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Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize passages from Gilbert Hunt's book ''The Late War, between the United States and Great Britain, from June, 1812, to February, 1815''?
Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize passages from Gilbert Hunt's book The Late War, between the United States and Great Britain, from June, 1812, to February, 1815?
An assumption is being made that Joseph Smith must have read Gilbert Hunt's The Late War in the absence of any evidence to support it
Chris Johnson, Duane Johnson, in "A Comparison of The Book of Mormon and The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain,"propose a number of parallel sentence structures between Gilbert Hunt's book The Late War and the Book of Mormon. The authors conclude that Joseph Smith read Hunt's book while in school (without any actual evidence that Joseph ever actually saw the book). They base this conclusion upon the assumption that the book was widely available, and therefore Joseph must have read it. Hence, they conclude that Joseph constructed the Book of Mormon by using structural elements of The Late War. The evidence is presented as a series of comparisons between the Book of Mormon and The Late War.
Seventy-five of the parallels identified as significant between the two texts came from the Copyright statements of the two books
Seventy-five of the parallels identified as significant between the two texts came from the Copyright statement. Why? Because the copyright statement was a fill-in-the-blank form. It had a certain set of language that was standardized for the period. So books copyrighted in the same general area at the same general time, such at The Late War and the Book of Mormon, would have nearly identical copyright statements. And this study found 75 parallels between the two. This shouldn't surprise us, because of course, both books had copyright statements that were reliant on a common source. And we can see from this dense material that there is a relationship between the two. But anyone who actually looks at the texts will also see that this has nothing to do with what might be termed the creative content in each work.
Most of the similarities occur simply because both The Late War and the Book of Mormon use the language of the King James Bible
Most of the similarities occur because they both use the language of the King James Bible. For both, the language choice seems like a stylistic decision (and not determined by the content). And in fact, the Book of Mormon quotes from Isaiah a couple of dozen chapters. This creates a relationship between the Bible and both of these books. The computer model doesn't have a way of separating style or word choice from content and meaning (and both texts can use the same phrase in different ways). We have to read it to realize that while one is simply copying the Bible (mining it for phrases), the other is creating theological discussion by taking a passage and expanding on it. 2 Nephi 2 quotes from Genesis about Adam and Eve, and then goes from there to provide commentary and discussion about the theology involved. The Late War may use the language or even quote from the Old Testament, but it never goes through commentary and theological discussion. That isn't its purpose. Sometimes the same passages get used. The Late War makes references to a specific battle and describes it as a David versus Goliath encounter. The Book of Mormon uses the David and Goliath narrative in an allusion to the Old Testament. They are very, very different ways of using the Old Testament text - even if on the surface, they use the same bit of material. All of this is important because if The Late War served as a model, or lent its language, we would expect perhaps to see other things influenced by it as well. And, we don't. But the computer model isn't capable of judging the quality of the parallels being offered.
The authors of the study present us these lists of similarities. In presenting this list, we get presented with a fallacy that is called the Texas Marksman (or the Texas Bulls Eye). Essentially, the way the reference works is that you shoot a bunch of rounds into the side of your barn, and then you go up to the holes and paint your target around them (giving you the best and tightest clustering). Usually, the way these models work in accepted applications is that you start by testing the model in situations where you already know the outcome. That way, you can see how reliable your new model is. And if it is highly reliable in known cases, then you can start cautiously applying it to unknown models (you don't create your own target this way).
By intuiting that it must be right, this model used with The Late War simply skipped the testing part. But this created one of the biggest obvious problems with the theory. They didn't stop with the Book of Mormon. They ran a test on a Jane Austin novel, and found a source (a relatively unknown book from 1810). Why is this important? Austin was a prolific writer, sending thousands of letters during her lifetime detailing what she was reading, her influences, writing about her writing, and so on. We have a huge body of literature devoted to dealing with her writing (she was one of the most important writers of the period). So when you have a statistical model that produces a brand new source, not noticed by anyone previously, not mentioned in any of her letters, and so on - there ought to be a bit of a red flag raised. But there wasn't. Had this theory been introduced to academic literary theorists - this would have been the major point of dispute (since they don't really care about the Book of Mormon).
Furthermore, the methodology employed by the Johnson's itself has been criticized by experts in the field. Consider the thoughts of Harold Love on the work of Donald W. Foster, who argued for the authorship of Shakespeare of an unattributed poem from 1612 using "a trawling of the vast electronic databases now available in search of phrasal parallels and rare vocabulary":
- "Instead of using the mathematics of probability to compare frequencies of stylistic usage, the new attributionists look on the widest of available scales for characteristic words and word clusters, which are assumed either to be conscious recollections of earlier texts (including those of the same author) or subconscious examples of authorial idiolect." ("Attributing Authorship" p. 149)
Love further critiqued the methodology, saying:
- "considered as a method for establishing attributions for older texts, it runs all the dangers that Greg and Schoenbaum identified with the ‘parallelographic school’ of the early twentieth century. Chief among these is knowing when a similarity in expression actually constitutes a parallel close enough to be enrolled as evidence for derivation or common authorship" ("Attributing Authorship" p. 148).
And also noted:
- "What I will call as a convenient shorthand the ‘memory mechanism’ approach, with all its promise, offers no formal method of verification, but relies on the inherent plausibility or implausibility of the patterns presented." ("Attributing Authorship" p. 151)
Did this model that the Johnson's used really find a previously unknown and unidentified source of Jane Austin's work? Or did it simply create the illusion of doing this by painting a bulls eye after clustering its data? Scholarly analysis places confidence in the latter position (as a side note, discovering a new source for Jane Austin would be a thesis-significant sort of discovery). The paper the Johnsons wrote was submitted to Dialogue (who are usually sympathetic, given the purpose of the journal, to these types of claims and theories) yet they rejected the proposal. All indications would tell us that the methodology used to establish connections between The Late War and and the Book of Mormon is dubious and the supposed parallels of the same caliber.
- Online at http://wordtreefoundation.github.io/thelatewar/.
- Harold Love, Attributing Authorship: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) 147.