The Book of Mormon is a very complex book. The days of dismissing it as the incoherent ramblings of an uneducated farmboy are long over. Scholars are slowly but surely unraveling the text like an onion and in the process are discovering layer upon layer of literary complexity. For believers of the Book of Mormon, such complexity is evidence of it’s authenticity. For critics, this literary complexity is evidence of Joseph Smith’s hitherto unrecognized and unsurpassed brilliance.
Grant Hardy recently published a new book called “Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide.” This book is meant to discuss the literary complexity of the Book of Mormon (for a review, see Life On Gold Plates). I haven’t read this book yet, but I did recently learn something from Hardy in another of his publications. In the introduction of “The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition” Hardy discusses one tiny bit of complexity in the Book of Mormon that I’d like to share.
The Book of Ether begins with a lengthy genealogy of 30 names beginning with the most recent (Ether) and ending with the most ancient (Jared). Most of these names would be strange to English speakers (ex. Amnigaddah, Corom, and Riplakish). Then, in chapters 6-11 short (sometimes very short) summaries of the life of these individuals are given. They are given in reverse order from the way they are listed in Ether 1. They begin with the most ancient (Jared) and end with the most recent (Ether) (1). This in itself is complex, but it is not what makes this so impressive.
What makes this so impressive is that according to eyewitness testimonies of the translation process Joseph did not ever go back to review what he had previously dictated when he resumed dictation. In other words, after taking a break or stopping for the day, Joseph would resume dictation of the text without consulting a single word that he had previously dictated to his scribe (2). This means that Joseph gave a list of 30 strange names, and then gave their histories in reverse order without ever going back to check the names or the order of the names. Furthermore, the histories of the 30 individuals come 5 chapters after the initial listing of them. It wasn’t as though Joseph immediately turned around and said it in reverse order; he told their histories in reverse order after 5 chapters of unrelated dictation.
For the believer, this is evidence for authenticity. For the non-believer, this is evidence of Joseph’s sheer brilliance. The problem is that the historical record contradicts the idea that at this time in his life Joseph was a prodigy (3).
1. The following list is the genealogy of Ether as given in Ether 1, with each name followed by where in the text that individual is later mentioned. Note that their stories are given in reverse order.1. Ether (11:23) 2. Coriantor (11:18) 3. Moron (11:14) 4. Ethem (11:11) 5. Ahah (11:10) 6. Seth (11:9) 7. Shiblon (11:4) 8. Com (10:31) 9. Coriantum (10:31) 10. Amnigaddah (10:31) 11. Aaron (10:31) 12. Heth (10:31) 13. Hearthom (10:29) 14. Lib (10:18) 15. Kish (10:17) 16. Corom (10:16) 17. Levi (10:14) 18. Kim (10:13) 19. Morianton (10:9) 20. Riplakish (10:4) 21. Shez (10:1) 22. Heth (9:25) 23. Com (9:25) 24. Coriantum (9:21) 25. Emer (9:14) 26. Omer (8:1) 27. Shule (7:7) 28. Kib (7:3) 29. Orihah (7:1) 30. Jared (ch. 1-4)
2. Emma Smith said: “After meals, or after interruptions, [Joseph] would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him.” Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” The Saints’ Herald, 1 October 1879, 290. (As quoted in Maxwell, Neal A., “By the Gift and Power of God” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon)
3. For a short discussion of this, among other things, see Peterson, Daniel C., “The Divine Source of the Book of Mormon in the Face of Alternative Theories Advocated by LDS Critics” which is a transcription of his 2001 FAIR Conference presentation.