Exaggerated Similarities between View of the Hebrews and The Book of Mormon (Part I)

The View of the Hebrews is a rather thin volume written by the minister Ethan Smith, and was first published in 1823, with a subsequent re-release in 1825 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_of_the_Hebrews). It is written in an essay format and sets out to prove that the Native Americans are descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. He attempts to prove this by making a case for the Ten Tribe’s literal outcast state and subsequent restoration by appealing to the Bible. In addition, the book is comprised of the experiences of several individuals and institutions who had close contact with Native Americans and argue that their traditions are remarkably similar to Hebrew traditions. There are those who claim that because of the extensive similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews, that Joseph Smith must have used View of the Hebrews as inspiration for inventing the story of the Book of Mormon. I will set out to prove that the similarities between the two works are exaggerated and details are often contradictory. For the meantime, I will assume that the reader has a basic understanding of what is contained in both The View of the Hebrews (VOTH) and the Book of Mormon (BOM). For Part I of my study of the similarities between the BOM and VOTH, I would like to provide a summary of several differences between the two works. A more in-depth analysis of each of the supposed similarities between the two works will follow in future posts.

A summary of major differences:

  1. VOTH claims that the Native Americans are the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, whereas the Book of Mormon claims they are descendants of Joseph living in Jerusalem after the scattering of the ten tribes. (see http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1082&index=10&keyword=view%20of%20the%20hebrews)
  2. VOTH claims that the Ten Tribes were taken out of the Land of Canaan by the Assyrians in 725 B.C. and these Ten Tribes are the ancestors of the Native Americans. The BOM claims that those who came to the Americas came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. to avoid the destruction caused by the Babylonians. In addition, the Book of Mormon argues that a separate group of people came to the Americas shortly after the confounding of languages at the Tower of Babel.
  3. VOTH claims that the Ten Tribes came to the Americas by way of the Bering Strait, whereas the BOM asserts that they came by boat through the Arabian Sea.
  4. VOTH claims that the Ten Tribes of Israel were led to the Americas for their wickedness, while the BOM says that those who are led to the Americas are led for their righteousness.
  5. VOTH claims that those who came to the Americas traveled in a north-east direction from Canaan. The BOM states that Lehi’s family traveled in a south-east direction from Jerusalem.
  6. VOTH claims that Ten Tribes traveled from a frozen land. The BOM claims that Lehi’s family left from “Bountiful,” a land of wild honey and fruit.
  7. VOTH claims that the legend of Quetzalquatl is based on the Ten Tribes’ early traditions and experiences of Moses as their lawgiver, over 900 years before being taken from Canaan. The BOM claims that Jesus Christ came to the Americas in 34 A.D.
  8. VOTH claims that the tradition of the Urim and Thummim can be found in Native American breastplates made of conch shells, elk beads and straps of otter skin. The BOM never once mentions the name “Urim and Thummim” nor does it describe a breast plate.
  9. VOTH claims that Native Americans kept sacred items in bags or boxes like the Ark of the Covenant. The BOM never mentions the Ark of the Covenant or its likeness.
  10. VOTH claims that the Natives would bring this “ark of the covenant” with them every time they went to war. The peoples in the BOM never do anything like this.
  11. VOTH speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans to show Christ’s prophecies being fulfilled about Jerusalem’s destruction. The BOM speaks of Lehi escaping the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians just after 600 B.C.
  12. VOTH claims that the Native Americans lost the word of God according to the prophecy of Amos 7:11,12. The BOM asserts that Nephites had the Bible and preached the Law of Moses and Christianity.
  13. VOTH claims that there may be evidence of Phylacteries like those used in Jerusalem in the Americas, and they were written in Hebrew. The BOM argues that the Brass Plates and the Golden Plates contained the fullness of the Gospel and were written in “reformed Egyptian.”
  14. VOTH claims that the Native Americans became savage and wicked because Providence was punishing them for the idolatry of the Ten Tribes of Israel. The BOM claims that the savage Native Americans (Lamanites) rebelled against God and were jealous that their younger brother Nephi was a ruler over them. They would serve as a way to stir up the Nephites to remembrance of the Lord.
  15. VOTH claims that the Americas were uninhabited since the great flood. The BOM argues that the Americas were inhabited by the Jaredites after the confounding of languages at the Tower of Babel.
  16. VOTH describes animals known to Native Americans, such as the buffalo, deer, porcupine, rattlesnake, bear, otter, beaver, elk, etc. The BOM, instead, references animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, cureloms, cumoms, and elephants.
  17. VOTH claims that the ancient Israelites could have built the pyramids found in the Americas today. The BOM never mentions pyramids.
  18. VOTH claims that the Native Americans commonly use the word “Hallelujah,” a Hebrew word. The BOM uses the word “Hosanna” instead, on three occasions.
  19. VOTH claims that when grieving the Native Americans will touch their hands to their mouths, then their mouths to the ground. “It is well known that laying the hand on the mouth, and the mouth in the dust, is a distinguished Hebraism.” The BOM never mentions this Hebraism.
  20. VOTH asserts that the Native Americans abstain from matrimonial intercourse three days prior to going to war. The BOM never mentions this Hebraism.
  21. VOTH asserts that several Indian words are similar to Hebrew words, and the comparisons are presented in table format. The BOM never mentions these words or their likeness.
  22. VOTH asserts that like the Hebrews, the Native Americans have cities of refuge where blood cannot be spilt. The BOM never mentions cities of refuge or their likeness.
  23. VOTH asserts that Native Americans hold certain tribes in reverence like the Tribe of Levi. This is not found in the BOM and Levi is only mentioned in 3 Nephi 24:3 when Jesus quotes Malachi 3.
  24. VOTH asserts that the Native Americans believe the name of God is “Yohewah, Aleh, or Yah.” The BOM never mentions these words.
  25. VOTH says that the Native Americans must appear three times annually at the temples. The BOM never mentions this.
  26. VOTH says the Native Americans purified themselves with bitter vegetables. The BOM never mentions this.
  27. VOTH says that the Native Americans separated their women. The BOM never mentions this Hebraism.
  28. VOTH says that an old Jewish Phylactery was written on dark yellow “leaves” of parchment, preserved much like ancient Arabian parchment. The BOM argues that parchment must decay, so they wrote on plates (or leaves, described by Joseph Smith) of gold and brass.
  29. VOTH asserts that the Natives believe they had a book of “the old divine speech” (which was Hebrew). The BOM asserts that the Brass Plates, a sacred book like the Bible, was written in reformed Egyptian and not the “divine speech.”

An Examination of the Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon

The purpose of this post is to show that even though there seems to be a high number of textual changes to the Book of Mormon since its first publication in 1830, most of the changes are minor and do not suggest a sort of conspiracy by the leadership of the church to clean up gross errors in Joseph Smith’s invention of the Book of Mormon. I also will show how the changes to the Book of Mormon can help in strengthening the faith of those who believe the Book of Mormon to be an ancient record translated by Joseph Smith.

First, it is no secret that the original 1830 version of the Book of Mormon is structurally different than the version used today. The 1830 version reads in paragraph form and is not broken up into verses. The chapters are also numbered differently than in today’s version. The version I will be comparing the 1830 version (Palmyra, New York 1830, replica versionto is the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Intellectual Reserve, Inc). This is not a complete examination of all of the changes in the Book of Mormon, but they are some of the most common changes. There is a difference between changes in spelling and textual changes. I will not be examining changes in the spelling of individual words, because spelling errors do not challenge the veracity of the Book of Mormon. I will be focusing on textual changes, in which an entire word has been changed. In the end, I am attempting to show that most of the textual changes are grammatical in nature and do not affect the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

Here is a summary of many of the changes found throughout the Book of Mormon:

1. Changing “Saith” to “Said”= Many times the Book of Mormon, when referring to someone speaking in the past tense, says “saith” in the present tense. This is found throughout the Book of Mormon. An example of this is found in Jacob 5, the Parable of the Olive Tree, where the word “saith” has been changed to “said” twenty eight times. The 1830 version, for instance, says “And the Lord of the vineyard saith unto the servant”, while verse 57 in today’s version changes it to “said”.

2. Changing “which” to “who” and “whom”= The 1830 version of the Book of Mormon seems to prefer using “which” rather than using “who” and “whom” to refer to individual or groups of people. Examples of this can be found in 1 Nephi 14:12, with sentences such as “the whore which sat upon the waters” and “which were the saints of God” and “the great whore which I saw.” They have since been changed to “the whore who sat” and “who were the saints” and “whore whom I saw.”

3. Removing “that”= Throughout the 1830 version that are many instances where “that” is used superfluously, at least in modern day english. It usually occurs following the word “after” in phrases such as “For behold, after that they”…Some examples of this include 1 Nephi 4:20 which states “and after that I had done this,” while the 1981 edition removes “that”.

It is also found in verse five “And after that they had hidden themselves,” and “they should do after that I was gone” (1 Nephi 19:4),”And since that they had been led away” (1 Nephi 22:5), and “for after that I had made an abridgment” (Words of Mormon 3).

4. Changing “hath” and “doth” to “has,” “have,” and “do”= The Book of Mormon tries and mimic the English of the King James version of the Bible, but often does so unsuccessfully. This supports the idea that Joseph Smith had his own influence in the translation process, rather than simply receiving the translation from reformed Egyptian directly to English from the Spirit. The 1830 version prefers words like “hath” and “doth”, and these have been changed in the 1981 version to make it more grammatically correct. Some examples of the 1830 version include: “For I, Nephi, hath seen it” (2 Nephi 26:7), “forever and ever and hath no end” (2 Nephi 9:16) to “For I, Nephi, have seen it” and “forever and ever and has no end”

5. Changing “had ought” to just “ought”= (Alma 1:1)

6. Adding “the Son of God”= This is often used by critics of the Book of Mormon to claim that Joseph Smith originally believed that God and Jesus were the same being, just as do traditional Christians, but then he changed his doctrine after the founding of the church. In 1 Nephi 11:18,21,32, the phrase “Son of the” has been added to the original text. In verse 18 it states “the mother of the Son of God,” whereas the 1830 version just says “the mother of God.” In verse 21 it states “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” whereas the 1830 version says “even the Eternal Father.” In verse 32 it states “yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged.” The phrase has also been added in 1 Nephi 13:40, which reads “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father.” However, neither the original reading nor the changed reading have any effect on the doctrine of the church. The phrase “son of” was added for clarification, not because the doctrine in these passages is inconsistent. There are many instances in the 1830 version of the Book of Mormon where “the Son of God” is used, such as 1 Nephi 10:17 which says “which power he received by faith on the Son of God–and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come.” Another example is 2 Nephi 25:19 which says “according to the words of the prophets, and also according to the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The main problem is that the doctrine of the Godhead is confusing even for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Book of Mormon identifying Jesus as God is consistent with many Biblical passages, showing that the language of the Book of Mormon describing the Godhead is consistent with the Bible. We believe that the Godhead are three separate beings, but both the Bible and the Book of Mormon use the terms “Eternal Father,” “God,” and “Creator” interchangeably for “Jesus Christ” and “God the Father.” In Mosiah 15:3,4 it argues that Jesus Christ the Messiah is “The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son–And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and earth.” If the leadership of the church had left 1 Nephi 11:18,21,32 unchanged, it would still be consistent with this account in Mosiah. It is only possibly to conclude, then, that the leadership added “Son of” to the passages in 1 Nephi 11,13 in order to clarify the LDS doctrine, and not to change it.

7. Changing “Benjamin” to “Mosiah”= In Mosiah 21:28 it says “And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God.” The 1830 version, however, says “Benjamin” had a gift from God. This is a possible problem because Benjamin would have been dead by the time Ammon had met Limhi. The Book of Mormon was changed, then, in order to make the timeline consistent, having Mosiah as the king. This does not prove that the Book of Mormon is not true, though. According to Mosiah 6 and 7, King Benjamin gave up the throne to his son Mosiah. Benjamin then died three years later. The Book of Mormon then says that Mosiah “had continual peace for the space of three years” (Mosiah 7:1). According to the timeline in the Book of Mormon, these three years were during the time that Benjamin was alive. Benjamin died in “about 121 B.C.” and Mosiah sent “strong men” (v. 2) to go and find the land of “Lehi-Nephi” (v.1). It is possible, therefore, that Ammon and the other strong men had left to find the land of Lehi-Nephi before Benjamin had died. So when Ammon said that Benjamin had the power to translate, it is possible that he was not aware of Benjamin’s passing away. And even if there was some blatant inconsistency with the timeline, the Book of Mormon was written by men, and there may be faults within the record. It is possible that either Joseph Smith or Moroni or Mormon could have accidentally put the name “Benjamin” when they intended to write “Mosiah” (see Mormon 8:17)

8. Changing “is” to “are” and “were” to “was”= In many instances in the Book of Mormon identifying the singular and plural are correctly done. However, sometimes a phrase like “thy seed, which is among thy brethren” is changed to “which are among thy brethren” (1 Nephi 13:30), “mercies of the Lord is over” to “mercies of the Lord are over” (1 Nephi 1:20), and “we are a descendant of Joseph” to “we are descendants of Joseph.” It also has phrases like “all mankind was in a lost” are changed to “all mankind were in a lost”

There are many more changes made to the Book of Mormon. Because of the nature of the grammatical errors, it is possible that these changes may support the argument that Joseph Smith, a relatively uneducated man, had a direct influence on the translation of the Book of Mormon and did not receive the exact, perfect translation word for word. It can also help prove that Joseph Smith to some extent or another was responsible for producing the Book of Mormon, and that it was not first written by someone else like Solomon Spaulding or Sydney Rigdon.

Here is an example of a single chapter in the Book of Mormon, with its total number of changes that are not spelling errors, but actual word changes. There are 33 word changes in this chapter, which sounds like a lot, but they have no real change on the doctrine or meaning of the passages. This is the general pattern found throughout the Book of Mormon. The following is a comparison of the 1830 version to the 1981 version of 2 Nephi 9.

Changing (v. 1) “That he hath covenanted with all…”  to  “That he has covenanted with all”

Changing (v. 2) “That he hath spoken to the Jews” to “That he has spoken unto the Jews” and “until the time cometh” to “until the time comes

Changing (v. 4) “For I know that thou hast searched much” to “For I know that ye have searched much”

Changing (v. 5) “show himself unto them at Jerusalem” to “show himself unto those at Jerusalem”

Changing (v. 8) “subject to that angel which fell” to “subject to that angel who fell”

Changing (v. 12) “death and hell must deliver up its dead” to “death and hell must deliver up their dead”

Changing (v. 16) “they which are righteous” to “they who are righteous”/”they which are filthy” to “they who are filthy”/”torment is a lake of fire” to “torment is as a lake of fire”/”whose flames ascendeth” to “whose flame ascendeth”/”and hath no end” to “and has no end”

Changing (v. 18) “they which have believed” to “they who have believed”/”they which have endured” to “they who have endured”

Changing (v. 20) “save he knoweth it” to “save he knows it”

Changing (v. 24) “hath spoken it” to “has spoken it”

Changing (v. 25) “Wherefore, he hath given a law” to “Wherefore, he has given a law”/”hath claim upon them” to “have claim upon them”

Changing (v. 27) “that hath the law given” to “that has the law given”/”that hath all the commandments” to “that has all the commandments”

Changing (v. 28) “They shall perish” to “And they shall perish”

Changing (v. 29) “is good if that they” to “is good if they”

Changing (v. 30) “which are rich as to” to “who are rich as to”/”For because that they” to “For because they”

Changing (v. 37) “wo unto them that worship” to “wo unto those that worship”

Changing (v. 38) “wo unto all they which die” to “wo unto all those who die”

Changing (v. 40) “righteous fear they not” to “righteous fear them not”

Changing (v. 41) “his paths are righteousness” to “his paths are righteous

Changing (v. 42) “which are puffed up” to “who are puffed up”

Changing (v. 45) “that God which is the rock” to “that God who is the rock”

Changing (v. 53) “he hath promised unto us” to “he has promised unto us”

Rather than harming faith, I believe seeing and understanding these changes can help to increase one’s faith in the Book of Mormon. Many theories exist as to how the Book of Mormon was written. In the early days of the church, few people believed that Joseph Smith could write this book all by himself, so some argued that Joseph had gotten hold of a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding which follows the exact story in the Book of Mormon. This manuscript has never been found, and the Spaulding manuscript that has been found is a completely different story that does not account for explaining the existence of the Book of Mormon. Others proposed that a more educated man like Sydney Rigdon or even Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and Hyrum Smith were involved in writing the Book of Mormon. These grammatical errors suggest to me that Joseph Smith was responsible for the translation of the plates, and no one else. Educated men like Spaulding or Rigdon would not have confused the singular and plural, such as confusing “they was” to “they were” or “they is” to “they are.” Had a more educated man written the Book of Mormon, the first edition would have been a much more polished work grammatically. Many of the grammatical errors point to either an error in the original writing of the Book of Mormon (maybe Nephi or Mormon made grammatical mistakes) or an error in the translation of the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith translated from an ancient language to the best of his abilities by the power of God). If it is possible that it is a translational error, then it is most likely that the story told by Joseph Smith and the many witnesses about him dictating the Book of Mormon without manuscripts to his scribes is true, and no one else wrote the Book of Mormon for him. Therefore, all that is left to decide is whether or not you believe that Joseph Smith made it all up from his head while dictating to scribes, or that he had the power of God to translate a real ancient record.