Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/19th century influences

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19th century influences alleged to have been a factor in the production of the Book of Mormon

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Question: Was Bishop M'Kendree, a Methodist revivalist preacher, the model for King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon?

The parallels between the Methodist camp meeting at which M'Kendree appeared and King Benjamin's speech are general, sometimes manufactured, and likely coincidental

It is claimed by some who believe that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon on his own, that Bishop M'Kendree—a Methodist revivalist preacher in Joseph Smith's era—was the model for "King Benjamin" in the Book of Mormon. An account by from Benjamin Paddock is usually cited in support of this claim. M'Kendree appeared at a Methodist camp meeting that was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826.

The parallels between the Methodist camp meeting and King Benjamin's speech are general, sometimes manufactured, and likely coincidental.

  • There is no evidence that Joseph Smith was even in the area in which the conference occurred.
  • The critics confuse and combine different events and do not accurately report those events.
  • The critics misreport the events in ways that seem calculated to make them seem more like the Book of Mormon than they were.
  • The matter for which the conference was talked about had nothing to do with the matter which the critics try to make the source for the Book of Mormon.

As with many of Grant Palmer's comparisons, once one takes the time to look at the comparison that he makes, and the actual sources he uses, one finds that the argument is not as compelling as Palmer believes it to be. This is not to say that there aren't some parallels, but let us first look at matters which Palmer must address before we can give much weight to his claim.

Historical background of the Methodist Camp meeting and M'Kendree's participation in it

Here is the historical background from Palmer:

Protestant concepts appear to abound in his discourses and experiences. For example, a Methodist camp meeting was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826 - a pivotal time in Joseph's life. Preparations for a camp meeting included leasing and consecrating the ground. Thus the "ground within the circle of the tents is considered sacred to the worship of God, and is our chapel." The Methodists referred to these "consecrated grounds" as their "House of God" or temple. The Palmyra camp meeting reportedly attracted over 10,000 people. Families came from all parts of the 100-mile conference district and pitched their tents facing the raised "stand" where the preachers were seated, including one named Benjamin G. Paddock (fig. 20). This large crowd heard the "valedictory" or farewell speech of their beloved "Bishop M'Kendree [who] made his appearance among us for the last time." He was the Methodist leader who "had presided" over the area for many years. The people had such reverence for this "sainted" man "that all were melted, and ... awed in his presence." In his emaciated and "feeble" condition, he spoke of his love for the people and then delivered a powerful message that covered "the whole process of personal salvation." Tremendous unity prevailed among the crowd, and "nearly every unconverted person on the ground" committed oneself to Christ. At the close of the meeting, the blessings and newly appointed "Stations of the Preachers" were made for the Ontario district.[1]

We can see where he wants to put emphasis for our easy comparison. Palmer's primary source is the memoir of this Benjamin G. Paddock. This book is available on-line.

It is unlikely that Joseph would have made the trip back to Palmyra to attend this event

The material cited by Palmer is on pages 177–181. A complete copy of this text is available in the wiki here (so that readers can examine it easily in its original context). Palmer actually seems far more concerned about making his parallels than he is about accuracy. Perhaps he believed that using an obscure source would allow him to be a little loose with the details. Here are three major problems with this particular little bit of text written by Palmer:

  1. While Joseph Smith's home is in Palmyra in June of 1826, Joseph himself is boarding with his future Father-in-law Isaac Hales, in Harmony Pennsylvania in 1826. It seems unlikely that Joseph would have made the trip back to Palmyra to attend this event.
  2. Can be seen from reading the full text, there are two concurrent events: The first is a Conference (an annual Conference for this religious group, much like LDS General Conference). For that event, there is a stage set up, the leading preachers are up on the stage, and some of them speak. The second is the camp meeting, which is associated with this first event. The camp meeting was held at the same time as the Conference, but it wasn't the same thing—and as Benjamin Paddock's memoir relates, "A great camp-meeting was held in connection with it. The ground was only about a mile from the village, so that members of the Conference not immediately and specially employed could take part in its services. At that early day, and previously, meetings of the kind were not unfrequently held in the neighborhood of our Annual Conferences; but the present one was exceptionally large." In other words, there was a camp that was often set up near the conference, and those who weren't tied up with the conference itself would go and preach to the crowd at the camp-meeting. The reason why this is interesting is that the camp meeting wasn't the reason why Bishop M'Kendree was there. And there isn't any indication that Bishop M'Kendree attended the camp meeting.
  3. Palmer says that Bishop M'Kendree gives a farewell speech. The reports are conflicted. Paddock tells us (referring to the Conference) that: "He was too feeble to preside, and occupied the chair only once or twice, and then only for a few minutes at a time. Still, however, at the urgent request of Bishop Hedding and leading members of the Conference, he signed the Journals at the close of the session as one of its presiding officers. Brethren were anxious to secure at least his signature as a memorial of his visit." So, here, it isn't mentioned as a farewell speech, although he does get up once or twice it notes.

The other account comes from George Peck's 1860 book Early Methodism within the bounds of the old Genesee Conference from 1788 to 1828: or the first forty years of Wesleyan evangelism in northern Pennsylvania, central and western New York, and Canada on pages 509-510:

1826. The conference met at Palmyra, 7th of June. Bishops M'Kendree and Hedding were present.

This session of the conference is noticeable as the one in which Bishop M'Kendree made his appearance among us for the last time. He was at the first session and signed the journal. He had presided at the sessions up to the year 1816, inclusive, since which he had not paid us a visit. He came to take leave. He opened the first session, made an instructive address in the the form of an exposition upon the lesson read from the Scriptures, and finally gave us his valedictory. In the journal for Monday it is recorded that

Bishop M'Kendree delivered a very appropriate address to the members of this conference, which he supposed to be his valedictory." It did not prove to be, as he supposed, his valedictory! He appeared in the conference on the last day of the session, as the following record shows:

Bishop M'Kendree having addressed the conference on the importance of missionary exertions and Sunday schools, therefore,

Resolved, That this conference heartily concur in the sentiments expressed by the bishops, and pledge themselves to use their influence to promote the cause of missions and of Sunday schools throughout their respective circuits and stations."

So where does all of the stuff in Palmer's book come from about this farewell speech about "the whole process of personal salvation"?

So where does all of the stuff in Palmer come from about this farewell speech about "the whole process of personal salvation"? Well, that comes from Paddock's description of the camp meeting (not the conference) when on the Sabbath, five of the participants at the conference gave sermons at the camp meeting:

But the Sabbath was the great day of the feast. Beginning in the morning at eight o'clock, five sermons were preached before the services closed in the evning. Bishop Hedding and Dr. Bangs took the two appointments nearest the meridian of the day, and preached with even more than their ordinary freedom and power. At about five in the afternoon the stand was assigned to the Rev. Glezen Fillmore, then in the vigor of mature manhood, now - for he still lives, a blessing to the Church and the world - trembling on the extreme verge of time. The sermon was in his best stule - more carefully prepared and more effectively delivered than were his discourses generally. The latter part of it contemplated the whole process of personal salvation, from its incipiency to its consummation in the world of light."

So, according to the sources, it's not this Bishop M'Kendree who speaks on personal salvation, It is a Reverend Glezen Fillmore

So, it's not this Bishop M'Kendree who speaks on personal salvation, it's not even Benjamin Paddock (who it seems never addressed either the conference or the camp meeting - having only been in the ministry for two years at this point). It is a Reverend Glezen Fillmore, who wasn't feeble or old, but rather was in the prime of his life according to Paddock (he was actually 37 years old at the time), and he was preaching in Rochester in 1826 when he came to the conference.

Nowhere in either account is this man (Bishop M'Kendree) delivering a sermon on personal salvation

On top of all of this, Paddock describes an event at the conference which he calls remarkable:

The sermon was in his best style - more carefully prepared and more effectively delivered than were his discourses generally. The latter part of it contemplated the whole process of personal salvation, from its incipiency to its consummation in the world of light. Having traced the track of the believer, all along from the dawn of spiritual life till he had entered the land of Beulah, and was about to plume himself for his flight to the celestial city, the speaker paused as if struggling with irrepressible emotion, and, looking upward, exclaimed, "O God, hold thy servant together while for a moment he looks through the gates ajar into the New Jerusalem!"

To describe the effect would be quite impossible. A tide of emotion swept over the congregation that seemed to carry all before it. I was seated near Bishop Hedding, who, from fatigue, was reclining upon a bed under and a little to the rear of the stand. It had been noticed before that he was much affected by the sermon; but when the sentence given above was uttered, the tears almost literally spurted from his eyes, and his noble form shook as if under the resistless control of a galvanic battery. The Rev. Goodwin Stoddard exhorted, and invited seekers within the circle of prayer in front of the stand. Hundreds came forward; some said nearly every unconverted person on the ground. In the spring of 1828, when I was pastor in Rochester, the delegates from New England, on their way to the General Conference in Pittsburgh, called and spent the Sabbath with me. Almost the first thing they said after we met was, "Where is that brother that wanted God to hold him together while he looked into heaven a moment?" It seems that the good Bishop had reported the sermon in more circles than one, for others from the east made a similar inquiry.

This is the event for which this Conference with its camp-meeting was best remembered. So, nowhere in either account is this man (Bishop M'Kendree) delivering a sermon on personal salvation. His role in the community has been overstated by Palmer (he hasn't attended the previous seven conference between 1816 and 1826). Yes there are some similarities that can be drawn—but these are nothing but coincidental. Palmer is misrepresenting his sources to make the parallels seem much stronger (trying to make the platform stage of the conference resemble King Benjamin's tower, for example).

And, finally, this would have been more interesting if Joseph Smith had likely been present. But he probably wasn't, and what he would have heard about the conference might have been the remarkable event that Paddock refers to that was talked about for quite some time.


Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize the History of Mexico to produce the Book of Ether?

The timing of its publication makes it impossible for Joseph Smith to have seen even the first volume prior to the submission of the Book of Mormon manuscript to publishers

It is claimed that a 16th century work by Fernando de Alva Ixtilxochitl, History of Mexico, provided source material for Joseph Smith's construction of the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon.

The History of Mexico theory is yet another attempt to fit a secular origin to the Book of Mormon. The timing of its publication makes it impossible for Joseph Smith to have seen even the first volume prior to the submission of the Book of Mormon manuscript to publishers. Moreover, the relevant volume is volume nine, which was published many years after the Book of Mormon. The parallel between History of Mexico and The Book of Mormon, if anything, supports the claim that The Book of Mormon is a genuine historical record, although of course it would be overreaching to conclude that it proves the truth of The Book of Mormon.

Writing of History of Mexico

Fernando de Alva Ixtilxochitl was a Catholic priest of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry. He lived from approximately 1568 to 1647. He wrote several works of history, and is recognized by some historians as being particularly astute, partly because of his mixed ancestry that allowed him access to more knowledgeable people than he otherwise would have been able to learn from.[2] Ixtilxochitl's works are often known under the Spanish titles Obras Historicas or Historica Chichimeca

Parallels between History of Mexico and the Book of Ether

Ixtilxochitl's history includes an account of the origin of the first settlers of Mexico. In the original Spanish, it reads: "Y como despues multiplicandose los hombres hicieron un zacualli muy alto y fuerte, que quiere decir la torre altisima, para guarecerse en el cuando se tornase a destruir el segundo mundo. Al mejor tiempo se les mudaron las lenguas, y no entendiendose unos a otros, se fueron a diversas partes del mundo; y los tultecas, que fueron hasta siete companeros con sus mujeres, que se entendian la lengua, se vinieron a estas partes, habiendo primero pasado grandes tierras y mares, viviendo en las cuevas y pasando grandes trabajos, hasta venir a esta tierra, que la hallaron buena y fertil para su habitacion."[3]

In his 1989 book, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Allen translated the above passage to read as follows: "[After the flood, the people] built a Zacualli very high and strong, which means 'The Very High Tower,' to protect themselves against a second destruction of the world. As time elapsed, their language became confounded, such that they did not understand one another; and they were scattered to all parts of the earth. The Tultecas, consisting of seven men and their wives, were able to understand each other; and they came to this land, having first crossed many lands and waters, living in caves and passing through great trials and tribulations. Upon their arrival here, they discovered that it was a very good and fertile land."[4]

This obviously parallels Ether 1 and LDS teaching, which recount how the Jaredite colony migrated from Babel, at the time of the Tower of Babel as also recorded in Genesis 11:1-9, to a "Promised Land" in the western hemisphere.

Translation of History of Mexico

The first known translation of Ixtilxochitl's history into English was in Edward King, Lord Kingsborough's book Antiquities of Mexico. This was a nine-volume work; the first volume was published in 1830 or 1831 and the ninth was not published until after Lord Kingsborough's death in 1837. Lord Kingsborough put his personal fortune on the line for the publication, which featured luxurious materials and hand-painted illustrations. He over-extended himself and was sent to debtors' prison.[5] The extremely high quality of the printing, and the therefore extremely high price of the volumes, make it incredibly unlikely that Joseph Smith ever saw a copy of this work.

Impossibility of Joseph having used Ixtilxochitl as a source

Critics may give just enough information about History of Mexico--it was published in English in 1830, the same year as the Book of Mormon--to make it seem plausible that Joseph Smith used it as a source text for the Book of Mormon. However, this claim is completely demolished under closer scrutiny.

First, Joseph Smith did not know Spanish, and none of his close associates prior to 1830 were known to know Spanish. So Joseph's access to an English translation is crucial to the critic's argument.

Second, the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, but the handwritten manuscript was finished and submitted to printers the year before, in July 1829. Even if Joseph had somehow obtained a copy of Antiquities of Mexico, hot off the presses in England early in 1830, it would have already been far too late to work any of the knowledge gleaned into the Book of Mormon manuscript in time for printing. First edition Book of Mormons do contain the entire Book of Ether.

Third, Antiquities of Mexico was published in nine volumes, and Ixtilxochitl's writings comprise volume nine,[2] which was not published until 1837 or later.[5]


Question: Did Joseph Smith incorporate his father's dream of the tree of life into the Book of Mormon?

The details of Joseph's father's dream were written long after the Book of Mormon was published

Critics point to similarities between a dream Joseph Smith's father had and Lehi's dream of the tree of life as evidence that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon based on his own experiences. Significantly, none of Joseph's family regarded the similarities as evidence that Joseph Jr. was engaging in a forgery.

The details of the dream were written long after the Book of Mormon was published. Lucy's account is (at the very least) influenced in its verbiage by the Book of Mormon. Either Joseph Sr. had a remarkably similar dream, or Lucy used the material in the Book of Mormon to either bolster her memory, or it unwittingly influenced her memory.

There are three potential explanations for the similarities

  1. Joseph Smith plagiarized Joseph Sr.'s dream when he wrote the Book of Mormon. This is the stance adopted by the critics.
  2. Joseph Sr. had a dream that was similar to the dream experienced by Lehi, and this was a sign to the Prophet's family that he was translating a real record that came from God. This is certainly possible, though it is impossible to prove or disprove by historical techniques, and so will not be elaborated on. It remains, however, a viable option.
  3. Lucy Mack Smith's account of the dream (which she recorded many years after the fact, when the Book of Mormon account was well-known and published) may have influenced how she remembered and/or recorded her account of Joseph Sr's dream.

Details of Joseph Smith, Sr.'s dream of the tree of life

According to Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith, Senior, the father of the Prophet, had the following dream in 1811 when the family was living in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Joseph Smith, Junior, would have been 5 years old at the time.

I thought...I was traveling in an open, desolate field, which appeared to be very barren. As I was thus traveling, the thought suddenly came into my mind that I had better stop and reflect upon what I was doing, before I went any further. So I asked myself, "What motive can I have in traveling here, and what place can this be?" My guide, who was by my side, as before, said, "This is the desolate world; but travel on." The road was so broad and barren that I wondered why I should travel in it; for, said I to myself, "Broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leads to death, and many there be that walk therein; but narrow is the way, and straight is the gate that leads to everlasting' life, and few there be that go in there at."

Traveling a short distance farther, I came to a narrow path. This path I entered, and, when I had traveled a little way in it, I beheld a beautiful stream of water, which ran from the east to the west. Of this stream I could see neither the source nor yet the termination; but as far as my eyes could extend I could see a rope running along the bank of it, about as high as a man could reach, and beyond me was a low, but very pleasant valley, in which stood a tree such as I had never seen before. It was exceedingly handsome, insomuch that I looked upon it with wonder and admiration. Its beautiful branches spread themselves somewhat like an umbrella, and it bore a kind of fruit, in shape much like a chestnut bur, and as white as snow, or, if possible whiter. I gazed upon the same with considerable interest, and as I was doing so the burs or shells commenced opening and shedding their particles, or the fruit which they contained, which was of dazzling whiteness. I drew near and began to eat of it, and I found it delicious beyond description. As I was eating, I said in my heart, "I can not eat this alone, I must bring my wife and children, that they may partake with me." Accordingly, I went and brought my family, which consisted of a wife and seven children, and we all commenced eating, and praising God for this blessing. We were exceedingly happy, insomuch that our joy could not easily be expressed.

While thus engaged, I beheld a spacious building standing opposite the valley which we were in, and it appeared to reach to the very heavens. It was full of doors and windows, and they were filled with people, who were very finely dressed. When these people observed us in the low valley, under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us, and treated us with all manner of disrespect and contempt. But their contumely we utterly disregarded.

I presently turned to my guide, and inquired of him the meaning of the fruit that was so delicious. He told me it was the pure love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of all those who love him, and keep his commandments. He then commanded me to go and bring the rest of my children. I told him that we were all there. "No," he replied, "look yonder, you have two more, and you must bring them also." Upon raising my eyes, I saw two small children, standing some distance off. I immediately went to them, and brought them to the tree; upon which they commenced eating with the rest, and we all rejoiced together. The more we ate, the more we seemed to desire, until we even got down upon our knees, and scooped it up, eating it by double handfuls.

After feasting in this manner a short time, I asked my guide what was the meaning of the spacious building which I saw. He replied, "It is Babylon, it is Babylon, and it must fall. The people in the doors and windows are the inhabitants thereof, who scorn and despise the Saints of God because of their humility."

I soon awoke, clapping my hands together for joy.[6]

There are many obvious connections between this dream and Lehi's vision of the tree of life

There are many obvious connections between this dream and Lehi's vision of the tree of life recorded in 1 Nephi 8:

  • A desolate field representing the world (8:4).
  • A narrow path (8:20).
  • A river of water (8:13).
  • A rope running along the bank of the river (similar in function to the rod of iron in 8:19, 24).
  • A tree with dazzling white fruit (8:10–11).
  • Joseph, Sr. desires that his family should partake of the fruit also (8:12).
  • A spacious building filled with people who are mocking those who eat the fruit (8:26–27).
  • Joseph, Sr. and his family ignore the mocking (8:33).
  • The fruit represents the love of God (11:22).
  • The building represents the world (11:36; 12:18).

The source of the dream is Lucy's manuscript for which she dictated in the winter of 1844–45, 15 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon

The source of the dream is Lucy's manuscript for Joseph Smith, The Prophet And His Progenitors For Many Generations, which she dictated to Martha Jane Coray in the winter of 1844–45. Note the date of Lucy's dictation: more than 15 years after Joseph Smith, Junior, dictated the Book of Mormon.

Dreams are notoriously ephemeral. It is difficult for most people to remember the details of a dream, and those details quickly fade in the first few minutes after awaking.

The amount of detail Lucy records and the second-hand nature and late date of her testimony have led many to the conclusion that Lucy's recollection was strongly influenced by what she read in the Book of Mormon. That is, it is difficult to establish how much Joseph Sr.'s original dream had in common with the Book of Mormon, since the details which we have are only available after the fact, when Lucy's memory would have been affected by what she learned in the more detailed Book of Mormon account (even as it stands, the Book of Mormon account is far more detailed and lengthy than the material from 1844-45).

Thus, it seems plausible that there is a relationship between the Book of Mormon and Lucy's text--but, we cannot know in what direction(s) that influence moved.

Question: Was the content of Alma Chapter 40 derived from a Presbyterian document called The Westminster Confession? Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed?

Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress?

Taken at this level, there isn’t a lot of difference between the story in Pilgrim’s Progress and any of the martyr accounts of the New Testament or the early Christian saints. Jesus’s story could be told in the same way

Did Joseph Smith rely on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress for important elements in the Book of Mormon, In this article, including Lehi's original vision and the story of Abinadi? [7]

It’s easy to reduce stories to this over simplified telling. It’s really easy then to compare them and show how they are exactly alike. Taken at this level, there isn’t a lot of difference between the story in Pilgrim’s Progress and any of the martyr accounts of the New Testament or the early Christian saints. Jesus’s story could be told in the same way – he comes into the city (Jerusalem), raises a stir, is arrested (by the local leader), is questioned (not once but several times) by his henchmen (the Sanhedrin), refuses to speak evil of his abusers, is put on trial (before Pilate), is accused of stirring up contention (he isn’t accused of being mad – I think we would selectively edit that one out, right?), accused of slander (not the town leader in this case – who is Beelzebub the devil – but of that person’s counterpart – God), is scourged, and then killed. He seals his testimony with his blood. Jesus converts many who then depart from the city and follow him, and who enter into a covenant. You see, we have this problem when we get to this level of non-detail.

To say that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t something that I would take very seriously. And from looking at it, this isn't anything other than the parallel hunting that Lindey was so critical of. In reading both books in this way, we get to see the trees but miss the forest. Both have a morality aspect that is completely lost. You would never know from reading this summary that both texts are about Christ and salvation. All of what Bunyan and the author of Mosiah felt were important has been stripped out. And this is very deceptive because we may think in reading Davis that we understand the texts - but what he is describing is nothing at all like what we see when we take the time to look at the sources

The problem with parallels

One of the major problems with using similarity (and parallels) between books as evidence of connection is that it usually doesn’t work very well. The main reason why it is misleading is that we don’t normally compare books in this way (and if we did, we would see those kinds of parallels everywhere). This is the reason why the vast majority of plagiarism lawsuits fail in the courts. It’s very easy to see plagiarism where none exists. We don’t see it a lot these days – but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, plagiarism charges were so rampant, one prominent author advocated for laws that would automatically force those making the charges to pay damages if they could not substantiate their claims legally. Nearly half of all successful plays in the 1920s and 1930s for example were sued at least once for plagiarism. And there was a prominent law firm who had a staff that was devoted to finding potential sources (no matter how obscure) for newly published works or plays and then contacting their authors to see if they would be interested in suing. To deal with this (and to get away from the problems that this approach created), the field of literary criticism went through a stage at the beginning of the twentieth century when it largely rejected this kind of appeal – although it continues to this day. In 1952, one of the first relatively comprehensive discussions about plagiarism was written by a lawyer named Alexander Lindey. He pays some significant attention to this issue, and comes up with a list of 9 “vices” of using parallels to discuss issues of plagiarism (Alexander Lindey, Plagiarism and Originality [Greenwood Press, 1952], 60–61.) Here is that list:

  1. Any method of comparison which lists and underscores similarities and suppresses or minimizes differences is necessarily misleading.
  2. Parallels are too readily susceptible of manipulation. Superficial resemblances may be made to appear as of the essence.
  3. Parallel-hunters do not, as a rule, set out to be truthful and impartial. They are hell-bent on proving a point.
  4. Parallel-hunting is predicated on the use of lowest common denominators. Virtually all literature, even the most original, can be reduced to such terms, and thereby shown to be unoriginal. So viewed, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper plagiarizes Dickens’ David Copperfield. Both deal with England, both describe the slums of London, both see their hero exalted beyond his original station. To regard any two books in this light, however, is to ignore every factor that differentiates one man’s thoughts, reactions and literary expression from another’s.
  5. Parallel columns operate piecemeal. They wrench phrases and passages out of context. A product of the imagination is indivisible. It depends on totality of effect. To remove details from their setting is to falsify them.
  6. Parallels fail to indicate the proportion which the purportedly borrowed material bears to the sum total of the source, or to the whole of the new work. Without such information a just appraisal is impossible.
  7. The practitioners of the technique resort too often to sleight of hand. They employ language, not to record facts or to describe things accurately, but as props in a rhetorical hocus-pocus which, by describing different things in identical words, appears to make them magically alike.
  8. A double-column analysis is a dissection. An autopsy will reveal a great deal about a cadaver, but very little about the spirit of the man who once inhabited it.
  9. Most parallels rest on the assumption that if two successive things are similar, the second one was copied from the first. This assumption disregards all the other possible causes of similarity.

Whatever his vices or virtues, the parallel-hunter is a hardy species. He is destined, as someone had said, to persist until Judgment Day, when he will doubtless find resemblances in the very warrant that consigns him to the nether regions. “

The William Davis piece on the internet was actually a teaser for a book that he suggests he was planning on writing. Here are the two paragraphs:

“In Pilgrim’s Progress, Faithful and Christian journey to the wicked city of Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial Kingdom. As the pilgrims enter the city, their presence causes a disturbance among the citizens, and the travel companions are 1) bound and thrown into prison. A town leader 2) assembles a group of associates to examine the pilgrims, and the prisoners 3) are “brought before” the town leaders and put on trial. They accuse Faithful 4) of being a “madman,” 5) of stirring up contention among the people, and 6) of slandering the town leaders. Faithful 7) speaks “boldly” in his defense, but to no avail. The trial leader 8) condemns Faithful to be “slain” and “put to […] death.” Faithful is then 9) “scourged,” and finally 10) burned at the stake. Thus, Faithful 11) “seals” his “testimony” with his “blood.” Faithful’s teachings and martyrdom 12) convert a witness, Hopeful, who becomes a major character in the story. 13) Other converts follow and depart from the city, 14) “entering into” a “covenant” to follow Christ.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi enters the now-wicked city of Lehi-Nephi and begins preaching to the people. His presence causes a great disturbance among the citizens, and Abinadi is 1) bound and thrown into prison. The leader of the city, King Noah, 2) assembles a group of false priests to examine Abinadi, and he 3) is “brought before” the leaders and put on trial. They accuse Abinadi 4) of being “mad,” 5) of stirring up contention among the people, and 6) of slandering the town leaders. Abinadi 7) speaks “boldly” in his defense, but to no avail. King Noah 8) condemns Abinadi to be “slain” and “put to death.” Abinadi is then 9) “scourged,” and finally 10) burned at the stake. Thus, Abinadi 11) “seals” his “testimony” with his “blood.” Abinadi’s teachings and martyrdom 12) convert a witness, Alma, who becomes a main character in the story. 13) Other converts follow and depart from the city, 14) “entering into” a “covenant” to follow Christ.”

We can see the list of 14 parallels. So let’s get started. I am using for my comparison an 1820 edition available here:

The link is provided more as a reference, so that I can use page numbers and you can look up the text that I quote (something Davis avoids doing – for reasons we will see). First though, I want to discuss a little of the introduction to the parallels. And as a quick side note, parallels themselves are only part of the story. You have to examine the differences. And you have to understand how these bits and pieces are used in the larger context in which they occur.

“In Pilgrim’s Progress, Faithful and Christian journey to the wicked city of Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial Kingdom.”

The first challenge is this description. In Pilgrim’s Progress, we don’t have a “Celestial Kingdom”. What we do have is the very common notion of the “Celestial City” (p. 33 is where we first see it). This is an example of vice number 7. While the Celestial Kingdom isn’t mentioned in the Book of Mormon either (and certainly not in connection with Abinadi), it’s use here is to try and provide us with an interpretation that connects Joseph Smith to Bunyan’s work. If you do a search on books.google.com for “celestial city” (using the quote marks), and then set up a date limitation to only include books published prior to the Book of Mormon (I used 1/1/1830 for the end date – you can do this by using the search tools option and choosing a custom date), we find hundreds of examples of books talking about a “celestial city”. Many of them come back to Bunyan, but we also have Keyssler’s Travels (1757), Contemplations of the State of Man in this Life, And in Taht which is to come (1718), The Works of the Most Illustrious and Pious Armand de Bourbon Prince of Conti with A short Account of his Life (1711), A Vision of Judgement (1821), A Complete Christian Dictionary (1661), The Philosphical Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion (1749 - part 2), and many, many more.

https://www.google.com/search?q=%22celestial+city%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CUv9UIDhFomuqQGGjICoCg&ved=0CCcQpwUoBA&source=lnt&tbs=cdr%3A1%2Ccd_min%3A1%2F1%2F1000%2Ccd_max%3A1%2F1%2F1830&tbm=bks

Why the list? The issue is that “celestial city” isn’t terribly unusual in a text. There isn’t anything in that phrase that would point us to the idea of the Celestial Kingdom (which, we are quite confident, Joseph Smith derives from Paul in the New Testament). And yet, we have, as Lindey put it, this “sleight of hand”. Davis isn’t interested in recording “facts or to describe things accurately, but as props in a rhetorical hocus-pocus which, by describing different things in identical words, appears to make them magically alike.” And here, he wants us to see the “Celestial kingdom” of Mormon theology as stemming from Bunyan’s work. The only reason to include a phrase like this, which isn't found in either text (it isn't in the Book of Mormon either) is to create a hook for LDS members who use that term regularly.

As another side note, it’s pretty clear to us as readers that Bunyan's text is a parable. The entire sequence is described as a dream. And Christian and Faithful and even the city name Vanity Fair as well as the Celestial City are all names that are meant to be plays on words. But it doesn’t stop there. We successively encounter the following characters and places Evangelist, Obstinate, City of Destruction, Pliable, Slough of Despond, Worldly-wiseman, Carnal-policy, Legality, Morality, Good-will, Beelzebub, Deliverance, Interpreter, Passion, Patience, Simple, Sloth, Presumption, and so on. (We don't actually meet Faithful until page 74). At any rate, you get the idea.

So, it’s kind of hard to describe where the parallels are coming from. Without lots of space (literally quoting the whole thing), you don’t get the full impact of what is happening. You can look through the link I give above for the whole context. But I am going to give it a go.

Parallel 1

  • Bunyan: As the pilgrims enter the city, their presence causes a disturbance among the citizens, and the travel companions are 1) bound and thrown into prison.
  • Abinadi: In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi enters the now-wicked city of Lehi-Nephi and begins preaching to the people. His presence causes a great disturbance among the citizens, and Abinadi is 1) bound and thrown into prison.

The Bunyan text he is referring to begins at around page 102. It ends at about page 115. While they enter into the town on page 102, they aren’t imprisoned until page 107, and when they are, they are placed in a cage (although we do have a reference to prison on page 115 – just before Christian leaves Vanity Fair). To try and capture the essence of what is going on, I am going to summarize the parallels (with page references and such) to show the major differences here. The primary text from the Book of Mormon is in the Book of Mosiah Chapters 11-17.

First, while Christian and Faithful are from another place and traveling through Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial city, Abinadi is a local boy. This plays out in a couple of ways in the separate texts. First, Abinadi never leaves his city. He is originally one of them (Mosiah 11:20 – “And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying …” On the other hand, from page 104-5, we get this description of Christian and Faithful and their reasons for being in the city, and the reasons (which Bunyan lists) for the attention that they receive:

“Now these pilgrims, as I said, must needs go through this fair: well, so they did; but behold, even as they entered into the fair, all the people in the fair were moved, and the town itself as it were in a hubbub about them; and that for several reasons. For –

First, the pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair made a great gazing upon them: some said they were fools; some they were lunatics; and some they are outlandish men.

Secondly: and as they wondered at their apparel, so they did likewise at their speech; for few could understand what they said. They naturally spoke the language of Canaan; but they that kept the fair were the men of this world: so that from one end of the fair to the other, they seemed barbarians each to the other. … [omitted scripture quoted from 1 Cor. 2:7-8] Thirdly: but that which did not a little amuse the merchandisers was, that these pilgrims set very light by all their wares – they cared not so much as to look upon them; and if they called upon them to buy, they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity;" and look upwards, signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven.”

I’ll get back to this passage in a minute. But, it’s clear from Bunyan’s text that they are strangers to this town, and just passing through. Now, perhaps part of Davis’s confusion comes in Mosiah 12. At the end of Mosiah 11, the King has announced that Abinadi needs to go to prison. And so Abinadi goes into hiding. And in Chapter 12, we read this (vs. 1): “And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, …” In his reading, Davis has confused this with the idea that Abinadi “enters the now-wicked city of Nephi-Lehi”. Abinadi lived there, presumably (since we aren’t told otherwise) his entire life. He dies there shortly. He isn’t entering the city in any way at all like Bunyan’s pilgrims. And while the fuss that is raised by Bunyan’s pilgrims is entirely related to their nature as a foreigners, the disturbance Abinadi raises comes for entirely different reasons (vss. 2-17). Abinadi delivers a prophecy he claims is from God in which he predicts the destruction of the people of Nephi-Lehi if they do not repent. Here are a couple of highlights (vss 8-10, 12-13, 17):

“And it shall come to pass that except they repent I [God] will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth; yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them for other nations which shall possess the land; yea, even this will I do that I may discover the abominations of this people to other nations. And many things did Abinadi prophesy against this people. And it came to pass that they were angry with him; and they took him and carried him bound before the king, and said unto the king: Behold, we have brought a man before thee who has prophesied evil concerning thy people, and saith that God will destroy them. And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire. … And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. And he saith all this shall come upon thee except thou repent, and this because of thine iniquities. And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be acondemned of God or judged of this man? … And it came to pass that king Noah caused that Abinadi should be cast into prison; and he commanded that the priests should gather themselves together that he might hold a council with them what he should do with him.”

Finally, we have in the bit I just quoted the statement where Abinadi is cast into prison. In Bunyan’s text it is a bit different. This is from pp. 106-7:

“Now was word presently brought to the great one of the fair, who quickly came down, and deputed some of his most trusty friends to take these men into examination, about whom the fair was almost overturned. So the men were brought to examination: and they that sat upon them, asked them whence they came; whither they went; and what they did there in such an unusual garb?

The men told them that they were pilgrims and strangers in the world; and that they were going to their own country, which was the heavenly Jerusalem ; … and that they had given none occasion to the men of the town, nor yet to the merchandisers, thus to abuse them, and to let them in their journey. Except it was, for that when one asked them what they would buy, they said they would buy the truth. But they that were appointed to examine them did not believe them to be any other than lunatics and mad, or else such as came to put all things into a confusion in the fair. Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt; and then put them into the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair. There, therefore, they lay for some time, and were made the objects of any man's sport, or malice, or revenge; the great one of the fair laughing still at all that befell them.”

Now, this isn’t a prison in the sort of sense that we see in the Mosiah text. It isn’t even called a prison. It is a cage – much like we might expect to see at a “Fair”. They are placed in there to become a side show – a spectacle like the bearded woman, or the two faced man, or a pair of conjoined twins. The freaks of the fair.

So, yes, both the pilgrims and Abinadi raise a commotion among the people, and they are all imprisoned per se. But they are very different commotions, for very different reasons, and very different sorts of prisons. And we see in this parallel Lindey’s vices 2, 5 and 7. What is clearly a secondary part of both stories (secondary because it doesn’t even occur in the one text and in the other it has little to do with the underlying morality tale we are reading – it is instead more of a mechanic of moving the story forward) – the entrance into the city becomes highlighted as being significant and important (and yet people have to come into cities where they have never been – and we have numerous such stories – more on that in a minute). And the pages of narrative describing on the one hand the reactions of the people of Vanity Fair to these outlandish strangers with their hard to understand language and their strange clothing, and even more distressing their unwillingness to shop and spend their money, and on the other the pages of prophecy on the part of Abinadi talking to his neighbors is reduced to a great disturbance and nothing more. The entire point of both narratives is hidden in the comparison.

In addition, I think that there is another story that we ought to consider, on which at least part of Bunyan’s story is based. Jesus, entering Jerusalem. This allusion is worked carefully into the text. Note the reference that Christian gives to their final destination – the heavenly Jerusalem. He creates un uproar in the community. And they imprison him.

Parallel 2

  • Bunyan: A town leader 2) assembles a group of associates to examine the pilgrims,
  • Abinadi: The leader of the city, King Noah, 2) assembles a group of false priests to examine Abinadi,

This one is a bit shorter in terms of the text. The one major concern we have is that we are now getting these parallels out of order. In Bunyan, the examination occurs before the imprisonment. For Abinadi, its after.

From the texts:

  • Bunyan (p. 107): “Now was word presently brought to the great one of the fair, who quickly came down, and deputed some of his most trusty friends to take these men into examination”
  • Abinadi (vss 17-18): “and he commanded that the priests should gather themselves together that he might hold a council with them what he should do with him. And it came to pass that they said unto the king: Bring him hither that we may question him; and the king commanded that he should be brought before them.”

This is pretty straight forward. Other than using the language from Bunyan to describe what is going on for Abinadi (to reinforce an interpretation of the parallel), there isn’t much to see here. If you are going to have a trial of sorts (and there are several in both larger texts) then you have to have some sort of cross examination. Consider also, to continue my example, that we have Jesus being brought before the Jewish High Priest for his examination (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanhedrin_trial_of_Jesus ).

Parallel 3

  • Bunyan: and the prisoners 3) are “brought before” the town leaders and put on trial.
  • Abinadi: and he 3) is “brought before” the leaders and put on trial.

I like how we finally get some actual quotes here. It makes it easy to bring up the exact context, right? But now we see a real problem. We don’t see the phrase in the bit from Bunyan that I quoted above. What happens instead is that during the period of time while Faithful and Christian are hanging out (pun intended) in the cage for everyone to watch and abuse, a fight starts between two groups of spectators. One group believes that what is happening is inappropriate and the other group who wants the spectacle to continue. Bunyan describes it like this (p. 107):

“But the men being patient, and not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing, and giving good words for bad, and kindness for injuries done, some men in the fair that were more observing and less prejudiced than the rest, began to check and blame the baser sort for their continual abuses done by them to the men. They, therefore, in angry manner, let fly at them again: counting them as bad as the men in the cage, and telling them that they seemed confederates, and should be made partakers of their misfortunes. The other replied, that for aught they could see, the men were quiet and sober, and intended nobody any harm; and that there were many that traded in their fair that were more worthy to be put into the cage, yea, and pillory too, than were the men that they had abused. Thus after divers words had passed on both sides – the men behaving themselves all the while very wisely and soberly before them, – they fell to some blows among themselves, and did harm one to another.

Then were these two poor men brought before their examiners again, and there charged as being guilty of the late hubbub that had been in the fair. So they beat them pitifully, and hanged irons upon them, and led them in chains up and down the fair for an example and a terror to others, lest any should further speak in their behalf, or join themselves unto them.”

We can see the part Davis is quoting here – not from the examination he just referred to, but from a second examination – this time to question their being the cause of the fighting that had broken out (although, as the narrator tells us – the man who is having this dream – the real purpose is to make the dissenters afraid of the “the great one of the Fair” – elsewhere identified as Beelzebub).

So, perhaps most visibly we see in this parallel vices number 5 and 6. This gets wrenched out of context. And while the Abinadi material seems to be relatively connected. The material in Bunyan is really jumping around. Not only do we reduce the Bunyan account to more generic descriptions to make the comparison work better, we have to chop out whole sections of it to make it fit more closely together. Moving on.

Parallel 4

  • They accuse Faithful 4) of being a “madman,”
  • They accuse Abinadi 4) of being “mad,”

The first time we encounter the charge of madness in Bunyan’s text comes early on. And it’s about the clothes he is wearing (I already quoted this above):

“First, the pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair made a great gazing upon them: some said they were fools; some they were lunatics; and some they are outlandish men.”

Later, in the first examination we read:

“But they that were appointed to examine them did not believe them to be any other than lunatics and mad, or else such as came to put all things into a confusion in the fair.”

The real problem is that the word “madman” doesn’t occur in the Bunyan text. It simply isn’t there. (You can do the search yourself on the google books website). And they aren’t referred to as being mad in the second examination so again, we have this pulled out of order and out of context in the comparison. Abinadi on the other hand refutes his questioners (Mosiah Chapter 12), and faced with his refutation, the king (and not his examiners) decides to end his life (Mosiah 13:1):

“And now when the king had heard these words, he said unto his priests: Away with this fellow, and slay him; for what have we to do with him, for he is mad.”

So, yes, both are accused of being mad (although for very different reasons), and Bunyan’s account isn’t really much of a parallel beyond this simple statement.

Now, I don’t have the space or the time to go through the next 10 more sets of parallels. But I thought one would be interesting, and that is parallel 11:

  • Bunyan: Thus, Faithful 11) “seals” his “testimony” with his “blood.” Faithful’s teachings and martyrdom
  • Abinadi: Thus, Abinadi 11) “seals” his “testimony” with his “blood.” Abinadi’s teachings and martyrdom

Since Davis uses quote marks, I think it’s kind of fun to put it back into context. Prior to the entire narrative – before they even get to the city (page 102), Faithful and Christian encounter again the Evangelist. They are told this:

“My sons, you have heard in the words of the truth of the Gospel, that you must "through many tribulations enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." And again, that in every city bonds and afflictions abide on you; and therefore you cannot expect that you should go long on your pilgrimage without them, in some sort or other. You have found something of the truth of these testimonies upon you already, and more will immediately follow; for now, as you see, you are almost out of this wilderness, and therefore you will soon come into a town that you will by and by see before you; and in that town you will be hardly beset with enemies, who will strain hard but they will kill you. And be you sure that one or both of you must seal the testimony which you hold with blood; but be you faithful unto death, and the King will give you a crown of life.”

From Mosiah 17:10 we read this:

“Yea, and I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day.”

So there we have “testimony” and “blood” – where is the “seals”? That comes in verse 20.

Notes

  1. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 96-97. ( Index of claims )
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Mexico, Volume IX. (San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Company, 1883), 139-140.
  3. Fernando Alva de Ixtilxochit,Obras historicas, 12.
  4. Joseph L. Allen, and Blake J. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, (Orem, UT: S.A. Publishers, 1989), 62.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Edward King, Viscount Kingsborough, wikipedia retrieved March 30, 2011
  6. Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith, The Prophet And His Progenitors For Many Generations, chapter 14
  7. William L. Davis, "Who really wrote the Book of Mormon?,Salon (31 October 2012). http://www.salon.com/2012/10/31/who_really_wrote_the_book_of_mormon/