Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Apocrypha

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The Book of Mormon and the Apocrypha

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith created the story of Nephi and Laban by plagiarizing concepts and phrases from the story of Judith and Holofernes in the Apocrypha. It is also claimed that Joseph Smith copied the name "Nephi" from the Apocrypha.

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Question: Did Joseph Smith create the story of Nephi and Laban by plagiarizing concepts and phrases from the story of Judith and Holofernes in the Apocrypha?

Oliver Cowdery purchased a Bible containing the Apocrypha in October 1829, after the Book of Mormon was already at press

In order to support these claims, it would have been necessary for Joseph to have obtained a Bible containing the Apocrypha during the period of translation. It is known that Oliver Cowdery purchased a Bible in October 1829, however, the Book of Mormon was already at press by this time, with the copyright being registered on 11 June 1829.[1] We do know that Joseph had a Bible containing the Apocrypha in 1833 during the time he produced the "Joseph Smith Translation." Doctrine and Covenants Section 91 was given to Joseph specifically in response to his question as to whether or not he ought to revise the Apocrypha.

The story of Judith and Holofernes and the story of Nephi and Laban actually have more dissimilarities than parallels

The two stories actually have more dissimilarities than parallels, with the similarities being very superficial.[2]

The story of Nephi and Laban The story of Judith and Holofernes
Laban resides in Jerusalem and has possession of the brass plates. Holofernes is sent by King Nebuchadnezzar to conquer the rebellious Jews. The city of Bethulia is under siege by the Assyrians.
Nephi tells his father that he will return to Jerusalem to obtain the Brass plates of Laban. Judith, a Jewish resident of the city of Bethulia, tells the people that she will deliver them from their oppressors.
Nephi enters Jerusalem under cover of darkness. He does not intend to kill Laban. Judith enters the camp of the Assyrians with the intent to kill Holofernes.
Nephi finds Laban drunk and lying in the street. Nephi resists the idea of killing Laban even after he is told to do so. Judith impresses Holofernes with her charms and gets him drunk. He passes out on his bed.
Nephi holds up Laban’s head by the hair and cuts if off with his own sword. Judith holds up Holofernes’ head by the hair and cuts it off with his own sword.
Nephi leaves Laban lying in the street, but takes and puts on his armor and sword. Judith takes Holofernes’ head with her back to the city to prove what she has done.
Nephi obtains the records from Laban’s house and leaves the city. The Jews, upon learning of the death of Holofernes, leave the city and plunder the Assyrians camp.

The relationship between the story of Laban and the story of Judith is superficial at best. It has even been pointed out by LDS scholars that if one were to look for potential parallels with the story of Nephi and Laban, that the story of David and Goliath would be a much better fit than the story of Judith.[3]


Question: Did Joseph Smith copy the name "Nephi" from the Apocrypha?

The name “Nephi” may be derived from the names “Nfr” (meaning “good”) or “Nfw,” (meaning “captain”), which are both attested Egyptian names appropriate to the time and place in which Nephi existed

It is certainly possible that Joseph may have encountered the name Nephi as a place name in the King James translation of the Apocrypha (2 Maccabees), however, the Book of Mormon also includes many names that are present in the King James Bible itself. The inclusion of one additional name in this list does not make a significant difference in accusations that Joseph acquired names in the Book of Mormon from other sources. With regard to the name “Nephi,” the important question that must be considered is whether the name “Nephi” is an appropriate name for the time and place to which it is attributed in the Book of Mormon?[4]

Nephi acknowledges an Egyptian connection when he states, “Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” 1 Nephi 1:2

The name “Nephi” may be derived from the names “Nfr” (meaning “good”) or “Nfw,” (meaning “captain”), which are both attested Egyptian names appropriate to the time and place in which Nephi existed.[5] Therefore, the inclusion of the name "Nephi" in the Book of Mormon in the timeframe of 600 B.C. does not constitute an anachronism.

The presence of the name "Nephi" is appropriate for the time and place described by the Book of Mormon. Existing evidence indicates that an Apocrypha was not even available to Joseph Smith at the time that he was translating the Book of Mormon. If anything, the presence of the name "Nephi" in the Apocrypha further validates it as an authentic name in the Book of Mormon.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 326–372. off-site
  2. James B. Allen, "Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant Palmer (Review of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 235–286. off-site
  3. John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 326–372. off-site
  4. John Gee "Four Suggestions on the Origin of the Name Nephi” from Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon.
  5. John Gee "Four Suggestions on the Origin of the Name Nephi” from Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon.