"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 23, 2015
The Book of Mormon's Command Performance
by Jeff Lindsay

Stanford Carmack's discussion of the unusual grammar in the original Book of Mormon text creates a case that the unusual English of the original Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained if Joseph just created the Book of Mormon himself. The language of the King James Bible is actually quite distinct from the English that Joseph dictated.

Carmack's most recent work on the topic, as I previously discussed at Mormanity ("New Twists," 1/08/15; for background see my earlier post here, "The Debate Over Book of Mormon Translation: Loose or Tight?"), takes up the use of the verb "command" in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon tends to favor archaic English constructions like "command Jeff THAT he SHOULD do something" instead of the standard modern form with "to" (the infinitive form), as in "command Jeff TO stop writing so poorly." The King James Bible mostly uses the infinitive form, not the other "finite" form, when "command" governs another verb.

A commenter recently predicted that we would find similar archaic patterns in one of the other books that Joseph allegedly plagiarized from. OK, that's a testable hypothesis. So this week I looked at the texts of some of the leading books people have proposed as Joseph's source material. I wanted to see how they use the verb "command."

I was not surprised to see that they provide little explanation for the Book of Mormon's command performance. Of course, it will take generations to sort through the ever-growing and highly imaginative collection of Joseph's vast frontier library that nobody ever saw, Joseph included (though this could make a fun movie of the National Archive variety, complete with a huge underground Masonic temple lined with books), but this week I started with some of the most popular "smoking guns."

First on the list is Gilbert Hunt's The late war, between the United States and Great Britain, from June 1812, to February 1815 : written in the ancient historical style. For background, see my "Another Fun Statistical Squabble," 11/07/13 and "Curious Parallels," 11/13/13, at Mormanity, and especially see Ben McGuire's commanding "The Late War Against the Book of Mormon," Mormon Interpreter, vol. 7, 2013.

That text was written in Elizabethan-style English in imitation of King James language and is said by some critics to be the ultimate smoking gun that "proves" plagiarism, a conclusion obtained with imaginative but bogus statistical methods.

Occasional similarities also derive from its many scenes of war that describe the kind of things that happen in war, as the Book of Mormon does. So if this was Joseph's secret source, now uncovered with the power of Big Data, its relationship to the unusual language structures of the Book of Mormon should be interesting, one might imagine.

Courtesy of Archive.org, you can see a text file with the full text of The Late War at https://archive.org/. Other formats might be more enjoyable, such as the PDF file or the online reader. In searching, be sure to consider the occasional hyphenated form also (search for "command" as well as "com-").

My exploration shows that Hunt's use of "command" as a verb is dominated by "commanded by" in the sense of leading, as in an army or ship commanded by a captain, similar to its common use as a noun, as in "under the command of" a leader. These cases don't apply to the current discussion.

The cases where "command" governs another verb are relatively few for such a long text (more than 300 pages), which already is a notable difference to the Book of Mormon, where command is a frequently used verb governing other verbs.

Hunt has 10 instances of command governing a verb, by my count, while the Book of Mormon has over 100. Here are the 10 from Hunt, with the finite forms in bold:

2:3 And they commanded them to go forth from their presence, for that purpose, and return again on the third day of the same month.

3:25 Therefore, I command that ye go not out to battle, but every man remain in his own house.

4:16 But they were rejoiced that power was not given unto him to command fire to come down from heaven to consume the friends of the great Sanhedrim.

7:13 William ... commanded the valiant men of Columbia to bow down before the servants of the king.

12:11 and commanded them to go to the island of the king which is called Bermuda.

25:15 After which the men of Columbia were commanded to go in boats, down to the strong hold of Kingston, in the province of the king.

29:11 Therefore, that your blood may not be spilt in vain, we command that ye give up the strong hold into the hands of the servants of the king, and become captives.

33:6 And he called together his captains of fifties, and his squadrons, and encouraged them, and commanded them to prepare themselves for the fight.

46:3 For the Prince Regent had commanded his servants to go forth into the heart of the land of Columbia, and separate the states of the east from the rest of the country.

51:28 They commanded the vessel called the Yankee to follow after them, towards the ship of the king their master;

Here 8 of 10 instances use the common infinitive form (command ... TO ...). The other two use command + that + verb.

So 20% of Hunt's few uses are in the finite form, similar to what we see in the KJV Bible, according to Carmack, but quite unlike the high level in the Book of Mormon. None of Hunt's finite forms use an auxiliary verb like "should," which is common in the Book of Mormon. Doesn't look like Hunt explains the Book of Mormon's command patterns.

The First Book of Napoleon is another text that allegedly has statistical similarity to the Book of Mormon. Archive.org again offers the full text, a PDF, and an online reader. You will find even less support for the use of "command" in that text. I find zero instance of "command" governing another verb.

The 1822 translation of the Quran is a little more interesting and relevant, but still fails as an explanation for Joseph's unique Book of Mormon language. Archive.org provides a text file, a PDF, and an online reader. Again, some of the important instances of command are hyphenated, so include "com-" in your search if using the text file.

When "command" as a verb governs another verbs, 33 times it was in the modern infinitive form and only 8 times in the finite form. That's 19.5%, very similar to the 18.8% rate of the KJV and quite unlike the 79% rate in the Book of Mormon.

One related structure in the Quran is related, but does not fit the finite usage of interest here. An example of this form is "it is also commanded us, saying, Observe the stated times of prayer." The verb "command" here does not directly govern a second verb, but introduces a quotation. So I am not counting it as a finite "layered" form equivalent to "command X that X or Y should do something."

Here are the 8 examples of command + finite verb that I found, listed by page number. Again, this is my preliminary count. I welcome comments and further analysis.

45. who also say, Surely God hath commanded us, that we should not give credit to any apostle, until one should come unto us with a sacrifice, which should be consumed by fire.

67. Wherefore we commanded the children of Israel, that he who slayeth a soul, without having slain a soul, or committed wickedness in the earth, shall be as if he had slain all mankind:

68. We have therein commanded them, that they should give life for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth ;

100. and command thy people that they live according to the most excellent precepts thereof

144. who hath commanded that ye worship none besides him.

173. Thy Lord hath commanded that ye worship none besides him;

269. Nay, but the crafty plot which ye devised by night and by day, occasioned our ruin; when ye commanded us that we should not believe in God, and that we should set up other gods as equals unto him.

277. Did I not command you, O sons of Adam, that ye should not worship Satan; because he was an open enemy unto you?

Five of the eight examples use "shall" or "should" as an auxiliary verb after "that," which may make it more similar to the Book of Mormon in that regard than is the King James Bible. So in terms of the Book of Mormon's command-related language, the 1822 Quran is certainly the best of the recently touted links found by bad Big Data techniques, but is still not very helpful and, of course, rather implausible.

Just for fun, I also looked at Solomon Spaulding's Manuscript Found (text file at Archive.org), which proved to be a case of relevant command language being not found. There were nine examples of infinitive forms but none in the finite form when command governed another verb. Yawn.

But wait, what about Shakespeare? Or Sir Walter Scott? Or James Adair and dozens of other authors? Dig in and let me know what you find.

So far, Carmack's thesis stands: the archaic language of the Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained by drawing from the KJV or other books in Joseph's day. I don't really know why that early archaic English is there, but whatever the reason, it is a subtle data-rich indicator of something other than imitation and plagiarism by Joseph Smith.

Or do you have a better fraud-friendly explanation?

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.


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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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