Sunday, March 9, 2014

Remarkable Evidence

     One anti-Mormon argument, upon investigation, turns into remarkable evidence of Joseph Smith's authenticity as translator. The anti-Mormon argument deals with the frequency with which the interchangeable words “wherefore” and “therefore” occur in the Book of Mormon.[1] The books of Ether, Moroni, 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni and Words of Mormon display a strong preference for the word “wherefore,” while the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, 4 Nephi and Mormon display a strong preference for the word “therefore.”

Here are the books, in the most likely order of translation:




Wherefore


Therefore
Mosiah

1
1%

123
99%
Alma

3
1%

291
99%
Helaman

0
0%

63
100%
3 Nephi

3
3%

97
97%
4 Nephi

0
0%

5
100%
Mormon

0
0%

22
100%
Ether

63
70%

24
30%
Moroni

38
100%

0
0%
1 Nephi

97
88%

13
12%
2 Nephi

137
83%

28
17%
Jacob

52
98%

1
2%
Enos

6
100%

0
0%
Jarom

3
100%

0
0%
Omni

6
100%

0
0%
Words of Mormon
4
100%

0
0%

     Critics cite this as evidence against Joseph’s claim to have translated the Book of Mormon, saying it shows evidence of multiple English authors.
     I can understand why it would look that way. I don’t expect to see sudden shifts in people’s use of words. It’s not as though Joseph suddenly discovered the word “wherefore” and decided to start using it.
     But let’s look deeper, for hidden evidence.
     The argument against Joseph implies that the shift in wording began at the very beginning of the Book of Ether. This creates the illusion that the shift corresponds with a new book starting, and not with the substance of anything being said in the text.
     In reality, the first few chapters of Ether show a preference for the word “therefore.” The shift doesn’t happen until after some very significant verses at the end of chapter 4 and through chapter 5.
     To understand the significance of these verses, let’s back up for a moment and treat Joseph’s story of the plates as objectively true. The reason for doing this is to help us ascertain the implications of his story if it is indeed true.
    Joseph says he was introduced to the Book of Mormon by Moroni, who had lived on the earth hundreds of years ago. It was Moroni who instructed Joseph in the specifics regarding the work he was to perform. Before Joseph ever began translation of the plates, he went through a process of preparation which we don’t know much about. Moroni was Joseph’s friend and mentor.
     Now imagine when Joseph was translating and reached Mormon chapter 8 and finally began the part written by his mentor. If I was in Joseph’s shoes, I would have thought that was pretty neat. But it gets even more significant, because Moroni was writing directly to us in our day. He wasn’t keeping a record to be handed down, he was writing something to be hid away and saved for us.
     Now consider Ether 4:17-18, which is a message from God being quoted by Moroni from memory. These verses state that because we have received the record we may know the work of the Lord has commenced in our day and we are thus commanded to repent and be baptized. Unlike the previous times when baptism was mentioned in the Book of Mormon, this is not merely a record of other people in a past age being commanded to be baptized, but is a commandment being issued directly to us in our day.
     If there was any doubt in Joseph’s mind that this commandment was being issued to him, that doubt should have been wiped away by the time he finished the next few verses. In them, Moroni speaks directly to Joseph himself about what he can translate and who he can show the plates to.
     Prior to the commandment to be baptized, Ether contains 13 instances of the word “therefore” and 7 instances of the word “wherefore.” After the commandment, Ether contains only 11 instances of “therefore” but has 54 instances of “wherefore.”
     Now consider the words of Joseph’s mother:

     One morning … they sat down to their usual work when the first thing that presented itself to Joseph was a commandment from God that he and Oliver should repair to the water and each of them be baptized.

(From The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, Chapter 27)

     The only verse in the Book of Mormon which directly fits this description is Ether 4:18, and that fits the timeline of where Joseph would have been in translation at the time of his baptism.[2]
     Now consider the impact Joseph says his baptism had on him:

     Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings … Our minds now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.

(From Joseph Smith History, 1:73-74)

     Joseph explains his eyes were opened. He had a new reverence and understanding.
     Note how Joseph speaks not only of meaning but also of intention. It was Joseph’s job as translator to convey both meaning and intention.
     If the intention behind the words is love and compassion, not condemnation but a desire to gently guide others to happiness, is that intention best conveyed using harsh sounding words or softer sounding words?
     Poets understand that sound plays an important role in how a message is perceived. Even comedians understand this, not to mention musicians (the same words set to different music conveys different intention).
     The fact is, “wherefore” and “therefore” sound different. The “wh” in wherefore sounds like an exhale, which is naturally peaceful. In contrast, “th” creates a thud sound when released. It even begins the word “thud,” whereas “wh” begins the word “whisper.”
     Thus we see that the shift from “therefore” to “wherefore” is not at all problematic for the Book of Mormon, and actually lends powerful credibility to Joseph’s story. Especially since the evidence was hidden and obviously not intended as subterfuge.



[1]    There are two instances in the Book of Mormon where “wherefore” is used to pose a question. Other than those instances, the words are interchangeable in meaning.
[2]    Elden Watson constructed a thorough timeline, in which he readily admits he wanted Joseph’s baptism to correspond with a verse in 3 Nephi after Christ visited America – thus Watson adjusted the estimated number of pages translated per day in order to make that fit. Removing Watsons’ adjustment places Joseph in Ether. Watson's timeline is available on the internet at eldenwatson.net/BoM.htm

8 comments:

  1. I would add that the materials written by Mormon heavily rely on Therefores and the material written by someone else favors Wherefores.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point! It's definitely worth thinking about and being open-minded about. The only problem I see right now is that the shift happens in Ether, but Mormon didn't write any of Ether. Also, Mormon wrote all of "Words of Mormon," but it has four instances of "wherefore" and no instances of "therefore." What are your thoughts?

      Delete
  2. Hey Ryan,

    Remember me? Hope you don't mind a question. In the beginning of the article you indicate this change in word usage is remarkable evidence of Joseph Smith's authenticity as translator. Could you explain how this is evidence for this authenticity?

    Thanks!
    Zack Tacorin

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ryan,

    To clarify my question above--you seem to assume that because the switch in word usage took place in the middle of Ether, that it is evidence for an authentic translation. Why would this be the case? Is there some justification to assume that multiple 19th century authors could not switch who was writing in the middle of Ether? Or, why couldn't a single 19th century author have done the same thing unconnected to any translation process?

    Again, thanks!
    Zack Tacorin

    ReplyDelete
  4. And yet another question. I had never heard that the likely order of translation of the books in the Book of Mormon did not match the order in which they appear within the book. Do you have a reference for this to help me understand this better?

    Thanks!
    Zack Tacorin

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Zack, yes of course I remember you. Sorry that I've been rather absent - sort of taking a break, you might say.

    Don't worry, I do not "assume that because the switch in word usage took place in the middle of Ether, that it is evidence for an authentic translation."

    I suspect you might have skimmed the post rather than reading it in-depth? If you go back through and read it over, you will see that I'm arguing the change takes place at the same time that Joseph Smith's understanding of scriptural meaning expanded dramatically. The change in word usage is thus very good evidence that Joseph Smith did experience a real change at that time, which in turn is evidence that his story is authentic. This is especially true since the change in word usage is so subtle that we can discount subterfuge. And the coincidence in timing is so exact that it just matches perfectly.

    As far as the order of translation, Eldon Watson constructed an approximate timeline which lines up pretty well (although he admits forcing Joseph's baptism to coincide with a verse in 3 Nephi). The idea is that after the 116 pages were lost, Joseph continued translating where he left off and then went back at the end and translated the small plates in place of what had been lost.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Welcome back Ryan,

    So why is this remarkable evidence for the authenticity of Joseph's story and not evidence for a switch in 19th century authors or a vocabulary switch (consciously or not) of a single 19th century author? You mentioned that it is a subtle switch, but why couldn't a switch between 19th century authors or a vocabulary switch of a single 19th century author be subtle?

    Eldon Watson's translation time line seems very speculative at best, often explaining "it seems likely" or "it is unlikely." And, as you point out, he admits the time line is "forced" at least to some extent. I take it there is no written account to attest to the order of translation? But even if the time line is accurate, and you're supposition about a change of understanding is correct, aren't you left with only a potential correlation based on very few data points? How does this add up to remarkable evidence?

    Thanks for your attention to this!
    Zack Tacorin

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Ryan,

    Another question just occurred to me. You seem to be suggesting a "loose" translation model for the Book of Mormon translation process in that you see a relationship between a change in Joseph's understanding and a shift in vocabulary. How do you see that fitting with the teaching by Elder Russell M. Nelson that Joseph translated by reading the English interpretation that appeared to him as he looked at his seer stone? (See the Ensign article "A Treasured Testament" at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1993/07/a-treasured-testament?lang=eng)

    Thanks again!
    Zack Tacorin

    ReplyDelete