One argument that Mormon apologists frequently employ is the claim that Joseph Smith was intellectually unequipped to write the Book of Mormon. LDS scholars often point out that Smith had received a rudimentary education at best, and did not have access to the works needed to research the Book.
The arch defender of the Mormon faith, Hugh Nibley, put the situation thusly:
"And yet the third theory [i.e. the theory that Smith wrote the Book of Mormon] is quite as extravagant as the other two, demanding unlimited gullibility and the suspension of all critical judgment in any who would accept it. It is based on the simple proposition that since people have written books, somebody, namely Smith or a contemporary, wrote this one. But to make this thesis stick is to show not only that people have written big books, but that somebody has been able to produce a big book like this one. But no other such book exists. Where will you find another work remotely approaching the Book of Mormon in scope and daring?" (Since Cumorah, pg 138)
At this point, critics will often point to the fact that intelligence is not always dependent on education. They will further point out that the Book of Mormon displays precisely those qualities that the LDS apologists ascribe to Smith. In other words, the Book is long on imagination, but woefully short on actual points of contact with the ancient history of America. Further, it has long been known that the Book of Mormon echoes popular works of the nineteenth century on the question of the origin of the American Indians.
There is an alternative method of refuting the Mormon claim, however. We simply need to examine the fundamental assumption that underpins the whole argument. It is this - is the Book of Mormon really unique? Is Joseph Smiths purported feat really that impossible to duplicate? If we could find one or two examples of similar feats being performed by persons of similar mental ability as Smith, what would this signify for the Mormon argument?
What of Nibley's bluster? Is it possible to find another book, or books, that '...remotely approach the Book of Mormon in scope and daring'. The answer, it turns out, is unequivocally, 'Yes'.
The strange case of Patience Worth
St Louis, Missouri, May 1913. Mrs. Pearl Curran, while using a Ouija board, received the first of many messages from a mysterious entity, who called herself, at first Pat C. On June 22nd, Pat returned and spelt out Oh, why let sorrow steel thy heart? It was only two months after the first visit, on July 8th, that the entity finally revealed herself as Patience Worth.
The spirit Worth, it soon transpired, was born in Dorset, England, in the seventeenth century. While still a young girl, the Worth family emigrated to America, where the young Patience met an untimely death at the hands of a tribe of native Indians.
From 1913 to Currans death in 1938, Patience dictated an incredible amount of material through Mrs Curran. Some of the material was in her quaint seventeenth century dialect, and some in a more modern English style. Her speed was tremendous - in one night, she dictated 22 poems. In one five year stretch, she wrote 1,600,000 words. (About six times the length of the Book of Mormon)
Worths writings were of a wide variety and quality. One of her full-length novels, Hope Trueblood, earned the following review from the editors of the Sheffield Independent (who were unaware of the circumstances surrounding the origin of the Book):
Patience Worth must command a wide field of readers by the sheer excellence of Hope Trueblood, which contains sufficient high-grade characters, splendidly fashioned, to stock half a dozen novels.
Telka, a poem of 60,000 words, made astonishingly accurate use of middle English phraseology. The sorry Tale, a 325,000 word book (50,000 words longer than the Book of Mormon) of the life of a parallel Christ was written in 108 days, a rate of 3,000 words per evening. (By this stage, Patience had dispensed with the Ouija board, and transmitted her thoughts directly to Mrs Currans pen). The details of social, domestic and political life in ancient Palestine and Rome, and the language and customs of Greeks, Arabians, Romans and several sects of the Jews were rich and convincing.
(Compare this with the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith dictated about 275,000 words in about ninety days, beginning on April 7, 1829. The rate of output was about 3,050 words per day. If we count the fact that Joseph and Oliver worked together for only seventy-five of those ninety days, the output rate was about 3,700 words per day, including about 27,000 words quoted from the King James Bible.
On the other hand, the picture that the Book of Mormon paints of the ancient Americans is very difficult to validate. Not only does the Book fail to ascribe the correct attributes to the primal inhabitants, it also claims that they made use of artifacts, animals and plants that modern archaeology has so far been unable to find any trace of.)
Currans knowledge of the Bible lands was limited to what she learned in Sunday School. She was not fond of reading, left school at the age of fifteen, and had hardly ever traveled out of St Louis. Her only occupation was as a housewife. There were no books in her house that could have been used for reference.
When tested, Curran revealed a distinct lack of knowledge of literature. She thought that Tennysons famous poem was called the Lady of Charlotte. When asked to write as Curran herself, her work was slow, and no better than might be expected from a housewife with an average education.
During one dictation, Mrs Curran expressed puzzlement over a reference that Patience made to a Bernadette and the Maid. She later discovered that Bernadette Soubirous was the Maid of Lourdes. In a similar manner, Joseph Smith once stopped the dictation of the Book of Mormon to enquire if Jerusalem actually had walls, as the text suggested.
An analysis of Worths language, by qualified researchers, shows a substantially correct use of idiom and spelling for seventeenth century England. The style of the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, can best be described as fractured. It attempts to emulate the cadence and flow of the King James Version, and falls far short of this goal.
This is one of Patience Worths poems, in modern English:
Lavendar and Lace
A purple sky, twilight
Silver-fringed of tremorous stars;
Cloud rifts, tattered, as old lace,
And a shuttling moon - wan-faced, seeking.
Twilight, and garden shadows;
The liquid note of some late songster;
And the scent of lavendar and rue,
Like memory of the day aclinging!
Mohammed and the Quran
Born in the Arabian desert, in the sixth century AD, Mohammed was poor material for a prophet. He was uneducated and illiterate, making a living as a caravan driver, until he married a rich widow. And yet, he brought forth a message that ignited a flame in Arabia, which today we know as Islam, a religion that is a way of life for nearly a billion people.
The central scripture of Islam is the Quran (which is Arabic for recitation). One of the first things that strikes the reader is the extraordinary power and beauty of the language. The Quran is often called the King James Version of the Arabic Language. It is difficult to imagine how a work of such high literary quality could have emanated from an illiterate desert-dweller.
The central miracle of Islam was, and remains the Quranic revelation. To this day no one has put forward a defensible explanation of how an unlettered caravan merchant of the early seventh century might have been able, by his own devices, to produce a text of such inimitable beauty, of such capacity to stir emotion, and which contained knowledge and wisdom which stood so far above ideas current among mankind at that time. The studies carried out in the West which try to determine the 'sources used by Muhammad', or to bring to light the psychological phenomenon which enabled him to draw inspiration from his 'subconcious', have demonstrated only one thing; the anti- Muslim prejudice of their authors. (Roger du Pasquier, Unveiling Islam, pg 53)
In size, the Quran is a little shorter than the New Testament, at about 165,000 words (in English). The book was revealed over a period of about 23 years, beginning in 610 AD, and ending shortly before the prophets death in 632 AD. According to Mohammed himself, the words of the Quran were spoken to him by the angel Gabriel.
The Quran contains within itself its own falsification tests, which Islamic apologists make much use of. Two of these are the discrepancy test, and the uniqueness test.
The Discrepancy test is based on Sura 4:82:
Do they not then meditate on the Quran? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy.
In fact, the Quran does contain a number of contradictions, lists of which are freely available. Like their Fundamentalist Christian counterparts, however, Islamic apologists have evolved a number of techniques for dealing with these discrepancies. The first is to simply postulate a speculative scenario that dissolves the contradiction. This same technique is eagerly embraced by believers in Biblical inerrancy, apparently unaware that the method can be used to make any text 'inerrant'.
The second is the rather curious tenet of abrogation, which teaches, in effect, that Allah reserves the right to reveal verses which clarify or reverse earlier teachings. (Similar to the Jehovahs Witnesses claim that New Light often replaces the Old).
It is easy to see how the application of these two techniques (among others) allow the Islamic scholar to claim that the Quran is without discrepancy or contradiction.
The second falsification test contained in the Quran is the uniqueness test, based on two verses.
Sura 2:23 And if you are in doubt as to
that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a
chapter (sura) like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah
if you are truthful.
Sura 10:38 Or do they say: He has forged it? Say: Then bring a chapter (sura) like this and invite whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.
Mormon apologists will immediately recognize this as the counterpart to the so-called Book of Mormon Challenge. In essence, the challenge states that the critic should produce a text of like character to the Book of Mormon, before he assumes that Smith could have been the sole author. (One could resort to facetiousness at this point, and point the Islamic apologists to the LDS scholars, and vice-versa. The outcome of such a collision should be entertaining.)
Of course, the uniqueness test is poorly defined, allowing the Islamic apologists to dismiss challengers on a variety of grounds when such a test is, indeed, undertaken. What, after all, is meant by the phrase a sura like it? In like manner, the Book of Mormon challenge is poorly defined, and, in fact, attributes characteristics to the Book of Mormon which it simply does not possess.
Both Mohammed and Pearl Curran were of like mental ability to Joseph Smith. Mrs Curran had a slightly better education than Smith, although it was still not outstanding by any means. Mohammeds formal education, on the other hand, was virtually nil. He was illiterate, unlike Smith, who could read and write. (It should be noted that the claim that Mohammed was unlettered has been disputed by a number of professional historians, including some Muslim scholars).
Their lack of ability, in each case, did not seem to deter them from producing works which equal, or easily surpass, the Book of Mormon in literary style and quality. We find then that the LDS claim that Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon is without foundation. Not only has a similar feat been performed before, it has been performed better.
If the Book of Mormon is held up as proof of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling, then we must grant the same status to Pearl Curran and Mohammed, on the same grounds. Anything less would amount to intellectual dishonesty.
Patience Worth -
Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time pg 2350
The Case of Patience Worth, Walter Franklin Prince
Contents Copyright 1997 Curt van den Heuvel