Parallelomania was a term perhaps coined in 1830, coincidently (or is it?) the same year the Book of Mormon was published.
I put some notes together a few months ago on evaluating parallels. I would like to hear some of your methods for discerning the significance of a proposed parallel and some examples as well.
William Hamblin’s own summary of methodology:
If one wishes to discuss divergent models for the origin of the Book of Mormon, the proper methodology to be followed is: 1—Assume that the book is an authentic ancient record and analyze it from this perspective; . . . 2—Assume that the book is a nineteenth-century document and analyze it from this perspective; 3—Compare and contrast the successes, failures, and relative explanatory power of the results of these studies; 4—Attempt to discover which model is the most plausible explanation for the origin of the text
From Hamblin’s critique of Nibley: (I am trying to put things in my own words, though)
- Parallels should come from the right time. It doesn’t do to assume uniformity of thought and culture for a given area.
- Parallels should come from the right place. A hemispheric region for an ancient setting is overly broad, just as a modern setting that Joseph Smith studying foreign and European literature is also overly broad.
- Anti-parallels should not be ignored.
- A multi-dimensional approach should be used: for example use tools from both from comparative literature and historical reconstruction.
From Brant Gardner’s review of Wirth [I am not quite as skeptical as Brant G. is about the worth of Spanish parallels]:
- Be very cautious in the uses of secondary sources. (discern reliability of cited scholars, recognize the influence of mediating cultural layers that add distortion. Example, Spanish christianizing Mesoamerican legends.)
- Similarity in elements is not necessarily evidence of an indication of a historical connection. Further argumentation is required: show that paralleling elements have unique “features that would be difficult to replicate by independent invention.”
- Do deal with anti-parallels, but be wary of using a “silly putty” classification scheme for parallels and anti-parallels. For example, having a scheme where parallels represent the original deposit of faith while anti-parallels are a result of apostasy or mistransmitted oral traditions. (Popper: “theories that explain so much and that seem to be immune to falsification ought to arouse our suspicion.”)
- See Hamblin’s #1 above (#2 is less of a problem for Wirth (narrower area), but there are still problems with some ideas crossing over between antagonistic cultures in the same area).
- Recognize that rhetorical skill can artificially strengthen or weaken a parallel.
From Poulsen’s review of Norman:
- Control for “the Light is better over here” phenomenon. Recognize that more information is available for some settings than others, which increases the odds of getting false positives.