a complicated process of compilation which even went beyond the time of Jeremiah (cf. 51:64-52:34; 1:1-3; 2 Kings 24:18-25:30). II Maccabees 2 claims that Jeremiah hid the tent, ark, and the altar in a cave. Other Apocryphal books (Epistle of Jeremiah and Baruch) carry on the tradition of additional material by Jeremiah. The Septuagint has a different edition (shorter and rearranged) of Jeremiah than the MT. Nibley finds solid evidence that the book of Mormon must be historically true. I think the same facts could be explained at least as easily by similar processes that produced the apocryphal material.

The idea of bilingualism, as Nibley correctly notes (p. 107), was not strange at the time of the alleged Lehi. That is something that is also mentioned in the Bible, though, and surely the Bible was a source for Joseph Smith’s ideas (cf. Gen 42:23; 2 Kings 18:26).

Nibley makes a big point about the parallelism of names between the Lachish Letters and the Book of Mormon, bringing in also the Aramaic letters from Elephantine as further comparison: "The same variety of endings is found in the Book of Mormon, e.g., the Lachish name Mattanyahu appears at Elephantine as Mtn, and in the Book of Mormon both as Mathonihah and Mathoni. The Book of Mormon has both long and short forms in the names Amalickiah, Amaleki and Amlici, cf. Elephantine MLKih (T. 24)."11 Lachish Mtnyhw (Mattanyahu) and Elephantine Mtn are broadly parallel to Mathonihah and Mathoni. Mtn is an example of a hypocoristicon, with the name of God omitted. They are also parallel with the following names found in the KJV: Mattan, Mattanah, Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Matthan. Between them these names occur 26 times in the Bible, over a broad time period: Numbers; 2 Kings; Jeremiah (38:1); 2 Chronicles; Ezra; Nehemiah; and Matthew. Nibley also compares Elephantine Mlkyh with Amaleki and Amlici, but the name at Elephantine would have to be vocalized as Malkiyah. Biblical "Amalek" seems like a closer parallel.

Nibley also refers to a dropping of final he () in Hebrew spellings of names like Malkiyah during the period of the Lachish letters. "Of the two names in Letter 1 not ending in –yahu, the one, Tb-Shlm (which Torczyner renders Tobshillem), suggests Book of Mormon Shilom and Shelem, while the other Hgb (T. Hagab), resembles Book of Mormon Hagoth."12

Torczyner refers to two issues. First, the Assyrian evidence shows that after the exile, "the Aramaic-speaking Jews in Babylonia, as in Elephantine" pronounced a name like Nadbiyahu as "Nadbiya." Second, the Samaria Ostraca (which are pre-exilic and reflect a northern Israelite dialect of Hebrew) "show a different spelling based on different pronunciation," namely forms like Abyw, "apparently because the Samarians had no clear pronunciation of the  [h]." The Assyrian inscriptions show the standard pronunciation (with the h) for preexilic Judean names, but some transcriptions of "Jewish post-exilic names in Babylonia ... [show] that the Judaeans, too, had lost their pronunciation of the consonant  under the influence of the Babylonian language."13 The transcriptions in question, e.g. "Banayama," clearly show that these names did preserve the consonant waw, which in Babylonia shifted to m (cf. "Evil-Merodach" of 2 Kings 25:27, which is Amil-Marduk ["man of Marduk"] in Babylonian, the waw of the Hebrew shifting to /v/ in the KJV). Nibley may have confused these two issues in his discussion. At Elephantine, a name like Natan-yahu (standard preexilic Judean pronunciation) would have shifted to Natan-ya(h), with the final "he" representing a vowel letter. In the preexilic north it would have ben Natan-yaw. Among some postexilic Judeans in Babylonia, it would have become Natan-yam(a). In no case, however, are there names that resemble Amaleki or Amlici as shortened forms of Amalek-yah.

As for the name Tb-Shlm, Torczyner’s vocalization (Tobshillem) suggests the piel stem of the verb, which means "to repay" or "reward." If he had chosen to vocalize it as aqal, he no doubt would have given "Tobshalem." Or, with the well-known adjective, it would be "Tobshalom," though that would be strange. There is a biblical name Shillem (Gen 46:24; Numb 26:49), by the way, and that individual is a son of Naphtali. I do not know if the Mormon Shilom and Shelem occur in the book of Nephi or not, but a biblical parallel is more striking than a parallel from the Lachish letters (if one assumes the Bible was a major source for the Book of Mormon). Hagab, by the way, also occurs in Ezra 2:46, and Haggith occurs five times in the Bible (2 Sam 3:4; 1 Kings 1:5, 11; 2:13; 1 Chr 3:2).

The alleged king Benjamin, who "undertook a general reformation of the national constitution and revival of the religious life of the people,"14 appears to be closely parallel to Josiah. His reformation also stemmed from examining an ancient record. Nibley remarks, "Lehi’s ties to the Yahvist tradition are reflected in the only female name given in his history, that of his wife, Sariah; such feminine names turn up at Elephantine — Mibtahyah, though in female names the yahu element usually comes first (T. 27-28)." (Nibley, p. 110). The name Sariah could also be explained as Sarai combined with Sarah, and it resembles some other biblical names (cf. Seraiah in Neh 10:2; Azariah; Jeremiah; etc.).

The book of Jeremiah portrays a situation where only a few prophets, such as Jeremiah and Uriah (Jer. 26:20), were prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem. Most of the prophets instead spoke favorably about Jerusalem’s chances of surviving a Babylonian onslaught (cf. Jer 6:13-14). The Book of Mormon says: "in that same year [i.e., Zedekiah’s first year; 1 Nephi 1:4] there came many prophets" with a message like Jeremiah’s. Nibley admits that "the identity of all but two of these prophets has now been lost, but it is clear from both the Lachish Letters and the Book of Mormon that there were more of them" (p. 110). Then he quotes Torczyner as support (p. 65), but Torczyner’s statement about more prophets at the time must be viewed in context. He is not saying that the Lachish letters, like the Book of Mormon, mention many prophets. Even the book of Jeremiah speaks of other prophets, but they are false prophets who do not foresee the downfall of Jerusalem. Torczyner is simply saying that a reference to "the prophet" in Letter 3, since the name is not given, could refer to any of a number of individuals. Neither he nor the Lachish Letters give any specific reasons to assume there were lots of prophets around who spoke judgment against Jerusalem. However, Torczyner goes on to try to prove that the whole letter was about one specific prophet, namely Uriah. The Book of Mormon appears to stand alone in referring to "many" true prophets around the time of Jeremiah and Uriah. We could quibble about whether "many" might mean only three or four, but in either case there is no support from the Lachish letters here for Nibley’s statement.

Certain Jewish Apocalypses, according to Nibley, parallel "things Lehi also does in due and proper order; the first part of Nephi’s writing, he says, is but an abridgment of his father’s record, which may properly be called the Testament or Apocalypse of Lehi. It also relates to the Lachish Letters, for Jeremiah was the champion of the Rekhabites (Jeremiah 35) and his assistants (cf. 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch) both headed such communities of refugees. Lehi is definitely doing the accepted thing for men of God in his time." (p. 112). The Apocalypses that Nibley mentions are all much later than the alleged time of Nephi. The oldest manuscripts of the "Vision of Ezra" are from the 10th/11th century (A.D.). Its original is obviously earlier than that, but M. E. Stone is unwilling to say exactly how much earlier.15 The Greek Apocalypse of Ezra "most likely originated sometime during the 1st millennium [A.D.], as is evident from its literary affinities."16 2 Esdras (also 4 Ezra) is "a Jewish apocalypse written in the last decade of the 1st century C.E."17 The "2 Book of Baruch" (Syriac) was written, according to Charlesworth, about 30-50 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, by "a gifted Jew, using old traditions, many of which antedate 70."18

How do these late Jewish Apocalypses supposedly relate to the Lachish Letters? Nibley says it is through Jeremiah’s mention of the Rekhabites and that "his [Jeremiah’s] assistants … both headed such communities of refugees." The Rekhabites are not mentioned in the Lachish Letters, and there is no certain reference to Jeremiah himself. All of Nibley’s parallels derive from materials that are much later than the alleged Lehi. Nibley’s last comment in the paragraph is: "Lehi is definitely doing the accepted thing for men of God in his time." Nothing like what he describes about Lehi happens to the canonical Jeremiah, nor are there any parallels to it in the Lachish letters. Jer 26:21 speaks of the prophet Uriah fleeing to Egypt. Torczyner adds that Uriah "may have hidden in the hills of Western Judah, where he had friends and followers, for a long time" (p. 70). Since "we find Lehi doing the same thing," according to Nibley, Lehi’s story "has every mark of authenticity." As we will argue later, it is not at all clear that the Lachish letters actually mention Uriah, and Torczyner speculates about what might have happened to Uriah. Such data hardly seems sufficient to draw parallels between the story of Lehi, the Lachish Letters, and the book of Jeremiah.

A connection that Nibley makes between  (ha-piqqeah) and the Book of Mormon’s "visionary man" (p. 114) is clever but based more on the English term "visionary." Torczyner mentions an unusual term for a prophet which means literally "the open-eyed" but which can be translated "the visionary man" or "the seer" (Torczyner, pp. 52-53). The term "seer(s)" occurs 28 times in the OT, and it translates Hebrew  (ro’eh) or  (chozeh). This could just as easily be interpreted as a "visionary." It is only an accident of English usage that Torczyner happened to use the same term that occurs in the Book of Mormon. Nibley’s connection of the Elisha story of 2 Kings 6:17 with Book of Mormon 3:29 and 7:10 is invalid, because in neither one of the latter is there any reference to the opening of the eyes. The Bible is filled with references to people who saw an angel. No connection exists with such a specific term as the Lachish ha-piqqeah.

The parallel between the expression in Lachish Letter V:9-10, "he curses (the) seed to the King," with Alma 3:9 is interesting (Nibley, p. 114). I think it could at least be compared with Gen 3:15, though. Even if the term "curse" is not used in the same verse, it does occur in 3:14 (cf. also Mal 2:2-3). It should also be noted that the word for "curse" is partially reconstructed by Torczyner (pp. 95-97).

Nibley’s further discussion of parallels between Lehi and Uriah (pp. 114-117) is largely dependent on Torczyner’s hypothesis that the unnamed prophet of Letter VI must be the same as Uriah of Jer 26:20-23.19 Virtually no other scholar has followed Torczyner in this. In order to support his view, Torczyner has to propose that everywhere "Jehoiakim" is found in the Jeremiah passage, it should be replaced with Zedekiah. The commentaries do not recommend doing this (cf. AB). Here is the English of Letter VI as found in Torczyner (words in brackets have been restored according to Torczyner’s opinion, and the material between ** was left blank in Torczyner’s edition but supplied here from the reading of John C. L. Gibson.20

1. To my lord Ya’ush. May Yhwh let see (us)

2. my lord, (while) thou (art) even now in peace. Who

3. is thy slave, a dog, that my lord has sent the [lett]er

4. of the king and the letters of the offic[ers, say-]

5. ing, Read, I pray thee, and (thou wilt) see: the words of the [prophet]

6. are not good, (liable) to loosen your hands [to make]

7. sink the hands of the coun[try and] the city ....

8. ........... My lord, wilt thou not

9. write to [them saying]: why should ye do

10. thus: *— (in) Jerusalem too? Look, it is to

11. the king (and to his house) that you are doing this

12. thing. As* Yhwh lives, thy god

13. and my l[ord] lives (to punish) if thy sla-

14. ve has read the letter and [anybody has tri]ed

15. to rea[d it to him, or he has s]een [of it]

16. [anything].

The reason that Torczyner was able to fill in so much of the story in his notes is his assumption that this passage is to be connected with Jer 26. Most of the story of Lehi and the parallels that Nibley says are from the Lachish Letters actually come from the biblical passage, supplemented by Torczyner’s imagination. Gibson takes a more cautious approach about the reconstruction of the historical situation behind letter VI.21

In the following excerpt, Nibley compares events surrounding Lehi, Nephi, and Laban with both Torczyner’s reconstruction of Uriah’s career as well as Lachish Letter XVIII:

The young men escaped and hid out in a cave, but the cat was out of the bag — Lehi’s flight was now known to Laban as Uriah’s was to Ya’ush [of Lachish Letter VI], and Laban’s troops would soon be on the trail of the refugees as Ya’ush’s were already in pursuit of Uriah. Lehi was spared, however, because Laban never got into action on the case. That very night Nephi found him dead drunk in a street near his house and dispatched him with his own sword ([1 Nephi] 4:5-18). Going toward the house, he met Laban’s servant and got the keys to the treasury and archives from him by a ruse. In the dark the man thought that Nephi was Laban, for he was expecting his boss to be returning very late (and drunk) from an emergency council of "the elders of the Jews … Laban had been out by night among them" (4:22, emphasis added). There is a world of inference in this — secret emergency sessions, tension, danger, and intrigue — as there is in Lachish Letter XVIII, which must be forwarded from Ya’ush to the king through the village of Qiryat Ye’arim by night (T. 183).22

Once again Nibley relies heavily on Torczyner’s attempt to reconstruct the historical details of the letters.23 Here is the sum total of what is preserved of Letter XVIII, with which Nibley compares l Nephi 4:22:

1. Until the evening [when comesshillem shall send thy slave the letter which

2. my lord has sent, from here unto the city.

Gibson is a little less bold with his reconstruction:

1. ...........

2. until the evening........ Jerusalem. Your servant shall send the letter which

3. my lord sent ......... to the city ...............

It seems to require a rather active imagination to see the parallel that Nibley sees with 1 Nephi, even with Torczyner’s more daring reconstruction.

Here is the last seemingly striking parallel to the book of Mormon that Nibley mentions:

According to the Book of Mormon, eleven years after Lehi left Jerusalem, i.e., 589 [b.c.], a company escaped from the land of Jerusalem bearing with them the youngest son of Zedekiah, the only member of the family not put to death when Jerusalem was taken. From the descendants of these people, arrived in the New World, the Nephites learned that Jerusalem actually did fall as prophesied: "… will you dispute that Jerusalem was destroyed? Will ye say that the sons of Zedekiah were not slain, all except it were Mulek? Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us, and they were driven out by the land of Jerusalem?" (Helaman 8:21, italics added).24

According to Nibley, "‘Mulek’ is not found anywhere in the Bible, but any student of Semitic languages will instantly recognize it as the best-known form of diminutive or caritative, a term of affection and endearment meaning ‘little king’" (p. 119). A diminutive is known from Arabic with the form fu‘ayl,25 but there are no certain examples for Hebrew.26 It is rare in Aramaic (Syriac ‘elaymA < *‘ulaymA) and Akkadian (kusipu, "morsel of bread").27 It is probably simpler to say that the name Mulek was based on the biblical Molech.

In any case, Nibley relates his discussion to the Lachish Letters through the term  (nkd) that Torczyner found in III:19-20, "And a letter, which Nedabyahu the nkd of the king had brought to Shallum the son of Yaddua‘ the prophet." Nibley goes into a lengthy discussion of Torczyner’s attempt to translate the phrase, "the grandson of the king." It is now universally accepted that line 19, which Torczyner read as  (ndbyhw nkd hmlk; "Nedabyahu the ‘nepos’ of the king") is to be read instead as  (Fbyhw ‘bd hmlk; "Tobiah, the servant of the king"). For this see Gibson, pp. 38-39; De Vito, ABD 4:127; Tamara Eskenazi, "Tobiah," in ABD 6:584; and The New Koehler-Baumgartner in English, vol. 2, p. 372. The latter source indicates that the Hebrew for Tobiah is found in the Lachish Letters, and Letter 3:19 is the only possible source for it. Since the reading that Nibley refers to is no longer considered to exist, his long discussion is irrelevant.

At the conclusion to his first "shot in the dark" Nibley lists eighteen parallels between the Lachish Letters and the book of Mormon (pp. 119-20). The one significant fact that he omits, though, is that these parallels are nearly all found also in the King James Bible. Since that was a possible source for Joseph Smith, the list seems much less impressive.

Nibley’s Parallel Response
1. Both the Lehi story, which "covers less than ten years in the thousand-year history of the Book of Mormon," and the Lachish Letters "both happen to be the same years!" This might sound more impressive if it were not for the fact that the period in question is viewed as highly significant in the Bible.
2. "Not only in time but in place do they fit neatly into the same narrow slot; and the people with which they deal also belong to the same classes of society and are confronted by the same peculiar problems." This is true mainly in regard to Torczyner’s imaginative reconstructions, many of which have been rejected. Nibley has failed to demonstrate any parallels that are specific enough to prove any real significance.
3. Nothing in the Lachish Letters contradicts the Book of Mormon. Unless the stories are genuinely parallel, why should it be expected that one would contradict the other?
4. "Both documents account for their existence by indicating specifically the techniques and usages of writing and recording in their day, telling of the same means of transmitting, editing and storing records." The general parallels that Nibley brought out are not significant enough to be helpful.
5. "The proximity of Egypt and its influence on writing has a paramount place in both stories." Nibley discusses Torczyner's connections with Egyptian scribal practices and how the letters were produced. The Bible features Egypt in a major role, and Acts 7:22 allows a specific comparison betweeen Moses as a writer and his educational background in Egypt.
6. "Both stories confront us with dynastic confusion during a transition of kingship." How many of the biblical stories of transitions of kingship do not involve an element of "dynastic confusion"?
7. "Both abound in proper names in which the yahu ending is prominent in a number of forms." Actually, he does not give any example of genuine "-yahu" names in the Book of Mormon. Names that end in -iah abound throughout the KJV.
8. "In both, the religious significance of those names gives indication of a pious reformist movement among the people." This is doubtful for both the Lachish Letters and the Bible. Names compounded with a form of YHWH are extremely common throughout the entire period of the monarchy in Israel and Judah, and they are often applied to some very wicked characters.
9. "The peculiar name of Jaush = Josh, since it is not found in the Bible, is remarkable as the name borne by a high-ranking field officer in both the Lachish Letters and the Book of Mormon." This is an interesting coincidence, but does it prove that Joseph Smith could not have abbreviated Joshua to Josh? That would be the simpler explanation.
10. "In both reports, prophets of gloom operating in and around Jerusalem are sought by the government as criminals for spreading defeatism." This is based on Torczyner’s questionable reconstruction, and a similar thing is found in the book of Jeremiah anyway.
11. "The Rekhabite background is strongly suggested in both accounts, with inspired leaders and their followers fleeing to the hills and the caves." The Lachish Letters give no such evidence; it comes only from Torczyner’s imaginative reconstruction. There are examples in the Bible of "inspired leaders and their followers fleeing to the hills and the caves." Compare David’s flight from Saul and Obadiah hiding the prophets in a cave (1 Kings 18:4, 13). The Apocrypha give more examples (the Maccabees, etc.). An unanswered question for me is this: what access did Joseph Smith have to the Apocrypha? Were these books popular in his time? Remember that even the translators of the King James translated the Apocrypha.
12. "Political partisanship and international connections cause division, recriminations, and heartbreak in the best of families." This was not specifically developed for the Lachish Letters, but it seems too general of a parallel for any specific help.
13. "The conflicting ideologies — practical vs. religious, materialist vs. spiritual — emerge in two views of the religious leader or prophet as apiqqeah, a "visionary man" a term either of praise or of contempt — an impractical dreamer." There is nothing to indicate that the Book of Mormon connects the "visionary man" to one whose eyes are opened, at least not in any sense that would be more specific than the general biblical term "seer." It is not even certain that the term should be applied to a prophet in the Lachish Letters. Gibson translates simply "the inspector," and he finds much of Torczyner’s reconstruction and interpretation for Letter III unacceptable (pp. 39-40).
14. "For some unexplained reason, the anti-king parties both flee not towards Babylon but towards Egypt, ‘the broken reed.’" For the Lachish Letters this is based on Torczyner’s questionable reconstruction. It is true, though, of Uriah, the prophet mentioned in Jer 23.
15. "The offices and doings of Laban and Jaush present a complex parallel, indicative of a special military type and calling not found in the Bible." This cannot be demonstrated from the Lachish Letters. Some biblical parallels might be Joab (David’s general) or Elnathan son of Achbor (Jer 26:22). In any case, the parallels are more general than specific.
16. "Almost casual references to certain doings by night create the same atmosphere of tension and danger in both stories." This is unproven from the text of the Lachish Letters. Even if it were, it is too general a comparison to be of any value.
17. "Little Nedabyahu fits almost too well into the slot occupied by the Book of Mormon Mulek, "the Little King" who never came to rule but escaped with a party of refugees to the New World." This statement is based on an earlier reading of the letter which has now been corrected.
18. "The whole business of keeping, transmitting, and storing records follows the same procedures in both books." This sounds redundant from point number 4; in either case it has not been demonstrated from the text of the Lachish Letters.

Nibley concludes: "Other parallels may be added to taste, but this should be enough to show that Joseph Smith was either extravagantly lucky in the opening episodes of his Book of Mormon … or else he had help from someone who knew a great deal." All of the parallels given above are invalid either because of a lack of proper understanding of the Lachish Letters or because they can be explained more easily through parallels with the KJV. No good reason has been given to abandon the rather reasonable assumption that the Book of Mormon derives from the time of Joseph Smith and drew heavily on the King James Bible as a literary source.


1. Hugh W. Nibley, "Two Shots in the Dark," part i., "Dark Days in Jerusalem: The Lachish Letters and the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi)," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (FARMS Reprint Series; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1996 [reprint of 1982 ed.]) 104.

2. P. 105; Nibley’s references to Torczyner are prefaced by "T." This is the only source that Nibley cites for his information about the Lachish Letters. A lot of studies have been done on the letters since this publication of 1938, a few of which I will reference throughout the paper. Torczyner later changed his name to Tur-Sinai.

3. Harry Torczyner, Lachish I (Tell Ed Duweir): The Lachish Letters (Wellcome Archaeological Research Expedition to the Near East Publications 1; New York: Oxford University Press, 1938) 80. 

4. TDOT 3:231. Baumann cites K. Galling, Biblisches Reallexikon 464.

5. Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, rev. Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm, trans. M. E. J. Richardson (New York: Brill, 1994) 1:224a. J. Aistleitner (Wörterbuch der Ugaritischen Sprache, 1963, p. 78) renders Tafel. 

6. Nibley 105. The "codex" is not more ancient, as far as we know, than the Christian era. 

7. Cf. Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 7. 

8. Wür thwe in 7. 

9. ABD 1:1133b. 

10. See Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), pp. 18-19. In chapter 1, note 47 Vogel cites an English translation of Johann Jahn’s 1823Biblical Archaeology, published in Andover, Massachusetts (seven years before the Book of Mormon): "those [ancient] books, which were inscribed on tablets of wood, lead, brass, or ivory, were connected by rings at the back, through which a rod was passed to carry them." Furthermore, Vogel shows that Smith’s close associate W. W. Phelps quoted from Jahn’s book in the January 1833 issue of the Mormon publication Times and Seasons. So there is good reason to think that Smith himself might have known of the idea of ancient metal plates when he produced the Book of Mormon just three years earlier. This note suggested by Luke P. Wilson of the Institute for Religious Research. 

11. Nibley 109; by MLKih he must mean mlkyh

12. Nibley 109; the strange marks used in the article have to be referring to the he.

13. Torczyner 25. 

14. Nibley 109. 

15. ABD 2:731. 

16. Stone, ABD 2:729. 

17. Stone, ABD 2:611. 

18. ABD 2:620. 

19. Torczyner 112-14. 

20. Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions 1:45-46. 

21. Gibson 35. 

22. Nibley 116-17. 

23. Robert Di Vito gives a more recent summary of the letters (ABD 4:126-28), with important bibliography.

24. Nibley 118-19.

25. W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, Translated from the German of Caspari and edited with numerous additions and corrections, 3rd ed., rev. W. Robertson Smith and M. J. de Goeje (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971) 1:166, par. 269. 

26. Joüon mentions , "a little," and , "fugitives"; they would both have the u-vowel reduced (Paul Jöuon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, transl. and rev. T. Muraoka [Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1993] 246, par. 88Ci, note 1).

27. Sabatino Moscati, et al., An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages: Phonology and Morphology (Porta Linguarum Orientalium 6 [ns], Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 1969) 78, par. 12.8.