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Literary Dependence in the Book of Mormon: Two Studies

Literary Dependence in the Book of Mormon: Two Studies

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Literary Dependence on Nineteenth Century Events — Part 2a

Once one sees how the Book of Mormon draws on the King James Bible, it is not difficult to detect other contemporary material. For example, the Book of Mormon is clearly familiar with American history, particularly events that had occurred prior to 1830 such as the voyage of Columbus and the European settling of America. Anachronisms are present in the text, since the Revolutionary War, for example, had already occurred prior to the dictation of the Book of Mormon text. First Nephi, chapter 13 is represented to contain a prophetic vision of events in American history. Known historical events from the past are written as prophecy to make it appear that they were known in vision two thousand years earlier. This is evident from the following extracts, with interpretation in brackets:20

Prophetic History

I looked and beheld many waters [Atlantic Ocean]; and they divided the Gentiles [in Europe] from the seed of my brethren [the Indians] (1 Ne. 13:10).

And I looked and beheld a man [Columbus] among the Gentiles [in Europe] ... and he went forth upon the many waters [Atlantic Ocean], even to the seed of my brethren [the Indians], who were in the promised land [America] (1 Ne. 13:12).

And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles [Pilgrim fathers]; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters [Atlantic Ocean] .... I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles [Pilgrim fathers] upon the land of promise [America]; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren [the Indians]; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten [judgment on the Indians] .... And I beheld their mother Gentiles [the British] were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them [Thirteen Colonies] ... the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle [the Revolutionary War, 1776-1781] (1 Ne. 13:13-14, 17-18).

the Gentiles [the United States] that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations [probably the War of 1812] (1 Ne. 13:19)

The Book of Mormon also refers to the Bible being brought to America:

I beheld a book [Bible], and it was carried forth among them [the Indians] (1 Ne. 13:20).

Neither will he suffer that the Gentiles [United States] shall destroy the seed of thy brethren [the Indians] (1 Ne. 13:31).

And it came to pass that I beheld the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the book of the Lamb of God, which had proceeded forth from the mouth of the Jew, that it came forth from the Gentiles unto the remnant of the seed of my brethren [bringing the Bible to the Indians, missionary work with the Indians] (1 Ne. 13:38).21

The Book of Mormon's religious and historical setting takes place not in the Old World but in the New and reflects the popular pride that most citizens of the day felt for their new nation.22 The following are some major themes relating to the place of America as developed in the Book of Mormon.

A Choice Land

that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord (Ether 13:2)

we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands (2 Ne. 1:5)

Hid from Knowledge of Other Nations

And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance (2 Ne. 1:8).

A Land of Promise

be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands (1 Ne. 2:20)

Land of Liberty

he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south — A chosen land, and the land of liberty (Alma 46:17).

Free From Bondage

Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven (Ether 2:12).

No Kings on the Land

And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles (2 Ne. 10:11).

America is Zion

And I will fortify this land against all other nations. And he that fighteth against Zion shall perish, saith God (2 Ne. 10:12-13).

And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision ... even so shall the multitude of all nations be that fight against Mount Zion (2 Ne. 27:3).

Visits of Christ to America After His Crucifixion

3 Nephi 11-28 (3 days)

New Jerusalem to be Built in America23

And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord .... And that a New Jerusalem should be built upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph, for which things there has been a type (Ether 13:3, 6).

The third decade of the nineteenth century, when the Book of Mormon appeared, was also a period of theological controversy. The book takes sides on various issues under discussion, as the following extracts demonstrate. The Book of Mormon's position is quoted and a contemporary adherent of the same point of view is given:

Baptism by Immersion

On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you .... Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them .... And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water .... And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been (3 Ne. 11:22, 23, 26, 28).

We baptize by immersion, because we think from all the evidence we can obtain upon this subject, it was the way or mode by which the ordinance was administered when first administered when first instituted, and afterwards practiced by the ancient Christians (David Millard, ed., Gospel Luminary, 1:221 [Oct. 1825], West Bloomfield, Ontario County, New York).

But I am now to show that Christian immersion, as instituted by Jesus Christ, (not as corrupted by men,) is the gospel in water (The Christian Baptist, 1955 reprint; 5:165 [5 Feb. 1828], Bethany, VA).

Name of the Church

And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ .... And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter. And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing? ... ye must take upon you the name of Christ ... therefore ye shall call the church in my name ... And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses' name then it be Moses' church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel (3 Ne. 26:21; 27:3-5, 7-8).

When we give a name and a creed to a church, other than the name of Christ, or Christian, and the New Testament, or the Gospel, that church acquires in our imaginations and feelings, and in fact, a character altogether different from what the Church of Christ really possesses in the light of the New Testament (The Christian Baptist 2 [4 July 1825]:237, Bethany, VA).

We, however, choose to be known by the name of Christian to the exclusion of all other names not found in the scriptures, this bring the most significant appellation of the followers of Christ, and agreeably to our views, given by divine appointment (Gospel Luminary 3 [Aug. 1827]:188, West Bloomfield, Ontario County, NY).

Baptism of Children

... for it grieveth me that there should disputations rise among you. For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children .... I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children .... For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism (Moro. 8:4-5, 9, 15)

The question of infant baptism is now generally discussed all over the land, and immense has been the result (The Christian Baptist 5 [7 Jan. 1828]:138, Bethany, VA).

Freemasonry: A Topic of Discussion

The abduction and probable murder of William Morgan in September 1826 caused many Americans to view Freemasonry as a dangerous threat. George Washington's warning about "all combinations and associations" in his Farewell Address became the anti-Masonic motto, "Beware of Secret Combinations." Masons were regarded as shedding innocent blood, binding themselves with oaths, and bent on preventing just punishment from coming upon a fellow Mason. Whether this violent reaction to Masonry was justified, the controversy is reflected in the Book of Mormon.24

According to the Book of Mormon, at the time the book was to appear there would be "secret combinations." The words "secret combinations" did not always refer to Masons. But the following quotations, from the many that are in the Book of Mormon, illustrates this unmistakable anti-Masonic influence.

Secret Combinations

And it shall come in a day when the blood of saints shall cry unto the Lord, because of secret combinations and the works of darkness (Morm. 8:27).

"BEWARE OF SECRET COMBINATIONS." These are the dying words of General George Washington .... Do not these words ... point with an index that cannot be mistaken, to the Society of Freemasons? (The Morgan Investigator 1 [29 Mar. 1827]:1, Batavia, New York).

Masonic Rites

And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever (2 Ne. 26:22).

The candidate is then blindfolded, his left foot bare, his right in a slipper, his left breast and arm naked, and a rope called a Cable-tow round his neck ... (William Morgan, Illustrations of Masonry by One of the Fraternity who has devoted Thirty Years to the Subject [Batavia, NY: Printed for the Author, 1826],18).

I fancy those men are fastening a "Cable Tow" about their necks, which will have a more uncomfortable set than those they have worn in the lodge and which they will in all probability wear to their graves (The Morgan Investigator 1 [29 Mar. 1827]:2).

The principles of masonry are confessedly ancient. They can be traced back to the time when the first deceiver said, "Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, ye shall be as God's knowing good and evil" .... Freemasonry, without controversy, is the very master-piece of pandemonium. By means of these hidden mysteries, Satan has strangely outdone himself (Republican Monitor 6 [23 Nov. 1828]:1, Cazenovia, NY).
 



Notes

20. Some of these identifications are contained in the footnotes of the 1879 Salt Lake edition of the Book of Mormon. Orson Pratt, apostle and official LDS church historian, prepared the references for that edition.

21. In 1663, a Bible was printed in the Algonquin Indian language in Massachusetts. It had been translated into their language by John Eliot. The first English New Testament was published in America in 1777 and the Holy Bible in 1782.

22. Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism (New York: Collier Books, 1969), 269-70.

23. H. Michael Marquardt, "The Independence Temple of Zion," Restoration 5 (October 1986):13-17.

24. S. H. Goodwin, Additional Studies in Mormonism and Masonry (Salt Lake City, 1927), is still one of the best studies on the anti-Masonic influence in the Book of Mormon. Another interesting study is Walter Franklin Prince, "Psychological Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon," American Journal of Psychology 28 (July 1917):373-89. See John E. Thompson, The Masons, The Mormons and the Morgan Incident (Ames, IA: Iowa Research Lodge No. 2 A.F. & A.M. [1984]), 4-32.