Matthew LaFever December 15th, 2009 English 325 K.

Doty History of the English Language The American Bible: Similarities between the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible In 1830 a New Yorker by the name of Joseph Smith changed the American socio-political landscape when he self-published The Book of Mormon: Another testament of Jesus Christ. Smith claimed, “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel (Book of Mormon, Intro).” Many found solace in Smith’s book- a revision of the American historical narrative that places Jesus in New York days after his resurrection. During a time where the future of America was unclear, Smith’s words offered reassurance to the masses of immigrants that the New World was theirs. Smith claimed The Book of Mormon was given to him in the form of seven gold tablets that he translated then published. Though Smith claims no involvement in the actual writing of the text, for academic purposes Smith will be considered the author. Melvyn Bragg describes the creation of the King James Bible (1611) in the following passage: “By the beginning of the seventeenth century there were so many competing versions (of the translated Bible) that

seven hundred and fifty reformers from within the Church of England requested James VI of Scotland, who had become James I of England, to authorize a new translation.” A new, democratizing text emerged. A sense of Englishness solidified and the future of peoples felt secure. Since, the King James Bible has emerged as one of the most significant translations of the Christian holy text. When examining the language of the Book of Mormon stylistically it harkens to the King James Bible including direct use of biblical passages from the King James version, words and phrases unique to the King James Bible, and a deliberate revisiting of the linguistic traditions of Early Modern English. Biblical quotations and citations pepper the Book of Mormon. Mormon doctrine explains when Jesus visited America he presented the native people the texts of Moses and Isaiah. LDS scholars have compared the Biblical passages found in the Book of Mormon with other scriptural sources, with two main areas of research- passages from Isaiah and the Sermon on the Mount. (Sperry, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies) According to Sidney Sperry’s article, "The Isaiah Problem," 19 chapters of Isaiah are included in the Book of Mormon, approximately 30% of the book’s total text. Though presented as a separate book, a critical reader begins to immediately sense a relationship between the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible “The Sermon on the Mount” is one of the Bible’s most well known sections describing Jesus’ mountain top appeal to the people and the

Book of Mormon has its own version of the scene. The scenes are not identical and if in fact the Book of Mormon was taken from ancient tablets the reader would see similarities to early Greek Bibles rather than the King James. Alas, the Book of Mormon’s version greatly resembles the King James Version leading many researchers to believe Joseph Smith’s reliance on the King James Bible to dictate the Book of Mormon (Sperry, The Sermon on the Mount). Many words that appear in the Book of Mormon hold meaning exclusively between the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible. This suggests these words were not part of the authors active vocabulary but borrowed their context and meaning from the King James Bible. For example, "fervent" and "elements" each appear twice, both times together in the same phrase, and in the same context as the 2 Peter 3:10 (3 Nephi 26:3, Mormon 9:2). Also, "talent" is used only once, in the same context as Matthew 25:28 (Ether 12:35) (Huvel, KJB Context)1. Outside of content-based similarities between the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, a syntactical analysis of Moroni 7:46-47 reveals linguistic elements consistent with that of Early Modern English. The aforementioned passage reads: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity,
1

I have chosen not to include the text of the aforementioned passages for the sake of brevity. Inclusion of the passages was to instruct the reader where to locate the repetition of meaning between the The Book of Mormon and the King James Bible, not to highlight the passages’ text.

which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail–But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” The author of The Book of Mormon employs the Early Modern English pronoun system in the following lines: “if ye have not charity, ye are nothing.” As described in Stephanie Gebhardt’s English 325 presentation “the use of you or thou/thee/thine signaled power/respect (status) and intimacy/distance (solidarity).” After the author humbly refers to the reader as “brethren” the pronoun “ye” is utilized directing the “power/respect” towards the audience. The passage addresses its readers with a sense of consideration appealing to the audience by venerating their existential status. The text also applies the Early Modern English trend of third person singular conjugations ending in -(e)th instead of -s (e.g. "he taketh") (Sacks, The Alphabet). This technique can be seen in the following lines: “for charity never faileth” and “it endureth forever.” Though somewhat superficial, the author bestowing the text with this unique form of verb conjugation stylistically conjures images similar to that of the King James Bible and other texts written during the Early Modern English Period. The next language element observed is the employment of the preposition “unto” found often in Old English texts. Not consistent with the Early Modern English trend of the rest of the passage, “unto” is a

distant relative of the “æt” preposition in Old English (Anglo Saxon Dictionary). Keeping with this paper’s thesis of the similarities between the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible, many writers abandoned the preposition, but the King James Bible was known to “stubbornly” maintain some Old English traditions (i.e. “And the Lord said unto him: ‘Thou art old’) (Sacks, The Alphabet). Not only does the Book of Mormon emulate the linguistic trends of Early Modern English but the text captures the archaic nuances the King James Bible was infamous for. Though only samplings of The Book of Mormon are presented in this paper, it is clear that the Latter Day Saints holy book was influenced by the King James Bible. By utilizing the stylistics of such as canonized text and making direct reference to the mythos of the Old and New Testament, the Book of Mormon carries a similar weight to that of the Torah, the Koran, and other religious texts revered today. Bibliography "An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Bosworth/Toller)." Germanic Lexicon Project. Web. Nov. & dec. 2009. <http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/texts/oe_bosworthtoller_about.html>.

Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English The Biography of a Language. Grand Rapids: Arcade, 2006. Print.

Gebhardt, Stephanie. "Early Modern English Pronouns." English 325. Arcata. Lecture.

Sacks, David. The Alphabet. New York: Arrow Books Ltd, 2004. Print.

Smith, Joseph, trans. The Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, 1830. Print.

Sperry, Sidney. ""The Book of Mormon and the Problem of the Sermon on the Mount." Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (1995): 153-65. Print.

Sperry, Sidney. "The "Isaiah Problem" in the Book of Mormon." Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (1995): 129-52. Print.

Words and phrases used in a KJV context. Curt van den Heuvel, 1997. Web. Nov. & dec. 2009. <http://web.archive.org/web/20010630055045/http://www.primenet.co m/~heuvelc/bom/contxt.htm>.

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