FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Book of Moses
Book of MosesSummary: The "Documentary Hypothesis" is the theory that the Pentateuch (The first five books of the Bible consisting of Genesis-Deuteronomy) are the composition of four separate authors/editors. The sources are J, E, D, and P (Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, Priestly). It is claimed that the Documentary Hypothesis disproves the veracity of the Book of Moses. Usually it is claimed that the Book of Moses claims that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. The article here explains the Documentary Hypothesis and its relation to restoration scripture. Some claim that the Book of Moses cribs from the New Testament. Some critics have claimed that Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke's famous biblical commentary in the creation of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible which includes the Book of Moses. These articles answer these three claims.
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: What is the Documentary Hypothesis and what do critics of Mormonism claim about it as it regards restoration scripture?
- Question: Did Joseph Smith crib language from the New Testament to produce the Book of Moses?
- Question: What is the Adam Clarke Commentary and what do critics of Mormonism claim about it as it regards the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible?
Question: What is the Documentary Hypothesis and what do critics of Mormonism claim about it as it regards restoration scripture?
As explained by scholars Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, the Documentary Hypothesis (commonly referred to as the "DH") is “a theory concerning the origins of the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses) that [argues that the Pentateuch is composed of various sources that were] combined and revised over several centuries from varying historical and theological points of view.” These sources, according to source critics (scholars who study authorship of scriptures) who argue for the DH, “could be (fairly) precisely dated and placed in an evolutionary sequence…A J (Yahwist) document (ca. 850 B.C.E.) and an E (Elohist) document (ca. 750 B.C.E.) were, according to this hypothesis, combined by a redactor (RJE) around 650 B.C.E.; the Deuteronomic Code (621 B.C.E., called D) was added by a redactor (RD) around 550 B.C.E.; the Priestly Code (ca. 450 B.C.E.) constituted the final document added by a redactor (RP) around 400 B.C.E."
Below is a chart outlining the characteristics scholars see in the different sources of the Documentary Hypothesis:
The Book of Mormon contains allusions to all five of the Books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and thus all four sources of the Documentary Hypothesis (J,E,D, and P) are included in it.
Nephi tells us that the brass plates contained the “five books of Moses” (1 Nephi 5:11). Thus, this criticism is founded on the premise that the five books of Moses not be present (in some form) on the brass plates before Nephi and his family left Jerusalem--before the Babylonian Exile around the beginning of the 5th century BCE. We are not required to believe that they existed in the form that they exist today back then, but that the parts that do make it into Nephi’s record be there in a time before the exile. As shown from the chart above, the P source is frequently dated post-exile. Thus the presence of allusions to "P" is often claimed to present an anachronism (something that is out of place for the time period it is claimed to exist in) for the Book of Mormon.
Source critics have a myriad of theories to identify the sources of the Pentateuch and approximately date their composition and there is no established consensus. Many critics ignore this and translation theory for the Book of Mormon in making their claim.
There are a few problems with this claim that relate to the dating of the sources, the identification of the sources, and the assumptions about the translation of the Book of Mormon.
1) One is the idea that J,E,D, and P are static sources (meaning that they are four discrete units of text put together like cars on a train. In this case it would be like cutting up four box cars into many pieces and then rearranging them to fit together) , or that they are even sources at all.
Most European scholars reject J and E altogether as sources, and opt to name their sources D, P, non-D, and non-P (Deuteronomist, Priestly, non-Deuteronomist, non-Priestly). These same scholars, however, tend to lean towards a late dating for most of the sources-- D being the earliest source (during King Josiah's reform); but P, non-D, and non-P date from the beginning of the exile onward. Whether these scholars are correct about the identification of the sources themselves is a separate matter from whether they are correct about the dating of these sources.
Many European scholars (such as Erhard Blum and previously Rolf Rendtorf) tend to favor a Fragmentary Hypothesis--the belief that the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses) are the compilation of many, many fragments (like a puzzle)-- instead of the Documentary Hypothesis. Thus, dating of the fragments creates a separate issue. If J was dated to the Israelite monarchy, or to pre-exile/exile/post-exile, generally the argument goes that the entire source dates to that period. If fragments are not part of J then they'd be dated differently.
Some scholars, like Mark A. O'Brien and Antony Campbell (the authors/compilers of “Sources of the Pentateuch”) reject the Documentary Hypothesis altogether. They accept the Supplementary Hypothesis which argues that there was a base upon which fragments were added (Like sprinkles on an ice cream cone). Dating could be across the board here since there would be a core text that continually evolved over an 800 year period.
2) There is generally no consensus regarding the dating of the Documentary Hypothesis nor the identification of its sources. Some scholars, like John Van Seters, date the sources very differently-- putting J as being composed during the exile; but put D and P as pre-exilic (with some P redaction after the exile). Thus, the presence of themes relating to the Garden of Eden in the Book of Mormon would be anachronistic under Van Seters’ perspective.
As scholar Richard Friedman has written:
The best known, most compelling explanation of all our textual evidence is called the documentary hypothesis. A lot of people will tell you that this hypothesis about who wrote the Bible has a smaller consensus than it used to. That is true. Others will tell you that it has been disproved. That is false. The part about consensus, I must admit, reflects a rather strange breeze blowing through the field of Bible scholarship in recent years. The situation is not that the documentary hypothesis does not have a clear consensus of Bible scholars. It is that no hypothesis has a clear consensus of Bible scholars. The documentary hypothesis is just what it says: the Hebrew Bible is made up of documents, of source texts that editors (redactors) put together in several stages. That is the central idea, and nearly all scholars known to me outside of orthodox or fundamentalist communities are persuaded by that idea. (And even the orthodox and fundamentalist communities are beginning to come to terms with it in the last few years.) The point about consensus is that we are now getting a profusion of variations of this central idea. There are supplementary hypotheses, meaning that authors wrote some of the documents and then other authors wrote more pieces around those documents as supplements. There are hypotheses of many very small documents that were expanded and connected to each other. There are hypotheses that date the documents later and later in Israel’s history. Some hypotheses propose a different order in which the source documents were written. There are hypotheses that deny that one or another of the documents ever existed. In all of these variations, the scholar remains critical: not automatically accepting or rejecting the Bible’s reports, but rather identifying the Bible’s sources and their history to see what trustworthy information they can yield.
This is significant coming from a well-recognized scholar working on the Documentary Hypothesis. What we can establish from this is the general non-consensus among biblical scholars working in Pentateuchal criticism. Anyone who claims to know such a “consensus” misunderstands the field as it currently stands.
3) Most critics ignore translation issues. Meaning, even if the Book of Mormon included text that would be considered anachronistic because the source dating was reliable, that doesn't preclude Joseph Smith/the Lord from providing that text couched in KJV verbiage. This would be an example of dynamic equivalent translation, rather than formal equivalent.
But what about the P source?
The P source is the one that usually comes up for Latter-day Saints in discussion of the DH in relation to the Book of Mormon since it is frequently dated to a post-exilic period. If it dates past the Baylonian Exile, then how would the Lehites be able to have them on the brass plates? P has been dated as pre-exilic by many scholars. For example, the most recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature contains an article by Joshua Berman, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Hebrew Bible at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and esteemed source critic, arguing for a pre-exilic P. Latter-day Saint scholar David Bokovoy has argued that the E source came before J and that the P source came before D and that D was pre-exilic. Scholar Thomas K. King has argued for a pre-exilic P in his excellent book. Scholar Risa Levitt Kohn argues for a pre-exilic P in her book. Chapters 2 and 3 have a lot of information summarizing the debate on the dating of P and example after example of why P is pre-exilic (or at minimum, predates Ezekiel). Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary puts it at “no later than the 8th century B.C.E.” Scholars in Pentateuchal criticism will continue to flesh this out and Latter-day Saints should simply seek to study the work of scholars who argue for pre-exilic source documents for the creation of the Pentateuch.
Thus, the Documentary Hypothesis should not be any large problem for Latter-day Saints as it pertains to the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Moses
The Book of Moses was produced as part of Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible beginning in 1830. Critics claim that the Book of Moses asserts Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch. However, this is not so. We only get references to a “book” that Moses writes (Moses 1:41), not specifically the Pentateuch. It should be noted for honesty that Joseph did assume that Moses authored the Pentateuch. Though it does not seem that he would have been opposed to studying the Book of Moses this way and examining our assumptions about it (D&C 88:77-79).
One additional issue though is that the Book of Moses and the accounts of creation in Genesis still hold many similarities. Why they hold such similarities may be something we should deal with. This most relates to the dating of the source(s) that make up the Book of Moses.
Traditionally, it has been assumed by most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the Book of Moses represents the literal historical words of the prophet Moses. Though there are actually a couple of plausible decisions one could take (in light of evidence from the book itself and from history) of when the Book of Moses may have actually been written.
High Chronology (more ancient)
The first is the high chronology or the traditional dating assumed by most members of the Church. If we assume the high chronology, then reconciling the Documentary Hypothesis becomes possible but just slightly more complicated. It is traditionally claimed that Moses was born around 1600 B.C. The Book of Moses under this dating would be claiming to be written after Moses spoke with God in the burning Bush (Exodus 3; Moses 1:17) and either before or slightly after receiving the command to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 14; Moses 1:26). The Exodus is traditionally claimed to have taken place around 1400 B.C. Below is a chronology of the events of the Exodus as taken from the bible:
A couple of issues arise that need to be dealt with if we accept this. The first is the Book of Moses’s relation to the translation of the Pentateuch that Joseph had access to. The earliest source of the Documentary Hypothesis is the J source (Yahwist) which dates to 1000 - 920 BCE. If Moses did indeed write/speak words found within the Book of Moses, then he had to have written his book much, much longer before the documents contained in the Pentateuch. If that is true, he would have had to have written in something besides Hebrew since Hebrew as a writing system did not develop until roughly 8 centuries after Moses is traditionally claimed to have lived. The most likely candidate would be Demotic. Thus the similarities among creation myths of the Pentateuch and the Book of Moses would be explained by the writers/editors that lived after Moses using his book (or another authority that followed it closely) as a reference for their own compositions of the creation myths. Thus we get our “restoration” of the Book of Genesis.
Thus under the assumption of high chronology:
- The sources used to compose the Book of Moses would have been (an) entirely separate document(s) from the sources used in the Documentary Hypothesis.
- It would likely have been written in Demotic
- Joseph would be the one writing in Moses 1:1 and 1:42 and providing us the literal historical words of the Prophet Moses.
Low Chronology (more recent)
We have another option to accept. The low chronology for the Book of Moses would accept that the Book of Moses represents a pseudipigraphical text. Moses 1:1, under this assumption, is treated as a simple attribution of words to Moses and not using a source with Moses’ actual words.
If we accept the Low Chronology, then the questions to answer become almost none. The author could have used existing sources from the JEDP to compose the text. This would explain similarities to them in the Book of Moses easily.
Matthew Roper has found ancient sources that seem to support this notion.
A Resolution of the Chronologies
One resolution that may be able to bridge the two positions would be to say that one or more of the sources used in the Book of Moses in reality represent the words of the literal historical Moses and that some (like the creation themes) represent later sources that a mid to late 1st millenium BCE editor brought together.
Another potential resolution would be that the Book of Moses represents the actual composition of Moses that may have been passed down the generations of (most likely) his descendants and edited/reinterpreted as writers felt inspired.
Further research will be needed to establish either of the chronologies or the resolutions.
The Book of Abraham
Some have applied this same type of criticism to the Book of Abraham. Similar chronologies and solutions have been proposed.
The only major difference between this issue and the Book of Moses is that the Book of Abraham has a physical papyri that Joseph translated from that dates "to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E." Thus, under a Missing Papyrus Translation Theory, one has to begin with someone living during this time and then using ancient and/or more contemporary sources to speak about Abraham or have a text that was passed down in a line of Abraham's descendants to that time with them adding their emendations/interpolations to the text as they felt inspired. Under the Catalyst Theory, such a requirement does not exist.
One issue with assuming a Missing Papyrus Theory is that there are many ancient sources — both more contemporary to Abraham (according to the traditional dating of his life) and more contemporary to a later-yet-still-ancient copyist/redactor/editor of the Book of Abraham that prove dating the narrative of the Book of Abraham difficult.
Further research will be needed to establish where the Book of Abraham fits.
After careful analysis, it doesn’t seem that the Documentary Hypothesis presents any real challenges to Restoration scripture at this time.
- Jeffrey Bradshaw, "Did Moses Write the Book of Genesis? (Old Testament Gospel Doctrine 3B)". This article examines the Book of Moses in relation to the Documentary Hypothesis
- John Sorenson, "The 'Brass Plates' and Biblical Scholarship". This article argues that the Book of Mormon reflects what we expect from source criticism to be on the brass plates during Nephi's day--especially the E source.
- Kevin L. Barney, "Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33 no. 1 (Spring 2000), 57–99. off-site. This article offers reflections of the Documentary Hypothesis in relation to restoration scripture and provides a historical survey of reactions among Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars as they have approached it.
Question: Did Joseph Smith crib language from the New Testament to produce the Book of Moses?
|This page is still under construction. We welcome any suggestions for improving the content of this FAIR Answers Wiki page.|
Introduction to Question
The Book of Moses appears to use many phrases that come uniquely from the New Testament in the Holy Bible. The following occurences of New Testament language and concepts reflected in the Book of Moses were documented by Dr. David M. Calabro—a Latter-day Saint and Curator of Eastern Christian Manuscripts at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University.
|Phrase||Location in Book of Moses||Location in New Testament|
|"Only Begotten" and "Only Begotten Son"||Moses 1:6, 13, 16, 17, 19, 21, 32, 33; 2:1, 26, 27; 3:18; 4:1, 3, 28, 5:7, 9, 57; 6:52, 57, 59, 62; 7:50, 59, 62||John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Hebrews 11:17; 1 John 4:9|
|"transfigured before" God||Moses 1:11||Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2|
|"get thee hence, Satan"||Moses 1:16||Matthew 4:10|
|the Holy Ghost "beareth record" of the Father and the Son||Moses 1:24; 5:9||1 John 5:7|
|"by the word of my power"||Moses 1:32, 35; 2:5||Hebrews 1:3|
|"full of grace and truth"||Moses 1:32, 5:7||John 1:14; cf. John 1:17|
|"immortality and eternal life"||Moses 1:39||Both terms are absent from the Old Testament but are relatively frequent in the New Testament: immortality occurs six times, all in Pauline epistles; eternal life occurs twenty-six times in the Gospels, Pauline epistles, epistles of John, and Jude; "eternal life" also appears elsewhere like in Moses 5:11; 6:59; 7:45.|
|"them that believe"||Moses 1:42; 4:32||Mark 16:17; John 1:12; Romans 3:22; 4:11; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 14:22; Galatians 3:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 10:39; the contrasting phrase “them that do not believe” also appears (Rom. 15:31; 1 Cor. 10:27; 14:22)|
|"I am the Beginning and the End"||Moses 2:1||Revelation 21:6; 22:13|
|"Beloved Son" as a title of Christ||Moses 4:2||Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35; 2 Peter 1:17; the phrase "beloved son" appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 20:13; 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 1:2) and in the Greek Septuagint of Gen. 22:2, but it is absent from the Hebrew and KJV Old Testament.|
|"my Chosen," as a title of Christ||Moses 4:2; 7:39||Compare "chosen of God" in reference to Christ in Luke 23:35 and 1 Pet. 2:4|
|"thy will be done"||Moses 4:2||Matthew 6:10; 26:42; Luke 11:2|
|"the glory be thine forever"||Moses 4:2||Compare Matthew 6:13 - “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever;” note the proximity of this phrase to “thy will be done” both in Moses 4:2 and in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9–1.|
|"by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that [Satan] should be cast down"||Moses 4:3||Compare Revelation 12:10 - “Now is come . . . the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down”; note that the Hebrew title Satan means "accuser"|
|"the devil"||Moses 4:4||Sixty-one instances in the New Testament, translating the Greek word diabolos|
|"carnal, sensual, and devilish"||Moses 5:13; 6:49||James 3:15 "earthly, sensual, and devilish"|
|"Satan desireth to have thee"||Moses 5:23||Luke 22:31 "Satan hath desired to have you"|
|"Perdition," as the title of a person||Moses 5:24||Compare "the son of perdition" in John 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; the word perdition as an abstract noun meaning "destruction" (translating the Greek word apoleia) occurs elsewhere in the King James version of the New Testament (Philippians 1:28; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 17:8, 11)|
|"the Gospel”||Moses 5:58, 59, 8:19||Eighty-three instances in the New Testament; the word gospel, irrespective of the English definite article, occurs 101 times in the New Testament but is not found in the Old Testament.|
|"holy angels"||Moses 5:58||Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Acts 10:22 (singular "holy angel"); Revelation 14:10|
|"gift of the Holy Ghost"||Moses 5:58; 6:52||Acts 2:38; 10:45|
|"anointing" the eyes in order to see||Moses 6:35 – "anoint thine eyes with clay, and wash them, and thou shalt see"||Compare John 9:6–7, 11 (Jesus anoints the eyes of a blind man with clay and commands him to wash in the pool of Siloam, and he "came seeing"); Revelation 3:18 (the Lord tells the church in Laodicea, "anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see"); these are the only passages in the Bible that refer to anointing the eyes|
|"no man laid hands on him"||Moses 6:39||John 7:30, 44; 8:20|
|"my God, and your God"||Moses 6:43||John 20:17|
|"only name under heaven whereby salvation shall come"||Moses 6:52||Acts 4:12|
|collocation of water, blood, and Spirit||Moses 6:59-60||1 John 5:6, 8|
|"born again of water and the Spirit"; "born of the Spirit"; "born again"; "born of water and of the Spirit"; "born of the Spirit"||Moses 6:59, 65||John 3:3, 5-8|
|"the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven"||Moses 6:59||Matthew 13:11. The phrase "kingdom of heaven" is absent from the Old Testament; in the New Testament it is found only in Matthew (thirty-two occurrences), but it is frequent in rabbinic literature|
|"cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten"||Moses 6:59||Compare 1 John 1:7 ("the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin")|
|"the words of eternal life"||Moses 6:59||John 6:68|
|eternal life "in the world to come"||Moses 6:59||Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; the phrase “the world to come” is absent from the Old Testament but occurs five times in the New Testament; other than the two just quoted, see Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 2:5; 6:5|
|"by the Spirit ye are justified"||Moses 6:60||Compare 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Timothy 3:16|
|"the Comforter," referring to the Holy Ghost||Moses 6:61||John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7|
|"the inner man"||Moses 6:65||Ephesians 3:16; Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16|
|"baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost"||Moses 6:66||Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16|
|"they were of one heart and one mind"||Moses 7:18||Compare Acts 4:32|
|"in the bosom of the Father," referring to heaven||Moses 7:24, 47||John 1:18 (note that JST deletes this phrase in this verse, perhaps implying that it entered the text sometime after its original composition)|
|"a great chain in his hand"||Moses 7:26||Revelation 20:1 (here the one holding the chain is an angel, unlike Moses 7:26, in which it is the devil)|
|commandment to "love one another"||Moses 7:33||John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 1:5|
|"without affection"||Moses 7:33||Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3|
|"the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world"||Moses 7:47||Compare Revelation 13:8 – "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," as a noun phrase); the term "the Lamb" is used as a title of the Messiah only in the New Testament and is distinctively Johannine (John 1:29, 36; twenty-seven instances in Revelation), and the words lamb and slain collocate only in Revelation 5:6, 12; 13:8.|
|"climb up" by a gate or door, as a metaphor of progression through Christ||Moses 7:53||John 10:1|
This article seeks to present some views as to why the Book of Moses reflects a lot of New Testament language and concepts.
Response to Question
There are a few possibilities as to why this language appears. These possibilities are not all mutually exclusive. We'll lay out those possibilities. The strengths and weaknesses of those theories will perhaps be readily apparent.
”After the Manner of Their Language” – Doctrine & Covenants 1:24
The first possibility to consider is that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Moses into a vernacular that was comprehensible to his 19th century audience. Joseph's contemporaries were steeped in biblical language and used it in common, everyday parlance. The language of the New Testament can be used to describe correlative theological issues.
Doctrine and Covenants 1:24 informs us that this is something that is part of the nature of revelation: to use the language of the agent receiving revelation so as to increase that agent's understanding and communicate effectively.
- 24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
An Early Christian Context for the Creation of the Book of Moses
Another possibility is that the Book of Moses was originally written in an Early Christian context. That would place the composition of the Book of Moses in the 1st and 2nd century AD (about 1900 to 1800 years ago). David M. Calabro has recently outlined and defended this theory. Calabro theorizes that the Book of Moses can still preserve actual events from the life of the actual, ancient Moses while appropriating the story for a Christian context and fitting it with Christian language. Thus, Joseph Smith can actually be restoring lost understanding of Moses and we can easily account for the New Testament language.
One potential weakness of this theory is that it disrupts the current understanding of most Church members about the Book of Moses: that it represents a restoration of Moses' writings in Genesis. However, Joseph Smith does not seem to have left a detailed account of what the Book of Moses represents. All the author can locate is the generic statement from Joseph that the Joseph Smith Translation represents, in some form, a restoration of "many important points touching the salvation of men, [that] had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled." Also, Dr. Calabro's theory actually does embrace the notion that the Book of Moses preserves actual events from Moses' life as well as his teachings.
What I Speak Unto One Nation I Speak Unto Another
Speaking in reference to the Bible, the Book of Mormon has God announce that "I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two enations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also."
It is certainly possible that the same concepts were revealed to Moses with similar language as that used in the New Testament.
A Pre-Christian Context for the Creation of the Book of Moses
The Book of Moses could have actually been written in years preceding the coming of Christ and New Testament authors could have been echoing language first used in the Book of Moses. Latter-day Saint author Jeff Lindsay and former BYU professor Noel Reynolds have theorized that the Book of Moses influenced the language of the Book of Mormon. It's at least possible that this could extend to the New Testament.
Clearly, there is no reason to immediately assume that the presence of New Testament language in the Book of Moses rules out the possibility of it being authentically ancient and a legitimate source of information about events in the life of the historical prophet Moses.
Question: What is the Adam Clarke Commentary and what do critics of Mormonism claim about it as it regards the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible?
The Adam Clarke Commentary Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments was a 19th century commentary on the Bible.
In March 2017, Thomas Wayment, professor of Classics at Brigham Young University, published a paper in BYU’s Journal of Undergraduate Research titled “A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation”. In a summary of their research, Professor Wayment and his undergraduate research assistant Haley Wilson-Lemmón wrote:
Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible has attracted significant attention in recent decades, drawing the interest of a wide variety of academics and those who affirm its nearly canonical status in the LDS scriptural canon. More recently, in conducting new research into the origins of Smith’s Bible translation, we uncovered evidence that Smith and his associates used a readily available Bible commentary while compiling a new Bible translation, or more properly a revision of the King James Bible. The commentary, Adam Clarke’s famous Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, was a mainstay for Methodist theologians and biblical scholars alike, and was one of the most widely available commentaries in the mid-1820s and 1830s in America. Direct borrowing from this source has not previously been connected to Smith’s translation efforts, and the fundamental question of what Smith meant by the term “translation” with respect to his efforts to rework the biblical text can now be reconsidered in light of this new evidence. What is noteworthy in detailing the usage of this source is that Adam Clarke’s textual emendations come through Smith’s translation as inspired changes to the text. Moreover, the question of what Smith meant by the term translation should be broadened to include what now appears to have been an academic interest to update the text of the Bible. This new evidence effectively forces a reconsideration of Smith’s translation projects, particularly his Bible project, and how he used academic sources while simultaneously melding his own prophetic inspiration into the resulting text. In presenting the evidence for Smith’s usage of Clarke, our paper also addressed the larger question of what it means for Smith to have used an academic/theological Bible commentary in the process of producing a text that he subsequently defined as a translation. In doing so, we first presented the evidence for Smith’s reliance upon Adam Clarke to establish the nature of Smith’s usage of Clarke. Following that discussion, we engaged the question of how Smith approached the question of the quality of the King James Bible (hereafter KJV) translation that he was using in 1830 and what the term translation meant to both Smith and his close associates. Finally, we offered a suggestion as to how Smith came to use Clarke, as well as assessing the overall question of what these findings suggest regarding Smith as a translator and his various translation projects.
Our research has revealed that the number of direct parallels between Smith’s translation and Adam Clarke’s biblical commentary are simply too numerous and explicit to posit happenstance or coincidental overlap. The parallels between the two texts number into the hundreds, a number that is well beyond the limits of this paper to discuss. A few of them, however, demonstrate Smith’s open reliance upon Clarke and establish that he was inclined to lean on Clarke’s commentary for matters of history, textual questions, clarification of wording, and theological nuance. In presenting the evidence, we have attempted to both establish that Smith drew upon Clarke, likely at the urging of Rigdon, and we present here a broad categorization of the types of changes that Smith made when he used Clarke as a source.
That notice in BYU's Journal of Undergraduate Research was followed by Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon publishing the most detailed account of their findings together in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity (2020) edited by BYU Professor Dr. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Joseph Smith Papers researcher Dr. Mark Ashurst-McGee, and former BYU professor Dr. Brian M. Hauglid. Professor Wayment then published an additional article on the subject in the July 2020 issue of the Journal of Mormon History.
In Professor Wayment’s view, the claimed parallels did nothing to Joseph’s claim of revelation since the longer revisions never rely on the Clarke commentary. The similarities are shorter, 1-6 word revisions.
Professor Wayment outline in more detail what he and Haley Wilson found:
What we found, a student assistant (Hailey Wilson Lamone) and I, we discovered that in about 200 to 300 — depending on how much change is being involved — parallels where Joseph Smith has the exact same change to a verse that Adam Clarke does. They’re verbatim. Some of them are 5 to 6 words; some of them are 2 words; some of them are a single word. But in cases where that single word is fairly unique or different, it seemed pretty obvious that he’s getting this from Adam Clarke. What really changed my worldview here is now I’m looking at what appears obvious as a text person, that the prophet has used Adam Clarke. That in the process of doing the translation, he’s either read it, has it in front of him, or he reads it at night. We started to look back through the Joseph Smith History. There’s a story of his brother-in-law presenting Joseph Smith with a copy of Adam Clarke. We do not know whose copy of Adam Clarke it is, but we do know that Nathaniel Lewis gives it to the prophet and says, “I want to use the Urim and Thummim. I want to translate some of the strange characters out of Adam Clarke’s commentary.” Joseph will clearly not give him the Urim and Thummim to do that, but we know he had it in his hands. Now looking at the text, we can say that a lot of the material that happens after Genesis 24. There are no parallels to Clarke between Genesis 1–Genesis 24. But when we start to get to Matthew, it’s very clear that Adam Clarke has influenced the way he changes the Bible. It was a big moment. That article comes out in the next year. We provide appendi [sic] and documentation for some of the major changes, and we try to grapple with what this might mean.
Professor Wayment addressed the accusation of plagiarism directly.
In another interview with Kurt Manwaring, Professor Wayment addressed the charge of plagiarism directly:
When news inadvertently broke that a source had been uncovered that was used in the process of creating the JST, some were quick to use that information as a point of criticism against Joseph or against the JST. Words like “plagiarism” were quickly brought forward as a reasonable explanation of what was going on. To be clear, plagiarism is a word that to me implies an overt attempt to copy the work of another person directly and intentionally without attributing any recognition to the source from which the information was taken.
I hope people who read the study when it comes out will pause long enough to consider the benefit of expanding the definition of the prophetic gift to include academic study as a key component before rejecting the evidence outright.
To the best of my understanding, Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke as a Bible commentary to guide his mind and thought process to consider the Bible in ways that he wouldn’t have been able to do so otherwise. It may be strong to say, but Joseph didn’t have training in ancient languages or the history of the Bible, but Adam Clarke did. And Joseph appears to have appreciated Clarke’s expertise and in using Clarke as a source, Joseph at times adopted the language of that source as he revised the Bible. I think that those who are troubled by this process are largely troubled because it contradicts a certain constructed narrative about the history of the JST and about how revelation works.
The reality of what happened is inspiring.
Joseph, who applied his own prophetic authority to the Bible in the revision process, drew upon the best available scholarship to guide his prophetic instincts. Inspiration following careful study and consideration is a prophetic model that can include many members of the church.
Kent P. Jackson, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and expert on the JST, responded to Wayment's and Wilson-Lemmon's work on October 2, 2020 with criticisms that revealed devastating weaknesses in their theory.
Kent P. Jackson, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and expert on the JST, responded to Wayment's and Wilson-Lemmon's work on October 2, 2020 in a journal article published with Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship with criticisms that revealed devastating weaknesses in their theory. Jackson concluded that "none of the examples they provide can be traced to Clarke’s commentary, and almost all of them can be explained easily by other means." Readers are encouraged to read Dr. Jackson's paper at the link cited.
Similarly, Latter-day Saint scholar Kevin L. Barney, who has published on the JST in the past, wrote that the chances for the Adam Clarke commentary influencing the production of the JST are "de minimis or negligible."
To be sure, neither Jackson nor Barney are opposed to the idea that there could be secondary source influence on the production of the JST. Thus, this is a faith-neutral issue for both men. Both men are simply in academic disagreement with the conclusions of Wayment and Wilson-Lemmon.
- Kurt Manwaring, “10 questions with Thomas Wayment”.
- LDS Perspectives, Joseph Smith's Use of Bible Commentaries in His Translations - Thomas A. Wayment .
- Thomas Wayment and Haley Wilson, “A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation".
- Kent P. Jackson, "Some Notes on Joseph Smith and Adam Clarke"
- Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, fourth edition (Louisville, KY: John Knox Westminster Press, 2011), 79.
- This non-consensus is described in more informed terms in Marc Z. Brettler, "Introduction to the Pentateuch," The New Oxford Annotated Bible, fifth edition, eds. Michael Coogan, Marc Brettler, Carol A. Newsome, and Pheme Perkins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) 5–6.
- Richard Elliot Friedman, The Exodus (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 43–44.
- Written 19 June 2019.
- Joshua Berman, “The Biblical Criticism of Ibn Hasm the Andalusian: A Medieval Control for Diachronic Method,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol 138, No. 2 (2019): 377–390. This claim written 19 June 2019.
- David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014) 84–85. As Bokovoy wrote: "E actually came before J (exactly when we cannot say) and that P was written as a priestly reaction to these sources some time later toward the beginning of the Judean exile (remember P is earlier than D, and D for the most part is clearly pre-exilic)."
- Thomas J. King, The Realignment of the Priestly Literature: The Priestly Narrative in Genesis and Its Relation to Priestly Legislation and the Holiness School (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2008).
- Risa Levitt Kohn, A New Heart and a New Soul: Ezekiel, the Exile, and the Torah (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2009).
- Anonymous, “Priestly Document,” Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1084.
- Chronology taken from Rick Aschmann, Chronology of the Exodus, <https://aschmann.net/BibleChronology/The_Exodus.html> (23 July 2019).
- Angel Saénz-Badillos, A History of the Hebrew Language (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 16.
- Anonymous, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng&_r=1> (23 July 2019).
- David M. Calabro, "An Early Christian Context for the Book of Moses," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47 (2021): 187–91.
- See also 2 Nephi 31:3
- Calabro, "An Early Christian Context."
- Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), 10–11.
- 2 Nephi 29:8
- Jeff Lindsay and Noel B. Reynolds, "'Strong Like unto Moses': The Case for Ancient Roots in the Book of Moses Based on Book of Mormon Usage of Related Content Apparently from the Brass Plates," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 44 (2021): 1–92; Noel B. Reynolds, "The Brass Plates Version of Genesis," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 63–96.
- Haley Wilson and Thomas Wayment, “A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,” Journal of Undergraduate Research (March 2017) off-site
- Thomas A. Wayment and Haley Wilson-Lemmon, “A Recovered Resource: The Use of Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary in Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,” in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, eds. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 262–84.
- Thomas A. Wayment, “Joseph Smith, Adam Clarke, and the Making of a Bible Revision,” Journal of Mormon History 46, no. 3 (July 2020): 1–22.
- Transcript of Laura Harris Hales, “Joseph Smith's Use of Bible Commentaries in His Translations - Thomas A. Wayment,” LDS Perspectives, September 26, 2019, https://www.ldsperspectives.com/2017/09/26/jst-adam-clarke-commentary/.
- Kurt Manwaring, “10 Questions with Thomas Wayment,” From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring, January 2, 2019, https://www.fromthedesk.org/10-questions-thomas-wayment/.
- Kent P. Jackson, "Some Notes on Joseph Smith and Adam Clarke," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 40 (2020): 15–60.
- See, for instance, Kevin L. Barney, “A Commentary on Joseph Smith’s Revision of First Corinthians,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 53, no. 2 (Summer 2020): 57–105.
- Kevin Barney, "On Secondary Source Influence in the JST," By Common Consent, April 16, 2021, https://bycommonconsent.com/2021/04/16/on-secondary-source-infuence-in-the-jst/