Friday, January 4, 2013

"The BofM" Vs "The Travels of Marco Polo"

Recently, a book has been brought to my attention. Since I had never heard of the book before and I found no reference to the "Travels of Marco Polo" which must have assuredly been written in the 1800's if there even is such a book, a recent commentary book about it called is brought into question called the "BofM - Book of Lies." - Even the title of the book wants to have ad hominem attacks be levied against it. Here is what has to say about this newcomer. Having not read the book I can't comment on it's details, but the short list of damning evidences that are listed on their website are so far fetched and ridiculous that it may not even warrant much of a response. In order for their theory to be true, there should be numerous close parallels between the BOM and Marco Polo's work, Joseph Smith would had to have access to the small library of books he would need in order to write The BOM (including books that would have to include information that wasn't even known in JS day), and he would have been a very literate man.

Lucy Mack Smith (His mother) said that "he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children" (History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, pg. 82). While his own wife insisted to the end of her life that, unaided, her husband was incapable of having composed The Book of Mormon. "I wrote for Joseph Smith during the work of translation...the larger part of this labor was done in my presence and where I could see and know what was being done...during no part of it did Joseph Smith have any mss. [manuscript] or book of any kind from which to read or dictate except the metallic plates which I knew he had" (Emma Smiths testimony as reported by Joseph Smith iii to James T. Cobb, 14 Feb. 1879,letterbook 2:85-88).

She also says "Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like The Book of Mormon...for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible" (The Saints Herald 26, 1 Oct. 1879) In an interview with Emma Smith, in 1856 with E. C. Briggs: "She remarked of her husband Joseph's limited education while he was translating the Book of Mormon, and she was scribe at the time, "He could not pronounce the word Sariah." And one time while translating, where it speaks of the walls of Jerusalem, he stopped and said, "Emma, did Jerusalem have walls surrounding it?" When I informed him it had, he replied, "O, I thought I was deceived." (David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991), 126-7)

"It may be that Joseph's own educational training, both formal and informal, had not prepared him at this early age to deal with libraries and bookstores generally. . . . There is little evidence that his literary skills extended much beyond a cursory acquaintance with a few books. . . . Given his unlettered background . . . it is likely that during the 1820s he simply was not a part of the literary culture, that portion of the population for which books provided a substantial part of its intellectual experiences." Robert Paul, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester New York Library," 341-42

From that, he didn't have the knowledge, nor the literacy to accomplish such a task. How about access to the books? Since he was a poor farm boy, his only access to such books would be through a library.

Robert Paul wrote "none of the library's secretary books, of which there are three extant at the Ontario County Historical Society, lists any patron who affiliated himself with the new church." Robert Paul, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester New York Library," Brigham Young University Studies 22 (1982): 340.

They say:"Religious beliefs and doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, such as ordained polygamy, marriage of dead children, multiple gods, and spiritual ascension to become a god, were copied by Joseph Smith from the Shamanistic religion and civil practices of medieval Tartars as documented in Marco Polo. This is the reason the Mormon religion more closely resembles Eastern, not Western, traditional religious beliefs"

You know as well as I do that every one of these are found in the Bible, Biblical history, non-Biblical history, and even archaeology (except for the marrying of dead children, not sure where they're going with that one). To ignore something that has deep roots in Christianity that matches exactly to doctrines and practices we have in the Church today, and to say it actually comes from another culture that *slightly* resembles doctrines and practices is nothing short of dishonesty.

They say "Smith's stories are fabrications copied from numerous explorers, soldiers, sailors, and historians within Asia, Arabia, Europe, and ancient Mexico found in geography books and maps that were published prior to 1830. The primary source was The Travels of Marco Polo, which had versions published in 1818."

So Joseph Smith was apparently well read on "numerous explorers, soldiers, sailors, and historians" all over the world. Really?!?!?! This is only possible if Joseph Smith had the internet and a lot of time on his hands. Nice try, though.

My favorite is the brushing aside an entire book of scripture (book of Abraham) by saying he plagiarized it from travel book in Arabia. How, exactly, did a travel book turn into book about Abraham, his life, travels and dealing with God? Pray tell, how did Joseph Smith know about ancient names mentioned in The book of Abraham that were not even discovered until recently? How did he know the worship practices of that specific area during that time period? How did he know the exact gods that were worshipped in that area in that time period? etc..etc...

Then to base a handful of very loose parallels as origin for The BOM which has a complex history of several cultures with corresponding religions, wars, geography, ancient doctrines, people, movements, etc... that are matching up quite well with Mesoamerican cultures which were practically unknown in JS early life, is insane. They also don't take into account that there were 3 witness who saw the plates that were brought down by an angel, and 8 witnesses who handled the plates. If he just stole the whole plate things from a book they shouldn't even exist. Here is an excellent talk on that

All they are doing is looking very hard to find any parallel they can in random books that JS did not even have access to, no matter how small, and then claim that Joseph Smith plagiarized from that book If they do that enough then they will have hundreds of books that JS would need to have borrowed from in order to make a lame excuse for a theory. The movie Tin Tin has a young man who is searching for truth who spent some time looking for a book which was delivered by 2 messengers. -The Book of Eli is about a man of God who lived after a great and terrible war where there is no law and order -He hears a voice telling him to protect a book of scripture -He wanders for many years while others try to destroy him/them -Once he fulfills his mission he dies

You are able to find parallels wherever you look with just about anything. The problem is, they are just not probable. Here is an answer a FAIR member just gave someone.

>>Any review of the book by Meredith and Kendall Sheets?<<

I don't know of any. One of the challenges that you face in looking at the various authorship theories is that while there are dozens and dozens of them, they fall into some very basic groupings. This book isn't any different. It adds to the list of texts that Joseph Smith must have read or been familiar with, and from which he cribbed the Book of Mormon (or that Solomon Spalding was familiar with and Joseph simply stole Spalding's manuscript, or Rigdon stole Spalding's manuscript and gave it to Joseph, and on and on and on). There is a challenge with finding plagiarism by looking at similarities or parallels. I have a long essay (about 30,000 words) being published this next year (2013) on the subject, so I have some familiarity with it.

Using parallels in this way is a practice that literary theorists largely abandoned about a century ago. There are a couple of books that are not too technical that are pretty good at explaining the issues. The first is called Attributing Authorship by Harold Love (2002) - - you can pick up a copy for less than $10.00 on Amazon, and it will be far more educational than the Sheet' book. The second is a bit older (but still relevant), and it represents an attorney's look at the issue. It's titled Plagiarism and Originality by Alexander Lindey (1974) - - and you can get a decent copy for under $20.00 on Amazon. It is more directly aimed at the legal issues surrounding claims of plagiarism.

To give you an idea, on page 81 of the first book, Love is talking about the single author about whom the most plagiarism claims have ever been made: Shakespeare (claims of Smith's Book of Mormon plagiarism don't even begin to come close). He tells us this:

"Ideas may be either derivative or original without prejudice to their status as markers of authorship. Derivative ideas fall under the scholarly rubric of 'influences' for which there is an enormous expert literature, albeit one that has to be used with caution. Scholars are prone to credit writers with much wider expert reading than they ever performed. As has often been pointed out, if Shakespeare had read all the books claimed to have influenced him, he would never have had time to write a word of his own. ... Knowledge of a writer's 'range and density of learning' can be sought from letters, diaries and recorded conversations, or the catalogue of a personal library, if one survives. however, beliefs that were common-places of the age, or even widely held in particular cultural sub-groups, cannot be allowed to count for much."

The rest of the discussion (which is too long really to copy here) is important because it deals with this problem. You can't simply compare two texts and come up with a list of similarities and assume that one text is in part the product of the others. And there has to be some way to distinguish between issues that indicate some kind of relationship and those that don't (that is, we can have similarities that all look more or less the same, but which are actually caused by very different reasons). The issue behind this is that if you work at it, you can make any two texts sound very similar. If you only highlight the things that make them alike, you aren't even arguing that they are that similar, you are arguing that they are the same. This is the core of much of the discussion in Lindey's book. And he gives us a list of nine "vices" of using these kinds of parallels to try and show that someone has plagiarized a text (and part of the point of his book is to explain why even the best sounding cases rarely work out in the courts - which is why often claims of plagiarism aren't aimed at being true or accurate - the issue isn't to win the case, but to create an argument in the court of public opinion from people who never actually look at the issues). Here is his list (from pages 60-61):

1. Any method of comparison which lists and underscores similarities and suppresses or minimizes differences is necessarily misleading.

2. Parallels are too readily susceptible of manipulation. Superficial resemblances may be made to appear as of the essence.

3. Parallel-hunters do not, as a rule, set out to be truthful and impartial. They are hell-bent on proving a point.

4. Parallel-hunting is predicated on the use of lowest common denominators. Virtually all literature, even the most original, can be reduced to such terms, and thereby shown to be unoriginal. So viewed, Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper plagiarizes Dickens' David Copperfield. Both deal with England, both describe the slums of London, both see their hero exalted beyond his original station. To regard any two books in this light, however, is to ignore every factor that differentiates one man's thoughts, reactions and literary expression from another's.

5. Parallel columns operate piecemeal. They wrench phrases and passages out of context. A product of the imagination is indivisible. It depends on totality of effect. To remove details from their setting is to falsify them.

6. Parallels fail to indicate the proportion which the purportedly borrowed material bears to the sum total of the source, or to the whole of the new work. Without such information a just appraisal is impossible.

7. The practitioners of the technique resort too often to sleight of hand. They employ language, not to record facts or to describe things accurately, but as props in a rhetorical hocus-pocus which, by describing different things in identical words, appears to make them magically alike.

8. A double-column analysis is a dissection. An autopsy will reveal a great deal about a cadaver, but very little about the spirit of the man who once inhabited it.

9. Most parallels rest on the assumption that if two successive things are similar, the second one was copied from the first. This assumption disregards all the other possible causes of similarity. Whatever his vices or virtues, the parallel-hunter is a hardy species. He is destined, as someone had said, to persist until Judgment Day, when he will doubtless find resemblances in the very warrant that consigns him to the nether regions.

One of the ironies of all of this is that Kendal Sheets puts forward his credentials on this stage as "an experienced attorney [who] practices law and litigates intellectual property cases that include patent, trademark, and copyright-infringement lawsuits in the United States federal courts." (p. 6). And yet, their approach doesn't really agree with what I have from other attorney's on the issue of successfully discovering plagiarism. This isn't a viable legal argument. It is purely aimed at the arena of public opinion - it is entirely polemical in nature.

So, here we have another author who wants to add to the list of literature that not only was Joseph familiar with, but that he incorporated into the Book of Mormon (which he authored). Among the list of authorship theories suggested by non-believers are several that suggest that Joseph didn't have much to do with the writing at all. They believe that Joseph stole the manuscript, and that while he may have changed an item or two, that it isn't his authorship at all (which explains why all of the word print studies generally suggest that he isn't the author). I know a few proponents of the Spalding authorship theory, and several of them who saw this book then simply suggested that perhaps it was Spalding who had copied from these texts, and Joseph then stole the manuscript (its not always productive arguing with them, so I didn't mention the problem with Spalding dying in 1816, when Marco Polo's book wasn't translated into English until 1818). But you can see that these theories tend to get carried away with the whole conspiracy thing. So many people who would have to be in on it, or involved in some way, and yet no one ever came forward to suggest that they were in on the hoax from the beginning and that it was really a hoax.

And then of course there are some real issues with the Sheets' work that implies a real lack of understanding outside of their narrow focus. On page 5 in the introduction, for example, they tell us about one of the names they discovered in the Book of Mormon for a land: melek - they write:

"After reading it a second time, he noticed something odd: the names, stories, and themes in The Book of Mormon seemed familiar. He thought about it that for a few days, then pulled his favorite book from his bookshelf - The Travels of Marco Polo. Sheets's introduction to that book had been in secondary school, and he had read it numerous times since then. Here is a quote from the Sheets book:

"He riffled through the pages, looking for a specific reference. The first word he recognized was melek, which means "king" or "ruler". The word melik appears in The Book of Mormon as the name of a land."

What I don't think they explain is how or why "melek" means "king" or "ruler". Anyone familiar with the Hebrew language can tell you that the Hebrew melek means king ( ). Why the need for Joseph to go to Marco Polo's book for this language when it would have been far closer to him coming from any book about the bible. Just using the google search engine, I can find dozens of books dating to around the time that the Book of Mormon was published that identify this meaning (including, for example, a reference in the widely distributed Adam Clarke's Commentary published in 1823). If we had a group of people coming from Jerusalem, and speaking Hebrew (as the text claims), then finding a Hebrew word like melek in the text isn't some kind of evidence to a connection with Marco Polo. And anyone with any kind of experience with languages and the us parallels to discuss relationships between texts would understand this. This beginning doesn't give me a lot of confidence in the Sheets's book.

I should note that I too am familiar with Marco Polo's book. I became interested a few years back when I first encountered it through the work of linguist Umberto Eco (that book was titled Kant and the Platypus although you might be more familiar with his fiction - his most famous work is probably the novel The Name of the Rose, turned into a movie with Christian Slater and Sean Connery). I don't see enough similarities to suggest a relationship between the two that would lead me to think plagiarism.

There are going to be parallels between any two books. But to make a study of these parallels work, they need to be predictive instead of reactive. We can't say (as the Sheets do) that we intuit a connection between books, and then go and find every possible parallel that has any kind of relevance to our thesis. This approach violates every single one of Lindey's vices. I can take the same sort of approach and show quite conclusively that Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days is plagiarized from the Book of Mormon (that's an example I have worked with extensively in the past). And we can take it further if we want to by comparing any two random texts. The real point of all of this is that even if it looks like there is too much quality data to be coincidental, it is in part because we simply don't usually compare just any two texts, and so we don't usually know how alike any two texts at random are. In general terms you can find at random high degrees of correlation between any two books - especially when you use parallels in this way. So the half of the discussion that the Sheets leave out is to try and explain why their theory cannot be passed off as coincidence, and why their theory should be seen as better than all of the other plagiarism arguments that came earlier (not to mention the other theories of authorship from both believers and non-believers).

Finding parallels is not difficult. In my work, I use a number of computer assisted search tools to help me describe texts and their relationships to one another. This isn't to say that I don't find interesting parallels from time to time that I think are worth looking into in more detail. But, in general, most of the parallels I am shown with charges of plagiarism are uninteresting. If you want to see an example of my look at one of the more interesting parallels (and an article in which I lay some groundwork for comparison), try this:

(If you want to see the artwork that they picked to go along with it, use the PDF link near the top). I doubt that I will review this specific book, but my soon to be published review essay title "Mormon Parallelomania" will deal with the arguments in this book, as well as lay out my own methods and criteria for evaluating the significance of parallels between texts.

Feel free to write back - and if you read the Sheets book, and would like me to comment on any specific issues, I would be happy to give it a go if I have time."

This was written in reference to a conversation betweeen myself and another... someone desirous to have me read this book. Seeing what I've already read to the contrary, it looks to be more of a"weak argument" against the book of Mormon than anything else. I honestly hope it gets ignored by the FAIR group because what we give energy to, persists... I'd rather not create any considerations that could be discussed but I wanted these things to at least be noted here. Whether or not this becomes a Wiki topic on the site or not, I do not know. I simply wanted to upload this here and let the chips fall where they may! So back to business.

Once again, this was in reference to or answering a recent inquiry by a YouTube subscriber/ google ID "mark MUNRO" as he stated, "A Nov 2012 publication "BofM book of lies" by M and S Sheets provides the source material for Joseph Smith Senior and Juniors wool of plagiarism page for page comparison of 1818, "The Travels of Marco Polo" - then I quoted Doctrine & Covenants section 71: 8-10 because this is no different than what men have attempted and failed at for years, to remind him that this or any other weapon brandished to come up against this latter-day work will fail either today or in the due time of the Lord then "mark MUNRO" he writes back, "No need to be defensive. Take a look, page by page parallels to 1818 "the travels Macro Polo. Sheets makes a comparison like you would expect of a patents lawyer. It's in black and white page by page comparison that will surprise you. It is not regurgitated "anti" material. Arm in the river of what ? bears no relevance."

Here was the "Full Debunking" as promised!