The Book of Mormon and the Late War: Direct Literary Dependence?

The rediscovery of the Late War by Gilbert Hunt recently as a possible source for understanding the language, style, and narrative content of the Book of Mormon has already elicited a considerable amount of discussion and debate. After Duane and Chris Johnson’s computer study of more than 100,000 books published before 1830 indicated that a number of texts had a high incidence of distinctive phrases matching the Book of Mormon (BoM) and that among these the most significant may be the Late War (LW), Mormon-themed message boards and Facebook pages quickly went into high gear with commentators of all sorts offering their preliminary assessments of the relevance of this book to understanding the origin of the BoM.


The Johnson’s own views about what conclusions may be legitimately drawn from their analysis are still evolving, but irrespective of the question of whether their methodology reveals actual literary influence or whether the distinctive nature of pseudo-biblical writing led a number of authors “to independently invent some of the same distinctive phrases and/or to independently mutate biblical phrases in some of the same distinctive ways,” once they put a spotlight on the LW and a possible literary relationship to the BoM, it did not take long for readers to identify a number of striking parallels in language and content found in both books, ranging from Hebraisms to thematic elements. And then it was brought to light that Rick Grunder had already noticed many of these same parallels several years previously in his book Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source (pp. 724-772).


So what should be made of these parallels and how is the LW related to the BoM? The range of views that have been articulated so far encompass everything from 1) “the LW was a direct source for at least some of the language and content of the BoM,” 2) “the BoM was consciously styled in the language of the LW but was not dependent on it for narrative content,” to 3) “the parallels between the BoM and the LW are incidental and both books merely reflect a style of writing in KJV prose that was conventional during the period.”


Of course, the controversy over the relationship of the LW to the BoM stems from the fact that if the LW was a source for narrative elements of the BoM, then this would suggest that the BoM was developed and created as an imaginative literary work of the early 19th century and was not a translation of an ancient text. A theory of a loose translation of the BoM where Joseph Smith rendered an ancient text in language appropriate and meaningful for his time period could possibly accommodate for a substantial amount of linguistic and stylistic similarity to the LW and thus uphold belief in the essential historical core of the BoM. But if the parallels go beyond the generic and stylistic to content, then the argument for an ancient origin becomes much more difficult to sustain as the very building blocks of the narrative can be explained as having originated in Joseph Smith’s immediate cultural and intellectual context.


Because of the many parallels I noticed upon rather quick and superficial examination, I decided to make a more careful and systematic study of the LW in light of the BoM in order to see what kind of relationship could be discerned to have existed between these texts. Building upon Rick Grunder’s work and various random parallels cited in online discussion boards, I went back through the LW verse by verse and compiled a list of possible motifs, narrative elements, and language shared with the BoM and not the Bible. The following is a summary of what I found, with individual parallels written in italics, followed by references to the relevant LW (1819 edition) and BoM passages:


Parallels between the LW and BoM


A battle at a fort where righteous white protagonists are attacked by an army made up of dark-skinned natives driven by a white military leader. The white protagonists are prepared for battle and slaughter their opponents to such an extent that they fill the trenches surrounding the fort with dead bodies. The surviving elements flee into the wilderness/forest (pp. 102-4, 29:1-23) Alma 49:10-25


The enemy develops a strategy to capture the capital city of the righteous protagonists as a means of taking control of the government and land as a whole. They are able to do so because of the speed of their march and because the latter had not retained sufficient defenses (p. 160-161, 44; p. 163, 45:8-22) Helaman 1:15-22


A defensive battle associated with a river (Saranac/Sidon) where the enemy is slaughtered and there is extreme loss of blood. They become frightened because of the great destruction, fight with renewed vigor, and then the defenders strengthen their efforts and triumph. The threat of death results in some of the enemy deserting and joining common cause with the protagonists (p. 176, 47:2-15) Alma 43:27-54; 44:22 [In the LW it is interesting that innovative technology is on the side of the enemy and the righteous protagonists are said to “trust in the strength of their arms,” a phrase with a negative connotations in the BoM since it suggests a lack of faith in God.]


A project of extensive fortification during the war: casting up dirt; entrenchment; building forts, walls, towers, and battlements (p. 199-202, 51) Alma 48:7-9; 49:2-19; 50:1-6


Bands of robbers/pirates marauding the righteous protagonists (p. 11, 1:17; p. 190, 49:37) Helaman 6:37; 11:28-30


The intent of the attacking enemy is to establish a kingdom within the land and bring the people into political servitude (p. 215, 53:29) Alma 43:7-8, 29; 44:2; 48:2


The war defending liberty involves multiple fronts (p. 33, 9:1-2; p. 66, 19:1-2; p. 123, 34:1-2) Alma 52:13; 53:8, 22


Capturing a fort with prisoners in the stealth of night (p. 94, 26:2-4) Alma 55:22


The righteous protagonists triumph over the more numerous foe (p. 21, 5:1-6; p. 106, 30:12; p. 110, 31:5; p. 206, 52:3; p. 213, 53:16) Alma 43:51; 51:31; 56:53-54


The enemy army consistently outnumbers the righteous protagonists (p. 17, 3:22; p. 29, 7:45; p. 48, 14:9; p. 61, 17:17; pp. 88-89, 24:14, 21; p. 103, 29:12-15; p. 147, 40:14; p. 150, 41:7) Alma 2:24; 43:51; Helaman 4:8


In the course of battle the righteous army is left unscathed or nearly unscathed (p. 31, 8:17; p. 44, 13:9; p. 144, 39:7; p. 156, 42:27; p. 188, 49:19; p. 219, 54:27; p. 228, Alg: 23) Alma 49:23; 57:26; 58:39


Repeated casualty and wounded reports, varying from general to more precise estimates (pp. 31-32, 8:18-19; p. 42, 12:9-10; p. 44, 13:10-11; p. 49, 14:26-27; etc) Mosiah 9:19; Alma 2:19; 3:1; 28:2; 49:23; 52:40 [See Grunder]


The enemy tactic of stirring/rousing up the dark-skinned natives against the righteous white protagonists (p. 11, 1:19; p. 47, 14:1; p. 123, 34:2; p. 129, 35:36) Alma 24:1; 43:8; 48:1-2; 51:9 [See Grunder]


The use of scalping (p. 16, 3:13; p. 47, 14:2; p. 71, 19: 55; p. 96, 26:27) Alma 44:12-14 [As a contrast, it is worth noting that in the BoM scalping is actually introduced by the Nephites rather than the Lamanites and only appears once.]


Arrival of reinforcements who turn the tide of battle (p. 214, 53:23) Alma 56:15-18; 57:18


As a result of their defeat at the hands of the righteous protagonists, the natives lay down their weapons of war and enter into a covenant of peace (p. 120, 33:23-24; p. 123, 34:1; p. 129, 35:33-43) Alma 44:15


Alcohol causing people to lose their senses in the context of war (p. 25, 7:5; p. 31, 8:8) Alma 55:8-18; Alma 55:30


The use of alcohol as a stimulant in the context of war (p. 31, 8:8; p. 148, 40:17) Alma 55:11


The use of alcohol to manipulate inexperienced natives (p. 48, 14:11; p. 115, 32:11) Mosiah 22:6-10; Alma 55:8-18


The righteous protagonists engage in a principled form of warfare and treat their captives with Christian mercy (p. 48, 14:16; p. 92, 25:4; p. 104, 29: 25-28; p. 112, 31:26; p. 120, 33:19-20; p. 175, 46:27; p. 208, 52:15-16; p. 220, 54:35-36) Alma 44:1-2, 6; 48:14; 52:37; 54:2-3; 55:18-23; Helaman 1:33


The protagonists are peace-lovers and peacemakers (p. 10-11, 1:9, 20; p. 75, 20:20; p. 82, 22:4-5; p. 222, 55:7) Alma 44:14; 46:12, 31; 48:10, 21; 55:3


Several military leaders are characterized by unusual courage, righteousness, and humility (p. 47, 14:3-5; p. 69, 19:30; p. 116, 32:21-25; p. 112, 31:26-29; pp. 174-175, 46:26-27) Alma 48:11-17; 62:37


One commander in particular is singled out for his virtue and humility and for treating prisoners with mercy, who retires to a “land of inheritance” after the war (pp. 174-175, 46:26-31) Alma 62:42-43


The dark-skinned natives are unmerciful, barbaric, and uncivilized (p. 16, 3:13; p. 40, 11:9; p. 48, 14:9-10; p. 50, 14:29-34; p. 73, 20:8; p. 93, 25:13; p. 103, 29:13) Enos 1:20; Alma 17:14; 47:36; 54:3; 56:12


The dark-skinned natives become allied with the white-enemy (p. 11, 1:18; p. 37, 10:19; pp. 48-49, 14:12, 17; p. 51, 14:42; p. 102, 29:6) Alma 48:1-3; Helaman 4:4


The white enemy does not care for the blood of its dark-skinned proxies (p. 119, 33:9) Alma 49:10


The white enemy becomes barbaric just like the dark-skinned natives (p. 48, 14:12; p. 77-78, 21:1-16) Alma 47:36


The protagonists use clever stratagem to defend their land (pp. 204-205, 51:24-30) Alma 43:30


Soldiers love a military leader as if he were their own father (p. 71, 19:48) Alma 56:46


Military leader rallies his soldiers to the cause of liberty (p 217, 54:13-15) Alma 46:11-28


Letter sent by military leader in the context of war honoring the deeds of noble soldiers (p. 38, 10:26) Alma 56


A message sent in a letter threatening to unleash ferocious warriors on the righteous protagonists (p. 103, 29:10-13) 3 Nephi 3:1-4 [See Grunder]


After being invited to join the cause of liberty, people “flock” to its banner/standard (p. 24, 6:13-17) Alma 62:4-5


A banner/standard/title becomes a prominent symbol of liberty (p. 24, 6:14, 17; p. 115, 32:13; p. 183-184, 48; p. 212, 53:8) Alma 46:12-24, 36; 51:20; 62:4-5 [See Grunder]


Traitors attempt to destroy democratic government for their own political gain, i.e. they are promised to “rule over the people” (pp. 17-18, 3:27-34) Alma 46:3-9


There is a dangerous divide in the country between freemen and royalists (pp. 16-17, 3:14-17; p. 39, 11:6-8; p. 141, 38:26; p. 200, 51:7)


The cause of freedom/liberty is synonymous with the political-religious views of the righteous (p. 12, 1:22; p. 131, 36:4; p. 163, 45:14) Alma 43:48-49; 46:12-20, 35; 48:11; 51:7; 60:36; 61:15


An army is “driven” and “slaughtered with a great slaughter” (p. 37, 10:15) Moroni 4:21


Bands of two thousand chosen men/who volunteer to fight in defense of freedom (p. 23, 6:2; p. 126, 35:5) Alma 53:16-17; 56:5


A “stripling” warrior carries “a weapon of war” in his hand (p. 69, 19:32) Alma 53:19-22


A group of fearless young soldiers decide to defend their families with their lives with “weapons of war” (pp. 180, 48:11-13) Alma 53:16; 56:16-17, 45-47 [See Grunder]


Lion/tiger as symbol for powerful fighters (p. 48, 14:10; p. 69, 19:30; p. 88, 24:18; p. 119, 33:11) Mosiah 20:10; 3 Nephi 20:16


The number captured by the righteous army outnumber themselves (p. 112, 31:25) Alma 57:13


The army fighting in defense of liberty suffers from insufficient rations (p. 92, 25:2-3) Alma 58:7-8; 60:9


The righteous fight for their country, freedom, and families (p. 203, 51; p. 217, 54:13) Alma 43:45 [“country, wives, and firesides” (p. 203) “lives and liberty” (p. 217)]


As fighters, the righteous are “valiant” (p. 214, 53:23) Alma 56:13, 16


Preparing “all kinds” of weapons in anticipation of battle (p. 172, 46:6) Alma 2:12


Wrath of God will come upon those who fail to obey the laws of the land. War will come as punishment (p. 17, 3:27) Alma 50:20-22; Ether 2:12


Appearance of an angel delivering a message to obey the laws of land/God (p. 17, 3:26) Mosiah 3


Some natives are converted to the Lord as a result of missionary preaching and become notable for their gentle humanity (p. 96, 26:18-28) Alma 23:5-13; 24:8-24 [See Grunder]


The mention of writings engraved in brass, symbolizing a medium capable of preserving testimony (p. 134, 36:26) 1 Nephi 5:19; Jacob 4:2; Alma 37:3-5 [See Grunder]


A calamitous destruction characterized by thunder, people falling to the earth, rocks being rent and raised, an earthquake, the mention of overturned cities, an overshadowing black smoke that prevented sight, and the death of many people while others are saved (p. 70, 19:37-44) Helaman 14:20-27; 3 Nephi 8:6-23


The light of the sun is hidden by black clouds (p. 31, 8:12; p. 53, 15:16; p. 181, 48:17) 3 Nephi 8:22-23


North and South America are seen as one land–the land of Promise/land of Columbia (p. 73, 20:2; p. 138, 38:7) Alma 46:17


The association of South America with the children of Israel (p. 52, 15:6-7) 1 Nephi 10:12-13


Places characterized by whether poisonous snakes live there (p. 187, 49:7) Ether 9:31-33


A ship explores the waters of the Pacific Ocean near the equator (p. 139, 38:11) Alma 63:5-8 [See Grunder]


Description of the land of America as a place with much gold and silver, fruit, and “all manner” of creatures “used for food” and other animals. One animal that lived in America that is singled out for special focus is the elephant/mammoth (p. 74, 20:11-17) Ether 9:17-18 [The correlation of elements between these passages probably sheds light on the identity of cureloms and cumoms in the BoM. The fact that elephant is mentioned in both texts after the preceding focus on precious metals and food suggests that cureloms or cumoms (or both) may have reference to mammoths. See Grunder]


A man builds a boat of “curious workmanship”, despite the mocking and scoffing of others. The latter are humbled when they see the completed product. (pp. 192-193, 50:2-7, 12) 1 Nephi 17:17-18; 18:1-4


A “ball” made out of “brass” of “curious work” with clocklike spindles (p. 195, 50:28) 1 Nephi 16:10


Swords of fine/curious “workmanship” (p. 42, 12:12; p. 44, 13:13; p. 58, 16:24) 1 Nephi 4:9


Comparing ships built in the context of the narrative to the ark of Noah (p. 98, 27:12-13; p. 193, 50:8) Ether 6:7


The righteous enjoy a government system where taxes are not unjustifiably heavy (p. 76, 20:25) Mosiah 2:12-14; 11:6


America is to be a land of liberty and free of kings/tyrants (pp. 75-76, 20:19, 30; p. 224, 55:25) 2 Nephi 10:11; Alma 46:17


American-Israelism–the people of God in America are Israel (p. 75, 20:20) 3 Nephi 16:13; 20:21


The righteous are distinguished from the unrighteous by their attitude towards idolatry (p. 75, 20:20; p. 165, 45:28) Enos 1:20; Mosiah 9:12; Alma 50:21


American exceptionalism and millennialism (p. 76, 20:28-30; pp. 223-224, 55:22-23) 1 Nephi 13; 22; Ether 13:6-10


Gathering from all nations to the land of America (p. 76, 20:28-29) 3 Nephi 20:13-46; 21:29


The Lord as judge of history demands repentance (p. 81, 21:43) Mormon 3:17-22


The repetition of the ten commandments (p. 101, 28:23; p. 154, 42:13;  p. 216, 54:3) Mosiah 13:11-25


A prominent appearance of Columbus, who is viewed as a venerable and noble character (p. 73, 20:2-10) 1 Nephi 13:12 [See Grunder]


A group of innocent people are burned alive and those responsible for this unparalleled horrific act are promised to stand at the judgment bar on the last day (pp. 50-51, 14:38-43) Alma 14:10-11


False prophets speak flattering words and deceive the people for money (p. 19, 4:1-8; p. 20, 4:11-14) WofM 1:15-16; Alma 1:3-16


Books contain the wisdom of the ages and are crucial to the preservation of civilization (p. 165, 45:29-33) Mosiah 1:3; Alma 37:8


The association of whales with light (p. 139, 38:14) Ether 2:23-25; 6:10


Quotation or allusion to Isaiah 49:24-25 with reference to the righteous people of the Lord being delivered (p. 13, 2:7-8; p. 223, 55:20) 1 Nephi 21:24-25; 2 Nephi 6:16-17


The cult of motherhood; women are idealized as fair, tender, and virtuous and are valued primarily as the bearers of life (p. 72, 19:59; p. 75, 20:21; p. 77, 21:4; p. 81, 21:38-40; p. 134, 36:28; p. 202, 51:18; p. 220, 54:35-38) 1 Nephi 11:13; Jacob 2:7, 28-35; Mosiah 19:13-14; 3 Nephi 8:25; Ether 8:9


The treatment of women is a barometer of humanity’s level of civilization (p. 81, 21:38-40; p. 100, 28:13) Moroni 9:9


Violated chastity is the worst of abominations in the eyes of God (p. 81, 21:41) Moroni 9:9


Three Native American prophets are singled out (p. 128, 35:19) 3 Nephi 28:1-6


An assembly of people gather to hear an aged leader speaking from a tower-like edifice who, though infirm, loves his country and people, to which the people respond by shouting with a loud voice (pp. 200-201, 51:9-12) Mosiah 2:7-18; 5:2


The repeated use of didactic narrative commentary (p. 62, 18:1-5; p. 72, 19:57-61; p. 80, 21:35-44; p. 131, 36:1-3; pp. 223-224, 55:22) Alma 50:19-20; Helaman 12:4-5; Mormon 6:18-20 [This narrative technique is also found in the Bible but the content of the didactic commentary in the BoM and LW have some striking parallels:


The deeds of the renowned warriors, the patriots, and the valiant men of Columbia, have prepared a path for the scribe, which he is compelled to follow: But, as the soaring eagle moves to its craggy nest, or the cooing dove to its tender mate, so is the compulsion of his heart. If the wickedness of Britain hath made manifest her folly: if her sons have sat down in sackcloth and ashes, the scribe looketh down upon her with pity. It is written that, He who prideth himself in his strength shall be humbled; and the haughty shall be brought low. And, if the Lord hath smiled upon the arms of Columbia, let no man frown (p. 62, 18:1-5).


Oh! earth, how long shall thy inhabitants delight in warfare? when shall the old men cease to weep for their children? Behold yon lonely widows; they weep for their husbands and their children; but they shall see their faces no more! The fair daughters of Columbia sigh for the return of their beloved. Seest thou those little ones? they fly to their disconsolate mother, they leap with joy at the name of father! but he shall never return! Oh! that they had cast the black dust into the sea! then might not the children of men weep and wail (p. 72, 19:57-61).


Oh! England! that a veil might be cast over thy transgressions of that day: but it cannot be. Thy wickedness shall be written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond. It was here, even in Hampton, that thy strength, and thy majesty rose up against the poor, the sick, and the needy. Instead of protecting the tender women, the fairest work of God, the life of the world; behold! what hast thou done? See! the shrieking matron cast herself into the waters that she may escape thy brutal violence: but all in vain; her garments are torn from her; she becomes a prey to thy savage lust. Not she alone, but her daughter, and her fair sisters, have fallen into thy unhallowed hands, and been defiled! Oh, Britain! the voice of violated chastity riseth up against thee; the mark of the beast is indelibly printed in thy forehead:  Even the old and weak men became victims of thy barbarity; thy, servants stripped the aged Hope, and buffeted him with the point of their swords did they torment him. Do the groans of the murdered Kirby creep into thine ears? go thou and repent of thine evil, and do so no more: the Lord God of Hosts shall be thy judge; The generous people of Columbia may possibly forgive thy crimes against them; but the remembrance thereof shall live to the end of time; neither shall they forget the name of Cockburn (p. 80, 21:35-44).


The frailty of man speaketh volumes; one man accuseth another; but where is he who is perfect? Man deviseth mighty plans in his own mind, but he accomplisheth them not. He is wise in his own conceit, but his wisdom faileth him: he seeth folly in others, but perceiveth not his own; he is as a reed shaken with the wind (p. 131, 36:1-3).


Henceforth may the nations of the earth learn wisdom: then shall peace become triumphant, and the people of Columbia be at rest; And, as it is written, their swords may be beaten into ploughshares, and their spears turned into pruning-hooks (pp. 223-224, 55:22).]





Not all of these parallels are equally compelling. Taken individually, many are less than significant, since the same motifs, language, and ideas could have originated and been taken up into the BoM in any number of ways, whether from other texts or common oral traditions. For example, attacking a fort during the nighttime is a stock war narrative trope and there is no need to see the BoM usage as related to the usage in the LW. They easily and may have originated independently from one another. Many other examples could be cited, such as the cult of motherhood, an idealized view of women common during this time period, or the stereotyped picture of Native Americans. However, some of the parallels are very strong, particularly those which feature a number of individual narrative elements in the same context, sometimes in the same basic order. These would include examples such as battle at a fort (pp. 102-4, 29:1-23); capturing a capital city (p. 160-161, 44; p. 163, 45:8-22); defensive battle associated with a river (p. 176, 47:2-15); wild natives lay down their weapons of war (p. 120, 33:23-24; p. 123, 34:1; p. 129, 35:33-43); a group of fearless young soldiers (pp. 180, 48:11-13); some natives are converted (p. 96, 26:18-28); a calamitous destruction (p. 70, 19:37-44); description of the land of America (p. 74, 20:11-17); man builds a boat of “curious workmanship” (pp. 192-193, 50:2-7, 12); the narrator’s mourning for the death of the people (p. 72, 19:57-61). Furthermore, even though some individual elements are not immediately persuasive by themselves, taken in context, the clustering of so many parallels in thematic material and narrative description in one text is highly significant and requires much more than ad hoc explanation of a few prominent similarities shared between the LW and the BoM.


When considered as a whole, I think the above parallels strongly suggest that the BoM was dependent on the LW for a significant amount of narrative material and plot elements in addition to some of the peculiarities of its language and style. The similarities are simply too numerous and substantive to think that they could have originated by chance from two authors who happened to write in the pseudo-biblical genre. I have looked at other examples of pseudo-biblical writing from the time period and haven’t found anywhere near the extent of conceptual and narrative affinity shared between the LW and BoM.


Some may find this conclusion difficult to accept based on their own reading of the LW, since many of the parallels I cite appear in contexts so utterly different from what we find in the BoM. For example, the narrative in the LW about the mass conflagration of innocent people reminiscent of Alma 14:10-11 is perpetrated by Native Americans in the context of war and seems to have little else besides the narrative elements I mentioned above (mass conflagration of innocents, the promise that the perpetrators will eventually be judged on judgment day) that would cause one to connect the two. But it is important to recognize that literary dependence can occur in many different ways (consciously and less consciously, directly and indirectly) and that when borrowing from a prior literary source one need not do so by reproducing the borrowed elements in the same shape or context as one found them. The human mind is sufficiently creative and complex to enable one to select, adapt, and remix material to suit present storytelling purposes.


Which brings me to a final question, what was the nature of this literary borrowing? Did the author of the BoM, presumably Joseph Smith, borrow directly from the text of LW at the time he was constructing his narrative? Did he intentionally draw language and ideas from the book? I think the answer is more than likely no. First of all, the LW reflects a distinctive linguistic profile from the BoM that is difficult to reconcile with the assumption that Joseph Smith was reading the LW for narrative inspiration around the time the BoM was composed. Although the LW shares a few expressions and terms in common with the BoM that are not found in the Bible (e.g. “curious workmanship”; “fair daughters”; “lives and liberty”; “to hem in” an opponent; “to smile upon”; “cause of liberty” and many other things designated “of liberty,” such as “temple of liberty”, “altar of liberty”, “sons of liberty”, “growth of liberty”, “air of liberty”; cf. “land of liberty” [2 Nephi 1:7; 10:11; Mosiah 29:32] “foundation of liberty” [Alma 46:10] “blessings of liberty” [Alma 46:13] “title of liberty” [Alma 46:13] “standard of liberty” [Alma 51:20] “people of liberty” [Alma 51:13]), and manifests a considerable amount of language that stems from the KJV Bible and thus is present in the BoM as well (e.g. “murmur”, “proclamation”, “slew with great slaughter”, “astonished beyond measure”, “great deep”, “chief captain”, “reigned in his stead”, “children of men”, “stripling”, “stronghold”, “host”, “sand on the seashore”, “favor”, “prosperity”, “noise abroad”, etc.), there is also a high incidence of language that is not shared with the BoM but is stylistically prominent because of repetition in the book (e.g. “smooth” with reference to deceitful language; “bosom” of the sea; “wax hot” for the tempo of battle; “booty”; “bow the neck”; “tickle”; “scribe”; “gallant”; “husbandmen”; “instruments of destruction”; “high places” as places of resort; “let loose”; “evil befell”; “tongue” with descriptive qualifier; “virgins” as synonym of daughters; use of “brave” “gallant” “valiant” “wicked” as appositional epithets; “gat”, past tense of get; “stirring up the spirit of Satan” rather than stirring up people; “lord of hosts” as regular title of God, whereas in the BoM it appears almost solely in biblical quotes and in association with cursing; “receive” or “gain” praise; “extol”; “enemies”/”champions” of freedom; “knees smite together”; “mighty men of valor”). Much of this language could have easily been employed by Joseph Smith if he were borrowing directly from the LW.


Second, many of the motifs that are shared between the LW and BoM are so radically different that it is hard to see how the one could have directly inspired the other. For example, I think that there can be little doubt that the explosion at Little York described in LW where General Pike saves the army from utter annihilation is related to the account of the destruction of the Nephites in the BoM before the visitation of Christ, as the clustering of individual narrative elements in this story is very strong (p. 70, 19:37-44). But reading the account by itself I fail to detect any trigger (aside from the mention of “overturned cities”) that would have led Joseph Smith to develop the story in the ways he did, so that a localized act of terrorism by the British is transformed into a cosmic event of divine retribution. The path from the former to the latter would seem to be much more complex and tenuous than a simple literary loan. A more appealing explanation than strict literary borrowing is that the LW account had made a strong impression on Joseph Smith at an earlier point at some remove from his work on the Book of Mormon and that elements of the story had had time to percolate in his mind. Eventually, these elements were called forth when circumstances necessitated, perhaps even semi-consciously, and then adapted in a unique way.


Finally, the BoM seems to reflect a very different moral, social, and spiritual ethos from the LW and may in fact be a reflective response in some sense to the kind of simplistic moralizing ‘good guy, bad guy’ that we find in the LW. Although in general the BoM maps onto the same opposition that we see in the LW, where white-skinned righteous protagonists are set against barbaric and wicked dark-skinned natives, the BoM continually problematizes this opposition. The white-skinned protagonists are not always righteous and indeed are sometimes less righteous than the Lamanites. Moreover, in the context of prophecy the Gentiles are in danger of being cast off and removed from God’s favor. All of this seems to contrast from the rather simplistic and one-dimensional image of the white-skinned American Israel depicted in the LW. On the other hand, the Lamanites in the BoM are generally more sympathetically portrayed than LW Native Americans (often referred to as “savages”), who are at times portrayed in demonic colors. Occasionally the LW even seems to sympathize with and condone the indiscriminate killing and destruction of Native American tribes and villages (p. 48, 14:15).


A related difference is the BoM and LW’s respective attitudes toward war and the glory that accrues to bravery in battle. In the LW there is a continual lauding of war heroes, who are said to have achieved honor, praise, and glory for their actions, and sometimes money and medals of honor. A rather typical example of the LW’s glorification of violence is “And with resistless force his noble band rushed on, at the trumpet’s sound, over the heaps of slain and wounded, to glory, and to triumph!” (p. 71, 19:49). This attitude stands in stark contrast from the prototypical righteous warrior in the BoM, Moroni, who specifically states that he seeks not for “honor of the world” (Alma 60:36) and did not “delight in bloodshed” (Alma 48:11).


All of these factors suggest to me that the BoM’s literary dependence on the LW was not direct in the sense of having been strategically borrowed during the process of narrative construction, but that we should assume at least some temporal distance separating Joseph Smith’s exposure to the LW and his production of the BoM. There was a space that allowed him to mull over the content and think about it in relation to other information and life experiences, to begin the process of developing a new myth of Indian origins. The question of how much earlier is unclear. He may have read the book anytime between his early experiences in schooling (since it was marketed for use in schools) all the way up to the period of preparation for his translation work.


In sum, linguistic and narrative elements of the BoM are probably descended, at least in part, from Gilbert Hunt’s pseudo-biblical account of the War of 1812. The relationship between these two literary works is relatively strong, suggesting that the book had quite a memorable impact on Joseph Smith. But Smith did not borrow directly from the LW (at least for the majority of the narrative content) during the process of composing the BoM.

An Appeal to the BYU Board of Trustees: Please Trust Your Faculty
A Recent “Anti-Mormon” Essay: Trying to Understand Gee’s Response, Part I
On Academic Freedom at BYU, Part 1: The BYU Statement
On Doubt and Trust