king james language in the book of mormon

 

One of the most obvious observations is that there is a lot of King James Bible language in the Book of Mormon.  Most obvious are the large portions of Isaiah, Malachi, and Matthew.  There are also well known references to New Testament passages concerning the gifts of the spirit and faith, hope, and charity or matching phrases like “grace is sufficient”.  It’s not just the doctrinal aspect of this, there are common style elements like “it came to pass”, date formats “first day of the second month”, “now I say unto you”, “behold”, “ye shall”, etc.

This all well understood.  What I’d like to illustrate in this post, is the depth of crossover between KJV and BOM.  Thousands of 3-gram, 4-gram, 5-grams interspersed all through the book.

Excluding the large quoted portions of Isaiah, Malachi, and Matthew, there are 10,317 four word n-grams that match BOM to KJV.   10,317!  Those were used average of 3.0 times each for total instances of 31,0140.

Some very generic and likely to appear randomly:

to the land of
them out of the
and because of the
they they might not
in the city of

Some more unique and likely directly influenced by:

cannot inherit the kingdom
all flesh shall know
a flaming sword which
against Moses and against
by reason of transgression

 

Listed here are the top 100 4-grams in common between BOM and KJV with BOM frequency.  And here is an Excel file with the full list of all 10,317 4-grams: kjv-bom-4gram

it came to pass that 1227
and it came to pass 1123
Now it came to pass 147
year of the reign of 98
upon the face of the 65
it shall come to pass 60
it came to pass in 55
out of the land of 54
came to pass in the 53
the face of the earth 49
of the house of Israel 47
and it shall come to 46
the Holy One of Israel 40
the Spirit of the LORD 40
all the face of the 34
the lord of the vineyard 33
by the power of the 32
out of the hands of 30
among the children of men 30
the word of the LORD 29
upon all the face of 28
the commandments of the LORD 28
had made an end of 27
by the hand of the 26
are of the house of 26
to the knowledge of the 26
the voice of the LORD 26
saith the LORD of hosts 26
the hand of the LORD 25
power of the Holy Ghost 25
of the children of men 24
the voice of the people 24
the power of the holy 24
the borders of the land 24
keep the commandments of God 23
were in the land of 23
But it came to pass 23
verily I say unto you 22
the foundation of the world 22
the hearts of the people 22
from the foundation of the 22
it came to pass after 21
the presence of the LORD 21
in the name of Jesus 20
the hardness of their hearts 18
the hands of their enemies 17
the resurrection of the dead 17
from the presence of the 17
These are the words which 17
To keep the commandments of 17
now I say unto you 17
And the LORD said unto 16
in the kingdom of God 16
commanded them that they should 16
the angel said unto me 16
And he said unto me 15
the knowledge of the truth 15
according to the word of 15
made an end of speaking 15
the ways of the LORD 15
the things which I have 15
hearts of the children of 14
up to the land of 14
by the power of God 14
according to the spirit of 14
after the manner of the 14
to the church of God 14
the hearts of the children 14
the depths of the sea 14
the ends of the earth 14
for the space of three 14
shall be cut off from 14
the words of the prophets 14
it came to pass as 13
it must needs be that 13
unto the LORD their God 13
among all the people of 13
in the depths of the 13
off the face of the 13
of which I have spoken 13
from off the face of 13
I have spoken unto you 13
remnant of the house of 13
of the LORD their God 13
And he said unto them 13
and cast into the fire 13
because of the hardness of 13
into the hands of the 12
unto the house of Israel 12
up at the last day 12
Thus saith the LORD God 12
because of the wickedness of 12
the Father in the name 12
the words of the LORD 12
the words which he spake 12
And the angel said unto 12
keep the commandments of the 12
voice of the Lord came 12
Father in the name of 12
all the house of Israel 11

 

Midrash or Exegesis

An important reason for KJV in the Book of Mormon is that sometimes the BOM takes a verse and performs exegesis on it.  This means to expand or clarify a verse in the Bible.  My favorite example of this:

Hebrews 2:17-18

17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Alma 7:11-13

11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

This is an example where I believe Joseph Smith (or Mormon who according to one theory might have had access to the Hebrews text) took the Hebrews text and expanded it, making it doctrinally more clear.

 

Another example is 2 Nephi 9: 5-7 as exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15.

2 Nephi 9 1 Corinthians 15
5 Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
6 For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
7 Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

 

I find it very unlikely that Jacob was performing this kind of exegesis on the King James English text of 1 Cor 15.  But identifying Joseph as the conduit of this exegesis (through expansion or extended midrashic metaphor) does nothing to reduce its status as inspired and theologically valuable scripture.

 

Three Voice Hypothesis: Distribution of KJV

My analysis of BOM computer data and trends has led me to the Three Voice Hypothesis.  The first half of the BOM, starting in Mosiah with Mosiah Priority, can be viewed as a combination of two clear, distinct voices.  S Voice is quoted portions of the first person sermon type language of Alma, Abinadi, King Benjamin, etc.  N Voice is the third person narrative, mostly Mormon.  Then starting about end of Alma, a third distinct voice enters the scene and ramps up in Moroni and then maxes out in Nephi.  I call this the L (Late) Voice.  I wanted to see if the KJV correlated more in one section or another.  I didn’t see that at all.

Broken up into four quadrants O-N Original Narrative (Mos – Alma N Voice), O-S (Mos – Alma S Voice), L-N (Helaman to end and adding Small Plates N Voice), L-S (Late S Voice).  The KJV 4-grams were relatively smoothly spread across all quadrants.  Slightly more in S vs N and slightly more in L vs O, but not enough to be a trend.  The difference in the total occurrences vs the unique 4-grams is due to the dominance of “it came to pass” in the N and in the L for both S and N.

 

Quadrant Unique 4-grams Per 1,000 Words Total Occurrences Per 1,000 Words
O-N              2,828              45               7,644            122
O-S              3,215              60               5,522            104
L-N              2,934              51               7,556            132
L-S              5,060              66             10,318            135

 

 

Cast a javelin at him

I was randomly looking at KJV N-grams in Alma, sorting alphabetically:

a battle with the
a covenant of peace
a covenant with him
a flaming sword which
a javelin at him
a judge of the
a king over them
a lake of fire

Whoah, hold up.   “a javelin at him”?  Looking it up, expands the match to a 5-gram that’s pretty unique.

1 Samuel 20:33

And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.

Alma 62:36

And it came to pass that Teancum in his anger did go forth into the camp of the Lamanites, and did let himself down over the walls of the city. And he went forth with a cord, from place to place, insomuch that he did find the king; and he did cast a javelin at him, which did pierce him near the heart. But behold, the king did awaken his servants before he died, insomuch that they did pursue Teancum, and slew him.

Perplexing to me.  I don’t know if this is intended literary intertexuality or subconscious  or some kind of plagiariasm.  This data is pretty rich with opportunity to find interesting little common phrases like this.

 

Purposeful Intertexuality

Grant Hardy in Understanding the Book of Mormon illustrates many parallels between Book of Mormon and Bible and argues that the BOM narrators, especially Mormon, used Bible phraseology to purposefully draw out the parallel.  One example is Abinadi as a type of Moses.

Abinadi in his trial at King Noah’s court, directly quoted the 10 Commandments and directly referenced the Law of Moses.  But Hardy shows that Mormon, the narrator, used Exodus vocabulary and phrases in the telling of this story, to help make this comparison stronger.

know that I am the Lord
a jealous God
hardened heart
who is the Lord, that
stretch forth his hand
pestilence
bondage

 

Another example is the parallel between Nephi’s exodus out of Jerusalem and the Israelites Exodus, with common elements and text.

“murmur”
promised land
“ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God”
God is the light at night, pillar of fire

 

Another parallel is Moroni’s problem with writing (Ether 12) and Paul’s thorn (2 Cor 12)

Both Moroni and Paul have a weakness
Both pray to God to fix it for them
Both are told “no”
Both include comparisons of weakness and strength
common phrase “grace is sufficient” — This convergence may not seem as strong as it is, because the phrase “grace is sufficient” is used so commonly in our religious vocabulary, but this phrase “grace is sufficient” appears in exactly one verse in the Bible and exactly one verse in the BOM.

 

Benjamin Seeker has put forward some very interesting examples of BOM-KJV intertextuality and also a theory of why the BOM does this.   Intertextuality and the Doctrine of Divinization in the Ammon Narrative    The Gifts of the Spirit in Moroni 10, 1 Corinthians 12, and D&C 46

The Book of Mormon is Another Testament of Jesus Christ.  These parallels show the Book of Mormon as a second witness, whether they are calculated by God from the beginning, teased out by the narrators like Mormon, illustrated by God through the revealed translation, or constructed by Joseph Smith.

 

Large blocks of Isaiah, Matthew, Malachi

The Book of Mormon contains numerous chapters that are (mostly) blocks quotes from the KJV Isaiah, Matthew, and Malachi.  Using my database, this works up to be about 17,500 of the roughly 267,000 total words in the BOM, or 6.6%.  I have heard criticism that goes like this: “the Book of Mormon is just a bunch of chapters quoted from the Bible and then some other random stuff to fill in the gaps.”  Well the gaps are approximately 496 pages of material in the current English edition of the Book of Mormon!

But new scholarship, coming from Joseph Spencer among others, is showing the complexity and the “theologically interesting” aspect of the inclusion of these block sections.  Spencer’s insights into the Isaiah chapters are profound.  Here’s my little contribution to this work, related to the Malachi portion, which I hope to put more detail to in the future.

I see 3 Ne 11-27 as an extended metaphor on giving a group of people the same experience Jesus’ followers and disciples had in the New Testament.  There are the healings and miracles, the blessing of the children, the quoted portion of his most important NT sermon, the experience of taking the sacrament together, the focused instruction to the twelve, and so on.  The author is trying to touch on all the major aspects of the Gospels in this passage.  So why waste time quoting Isaiah and Malachi?  One of the most touching stories of Jesus in the NT is the account of the walk to Emmaus with the two unnamed disciples.  In Luke 24:27, a key part of this walk was that Jesus took the scriptures from the beginning and expounded them.

27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

In 3rd Nephi 22,24,25 large blocks of Isaiah and Malachi are included.  And then in the very next verse, a KJV parallel is given which tips us off to intertextuality and gives us a clue to the meaning.  3 Nephi 26:1

1 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had told these things he expounded them unto the multitude; and he did expound all things unto them, both great and small.

The author of this passage wants to show us that Jesus was giving these Nephites the same experience he was giving those in the New Testament.

 

KJV phrases used randomly piecemeal  

This point is the one that strikes me the most as I have done this study and looked at my computer data.  There is a startling amount of KJV phrases in the BOM.  It’s not just one phrase occasionally.  One single verse could have obvious references from several KJV verses from different areas of the Bible.  In these two examples there are 6-7 each.

Mosiah 27:31

31 Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye.

Romans 14: 11

For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

John 6:54

Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Luke 6: 26

Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.

Ephesians 2: 12

That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

Romans 2: 2

But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.

Matthew 25: 46

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

 

The Book of Mormon regularly combines short snippets from different parts of the King James Bible and combines them into a new verse.   Royal Skousen said the following on this topic in his 2016 FairMormon conference presentation, which of everything in this blog post is the most insightful to understand the BOM text.

There’s another more interesting part that needs to be considered about the King James Bible, there’s all this phraseology in the Book of Mormon text which is sort of taken from different parts in a given passage, just woven together, it isn’t like somebody is taking something like looking at Hebrews and I’m going to make a little midrash on Hebrews and make a little comment and throw it in the text, it’s just phraseology that just happens to show up in Hebrews, and it is being used in a way that’s different than it’s being used in Hebrews, then there’s something from Exodus in that same passage, a little phrase, and it’s woven, and it’s like somebody that’s translating this knows that King James text so well and it can just use it. It isn’t like Joseph Smith spending all night whipping through his Bible looking at this and that and putting it together.

 

Yes!  That’s what I’m trying to say.

Here’s another example  Mormon 9:2

Behold, will ye believe in the day of your visitation—behold, when the Lord shall come, yea, even that great day when the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, yea, in that great day when ye shall be brought to stand before the Lamb of God—then will ye say that there is no God?

Isaiah 34: 4

And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.

Numbers 10: 10

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your

2 Peter 3: 10

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

Acts 23: 8

For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

2 Kings 5: 15

And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.

John 1: 36

And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!

Matthew 10: 18

And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.

Luke 21: 36

Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

Revelation 6: 17

For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

 

If I were to give you an assignment.  Take six verses from different books in the Bible.  Combine little snippets of each of these into a coherent new verse.  That might be harder than you think.  Or at least more time consuming than if you just had the assignment to make up a verse of scripture.

Some look at this data and theorize that it is unreasonable to think Joseph Smith knew the KJV this well to pull this off like this.  An alternative theory that has been creeping around the Mormon world lately is that William Tyndale, of the KJV translation committee in the 16th century, could have been involved with translating the BOM, possibly even in the Spirit World.  The theory’s a bit outlandish.  But the reason the theory is even dreamed up is notable: it’s brainstorming to come up with a reason for how and why this KJV language is so woven together throughout the BOM.

All this prompted Grant Hardy to say:

In some ways it’s quite precise—the various parts of the narrative are carefully composed and fit together in complicated ways—while in other ways the translation had to have been rather free, particularly with regard to nineteenth-century concepts and language, including the pervasive phrasing from the King James Bible. When I encounter anachronisms, I don’t automatically think “Joseph must have been a fraud”; instead I ask, “What else could this mean?” Perhaps the God of the Book of Mormon loves intertextuality and wordplay; he certainly wasn’t overly concerned with regular grammar.

 

Conclusion

Like a lot of my other posts analyzing the text of the Book of Mormon, I’m not sure what to conclude.  I believe all of this suggests Joseph Smith had an integral part of the creation of the Book of Mormon and use of phrases and language.  I don’t think it proves it’s not historical.  I think nothing here weakens historicity, especially when considering an “Expansion” model or loose translation model, where Joseph as a prophet, seer, and revelator has the authority and the ability to expand the historical narrative.  I don’t believe the BOM is historical, for other reasons not addressed in this post.  But the more I study and analyze it, like I have in this post, the more I see an extreme level of complexity.  The construction of the BOM is a big, wonderful mystery to me.

 

 

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