#48 - Writing Scripture

I was talking to someone the other day about the validity of the Book of Mormon and whether Joseph Smith could have written it or not. It really got me thinking about the subject and I wanted to share some of my thoughts here.

Personally, I think it is virtually impossible that he could have written that book out of his own imagination and with his personal knowledge base. I admit that nothing is *impossible*, but seriously, in my opinion, the chances that he wrote the book are, like, less than .1%

I estimate the Book of Mormon to be roughly 254,000 words. (I counted the words on 3 random pages and averaged them out, then multiplied that by the number of pages in the book.) 254,000 words is a very large book.

To put it in perspective, I used the same method to estimate the number of words in "Breaking Dawn" by Stephanie Meyer and there are about 170,000 words in that book.

To use another example, there are probably about 187,000 words in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings. (That estimate is based on a number someone posted on the internet by a person who estimated it using the same method I employed above.)

As far as Breaking Dawn goes, I think it's safe to say that The Book of Mormon has a LOT more substance to it. To be fair, though, I admit that The Lord of the Rings is significantly more substantial than Breaking Dawn.

Historical sources estimate that it took Joseph Smith 80 days to "write" The Book of Mormon.

It took Stephanie Meyer about 1 year to write Breaking Dawn.

Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings in roughly 4 years.

Stephanie Meyer was 35 years old and had a bachelor's degree in English literature when Breaking Dawn was published.

Tolkien was 62 and was a major scholar of the English language, specializing in Old and Middle English and twice Professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the University of Oxford.

Joseph Smith was a 25-year-old farm boy with the formal education level of a current-day 4th grader when The Book of Mormon was published. It's true that he was much more bright and introspective than the average bear, but it is too much of a stretch for my mind to make to believe he could have written that book from his own personal knowledge and education.

If Joseph Smith did write The Book of Mormon, he was the most brilliant writer in the history of the world. And it just so happened that he was also a religious fanatic who wanted to deceive the whole world into thinking he had seen angels and translated a book from a set of gold plates. What a coincidence that one person would be both of those things.

On top of that, I just want to talk about the structure, story, POV, etc. in the Book of Mormon from a writer's perspective. I've tried to write a book and it is HARD. There is so much to keep straight. I find myself often trying to remember how old one of my characters is, or what name I had given to their mother, and a hundred other details. What was the name of the town they grew up in, again? Who was that person they met in chapter 2? And that's with a story that only has a dozen or so prominent characters, and the whole story being told from the same point of view.

The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, features so great a number of characters, I couldn't even begin to estimate how many there are. And the stories are told from so many different peoples' points of view. And never do the different characters vary in form throughout their section of the book. When Mormon is abridging parts of the book or summarizing them, he often says, "And thus we see . . ." and goes on to give the moral of the story. Never does Nephi or Alma or any of the other characters do such a thing. What book have you read recently that didn't break POV at least once?

And, there is the fact that Joseph would have had to know a lot of things about Middle Eastern life and cultures. How many books do you think there were in the Palmyra City Library in 1825 about the methods used to graft in branches on wild and tame olive trees? It is different than the care of any kind of tree Joseph could have known about in upper state New York, yet he described exactly how it is done in Jacob 5.

Authors who write about another culture do a LOT of research in order to get all their facts straight. If there had been a professor in Joseph's home town who taught him all of these kinds of things, or if he spent countless hours at a university library, I think someone would have known about it.

Meyer and Tolkien had editors and publishers they worked with to help them correct mistakes in their books. I don't know about Tolkien, but I know Meyer sends her manuscripts out to readers, who help her figure out some of the things she needs to change to make the story make sense, flow better, etc. Joseph Smith had none of that.

Sorry to ramble on for so long, but I've been thinking a lot about this. Especially now, as I'm trying to get back into writing the book I'm working on and struggling with it. I have a lot of reasons to believe the church is true, but I'm not trying to bear my testimony here. :) I just wanted to comment on some of my thoughts about The Book of Mormon from a writer's perspective.

If any of you have thoughts about what I've written (as opposed to bashing on the church) I'd love to hear your perspectives.


  1. Thank you for this! I loved reading your insights. I find it fascinating. Do you mind if I link to this post on my blog?

  2. Hi Jennifer, don't mean to intrude if this is a private blog. You triggered one of my Google news alerts, so...

    Anyway, I thought you'd find this article about the Book of Mormon from Mormon science fiction author Orson Scott Card interesting:


    I thought it was fun anyway. Best wishes.

  3. Melanie, Of course I don't mind. :)

    Seth, thank you so much for pointing me to that awesome article. Orson Scott Card, as a very successful science fiction author, knows a lot more about the subject than I do.

    So anyone who's interested in reading more about what I'm trying to say here, follow that link.

  4. Very well said, Jenifer. This is one to print and save for future sunday school youth discussions.

  5. Here are a couple of things to think about:

    There are twenty-something chapters that are pretty much verbatim from the bible, as well as numerous other passages (the beattitudes for one). I don't know what that does to the word count. Might not make that much of a difference.

    Another interesting thing is a book called The View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith, published 1823, then again in 1825. He puts forth a popular view of the day which is that ancient Americans were of Hebrew descent. It is also interesting to note that he was a pastor at Oliver Cowdry's church.

    One last thought--Mohammed was also uneducated, but produced the Koran. But that doesn't make it true.

  6. Kim, thanks for your comments. You have a lot of good points. I wasn't considering the Bible passages when I figured out my word count. I'm sure it does effect it. I'll see if I can look through it and figure out how much it does change when I take them out.

    And the other things you said aren't even the beginning of the arguments against the validity of the Book of Mormon. In the end, of course, it does come down to whether you believe in it for non-scientific, non-intellectual reasons.

    But, as a writer, I do find it very interesting to compare the Book of Mormon to works of fiction and see how it is similar and dissimilar and, honestly, it leaves everything else that is written in the dust. Orson Scott Card goes into a lot more detail on this subject than I could in the article Seth posted above.

    And the Koran isn't in the same category as the Book of Mormon. It is no different than if a minister or pastor today took all of his sermons and compiled them into a book. There is no story.

    You can browse it here: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/k/koran/browse.html if you're interested to see what it's all about.

  7. I've always been amazed that he produced it. I remember a seminary teacher or someone challenging us to write a chapter of scripture. To this day, English degree and all, I really can't. It just ends up sounding like I'm doing a crappy imitation of the B.O.M.!

    This guy in my home ward actually left the church, claimed he'd been talked to by angel, and he wrote his own scriptures. My mom happened to be his wife's visiting teacher and she gave my mom a copy. The difference between that and actual scripture is very, very obvious.

    Not to say that all scripture not in the LDS church isn't inspired. About the Koran, I truly believe that Mohammed was a learned and even inspired man. There are things in the Koran that resonate as truth, while other aspects may not. I know that as I have read parts of the Tao Te Ching and the Talmud I've been touched by the Spirit, even if those books are not part of the LDS canon of scripture. Like President Hinckley always said, "Bring all the good you have, and let's see if we can add to it."

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post - I can always count on you for that!

  8. I went through the Book of Mormon page by page and counted up all the pages that are taken from the Bible. That included the Isaiah chapters in 1 and 2 Nephi, the chapter where Abinadi quotes Isaiah, and the chapters from Matthew in 3 Nephi. I counted them all up and then added some and rounded it up, and came up with about 15,000 words that have to be taken out to account for those parts that could have been copied from the Bible.

    That leaves 239,000 words in the Book that Joseph would have had to write.

    And, I'm not talking about where Joseph's ideas came from. He could very well have gotten ideas about the Hebrews coming to America from the man who knew Oliver Cowdery. The idea of the judges replacing kings could have come from the framework of the American government. I'm sure there are many more examples that could be brought forth. It is possible that Joseph got all of his ideas from the people and things around him and wrote his book based on those ideas.

    But I'm talking in this post about the challenge of taking those ideas and writing them in the way he did. As a writer, I know how hard a challenge it is to take ideas and turn them into stories.


Thanks for leaving a comment! Come back soon! :o)