BYU professor Nick Frederick is doing excellent research on showing from a faithful perspective the how, what, and why of Book of Mormon and New Testament intertexuality. I highly recommend this excellent podcast interview with Laura Hales, which I will review here in this post.
Dr. Frederick has found 650 phrases from the New Testament in the Book of Mormon. Not the obvious ones like Jesus quoting from the sermon on the mount in 3 Nephi, but phrases here and there that are very confusing why they’re there and what they mean. He introduces the issue by talking about how difficult it is to talk about from a faithful perspective. Most people want a simple answer. Either don’t talk about it. Or we can just assume both the Book of Mormon and New Testament are relying on a common Old Testament (Brass Plates) source. They are afraid other reasons for this intertextuality will raise suspicion for BOM historicity. The important thing Dr. Frederick suggests to get over this mind block of historicity is to think of the gold plates and the Book of Mormon as separate texts.
Too often when I hear Latter-day Saints talk about the Book of Mormon, they talk about the Book of Mormon and the gold plates as if they’re the same text. I wonder if it would be useful for us to conceptualize them as two different texts. The Book of Mormon is an English document that was produced in the 19th century by Joseph Smith, however you want to see translation happening. And the gold plates are a record that was written 2,000 years ago by Moroni, by Mormon, and by Nephi. They’re not the same text. One is a translation of another one. (See here for more on translation. Hint: it doesn’t meant what you think it means)
If we’re comfortable saying that the New Testament is an antecedent text for the Book of Mormon, for the King James English 19th century Book of Mormon, then that opens up some wonderful avenues of inquiry. We can look at how those passages were understood in the 19th century and say, “Okay, is the Book of Mormon pushing back against something? Is the Book of Mormon affirming one of these ideas? What was the impact of these passages on early converts? How might this have changed through trajectories of 19th century theology?” Whereas if we just say, “No, no, no. It couldn’t be. There’s no way the New Testament was on the gold plates,” that just ends the conversation. If we see these as two different texts that are related through translation, then I think that helps us bridge this at least question of the New Testament in the Book of Mormon a little bit easier.
Dr. Frederick believes there is a way for faithful LDS to look at the intertextuality and come to greater understanding and appreciation for the Book of Mormon.
You have places like 1 Corinthian 13, and Romans 7, or the Sermon on the Mount in 2 Nephi 12–14 [where large blocks are copied and it’s very obvious to the reader], but the majority of places where the New Testament appears are just at the phrasal level. It’s just four or five (rarely) consecutive words. They’ll just be four or five words that are worked into a larger sentence, that are worked into a larger paragraph. But the words will be clear enough and obvious enough that you can say, “That’s likely drawn from the New Testament.” The problem is you just have to work to find them.
Grant Hardy’s work has been great here. His chapter on allusion in Understanding the Book of Mormon, where he deals with Hebrews 6 and 11 and Ether 12, and he shows that it isn’t just Moroni just wholesale lifting Hebrews. What Moroni is doing is carefully deconstructing and then reconstructing parts of Hebrews to create an entirely new text. And that’s what the Book of Mormon does with the New Testament that’s just so remarkable and so much fun to look for.
This is what I find so interesting about this subject. It’s not the simple fact that a few phrases are borrowed. But how and why it is being done. There are all kinds of Easter eggs that people like Grant Hardy and Nick Frederick are finding. And more yet to be found.
Dr. Frederick points out a few examples. One is from Mosiah 3, after comparing Mosiah 3:2 “Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God.” to Revelation 14:10 “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.”
In Mosiah 3, King Benjamin’s speech, you have five phrases from the Book of Revelation that appear between verses 20 and verse 27. If it was just one phrase, you might look at that and say that it’s possible that is from the New Testament, but five phrases all from the Book of Revelation suggests more strongly that what we have here is a conscious attempt to bring the language of the Book of Revelation into the Book of Mormon.
Another example. “full of grace and truth”
You could look at a phrase like “full of grace and truth” from John 1, from John’s prologue. That appears only once in the New Testament, but yet it appears in 2 Nephi 2, Lehi’s discourse with Jacob. It appears in Alma 5 when Alma is talking to Zarahemla. It appears in Alma 9 and 13 in his discourse within the city of Ammonihah. You would look at that and say, “It only appears once in the New Testament. Here it is four times in the Book of Mormon.” To me, that increases the likelihood that we’re intentionally supposed to see that as drawn from the New Testament.
Alma 5 and Matthew 3.
Alma’s discourse with the people in Zarahemla. It relies heavily upon the language of Matthew 3. Matthew’s story of the baptism of Jesus, in particular, John the Baptist’s own speech. As you look in Alma 5, you’ll find that there are phrases taken from verses 3, verses 8, verse 10, verse 12, that in several places actually follow the same sequential order that they do in Alma 5 as they do in Matthew 3. You’ll see a phrase from verse 3, followed by a phrase from verse 8, followed by a phrase from verse 10.
Several phrases in the same order in both Alma 5 and Matthew 3. I love Laura Hales’ reaction to this, which was the same as mine. Basically: “So cool!” Here is scripture we’ve read many times before and never thought they were connected, but pointing out the intertextuality, now makes us ponder on the Book of Mormon to make us think what is the Book of Mormon wanting us to understand, given the Matthew 3 intertextuality? Isn’t this a great way to read the Book of Mormon?! I love it.
Dr. Frederick talks about false positives. For example “hear the word of God” found in Mosiah 25 and Luke 5. He calls this a possibility but dismisses it as an example that shows clear intertextuality because of the vagueness of the phrase and the lack of other direct evidence. These phrases are all over the place in the BOM. I identified over 10,000, but most of these should be considered more as using common language in the translation process than direct intertextuality.
An extremely interesting insight that Dr. Frederick has made an emphasis in his research career is specifically the use of John in the Book of Mormon. He attributes non-LDS Krister Stendahl for drawing attention to this. In the Nephite version of the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of Mormon Jesus quotes the Matthew Jesus but not verbatim. There are some differences. Especially the use of “verily, verily” which is peculiar to John. Turns out the other differences are also from a Johannine lens of the gospel. The Book of Mormon is taking Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Johannizing it. Mind blown.
More from John is the intertextuality between John 11 and Alma 19, which you may have heard before from “anti-Mormon” literature pointing out BOM plagiarism. The Book of Mormon intentionally inserts six phrases from John’s story of the raising of Lazarus to the Book of Mormon’s story of the raising of King Lamoni. This is hardly a case of plagiarism. This is an author inserting phrases into a story that’s kinda alike but not really in order to intentionally tip the reader off to something important. Dr. Frederick has a theory what that “something important” might be.
This is where the trick comes in. It seems that the Book of Mormon initially wants you to make the easy jump and see that Jesus is Ammon and Lazarus is Lamoni, Martha is the Lamanite queen, and Mary as Abish … What the Book of Mormon does that’s really cool is the Johannine narrative really pivots around this idea of Jesus as the one who encounters each of the other three one by one, eventually raising Lazarus from the dead. In the Book of Mormon narrative, you have the Jesus role taken up initially by Ammon, but then the twist comes when Ammon, himself, falls unconscious. Now your Jesus protagonist character has been removed from the action. You have people coming into the room, and it looks like their lives are in danger. The Jesus role now falls, of all people, to a Lamanite slave woman named Abish. It’s she who emerges as this giver of life who then comes forward and raises the queen by the hand in a similar action to what Jesus does to Lazarus. Then she disappears. Then the Lamanite queen is the one who raises the actual Lazarus figure, her husband, Lamoni. The Jesus role plays out through both Abish and Lamoni’s wife. Roles change…There are six named women in the Book of Mormon, only three of which actually appear in the Book of Mormon. And yet, here we have these two powerful female characters in Abish and the Lamanite queen. It seems the Book of Mormon is saying that female characters need not be only those who believe or do not believe, or those who are misunderstood, or those who are instructed. In fact, they can do the Jesus work themselves. They can extend the divine message. They can instill faith. They can be the active movers, not just those who are passively on the sidelines.
I never thought of the Book of Mormon as a feminist work. But maybe?
Dr. Frederick has identified 650 of these phrases he believes show intertextuality between the 1769 King James Bible and the Book of Mormon.
A couple I’ve noticed and written about before.
The exposition on the atonement in 2 Ne 9 riffing on 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.
Another is the fascinating (at least to me) intertextuality between Ether 12 and 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.
I’ve written on these subjects a lot.
I really hope this information gets digested and popularized to the LDS audience. It’s key to understanding this inpired book of scripture. It might make us rethink on historicity but it affirms the miraculous nature of the translation of the Book of Mormon.