A Review of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (Part 4)

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Parallelomania

At its most basic definition, “parallelomania refers to a phenomenon (mania) where authors perceive apparent similarities and construct parallels and analogies allegedly without historical basis.”1 In literary criticism, including biblical criticism, parallelomania has been described as “that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction.”2 The Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (AEBOM) engages in parallelomania throughout its pages. It attempts to draw comparisons between North American indigenous peoples (including their dress, writing, and cultural practices) and Jews to prove the Heartland theory. These comparisons and parallels, however, are largely illusory, or lack any justifiable historical basis. Examples of parallelomania in the AEBOM include:

  • On page 91 the AEBOM attempts to show parallels between the so-called Anthon Transcript and Mi’kmaq hieroglyphs.3 The claim made by Hocking and Meldrum is that “some of the characters from the Book of Mormon plates resemble the hieroglyphs of the Mi’kmaq First Nation (MicMac), an important Algonquian tribe that occupied” portions of Eastern Canada (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). Comparison between what is generically called “hieroglyphs from ancient Egyptian” and Mi’kmaq script is also made attempting to show “similarities and meanings” between the two. This, Hocking and Meldrum seem to be arguing, provides evidence for the Book of Mormon in the “heartland.” The problem here with this is twofold. First, some of the “ancient Egyptian” symbols identified by Hocking and Meldrum are not at all what they claim they are. One of the figures they point to looks like sign O41 from Gardner’s sign list (qȝy). Contrary to the definition provided, however, it does not mean “exalted one” but rather “hill” (or an undefined determinative for “stairs, ascent, height”). Another sign identified as “heaven” is not the Egyptian word for heaven (Gardner’s N1; sky, pt), and a third sign (F35; lung or windpipe, nfr) does mean goodness or beauty as claimed in the AEBOM, but neither “truth” nor its supposed Mi’kmaq equivalent “holy” (which would be Gardiner’s D45; arm with hand grasping the nḥbt-wand, sr). The second problem is that Mi’kmaq hieroglyphs are a modern script effectively invented by Chrestien Le Clercq and Pierre Maillard, Catholic missionaries in the 17th century.4 The comparisons made by Hocking and Meldrum (at least those that are actually based on textual evidence5) are thus fallacious.
  • In several places the AEBOM attempts to draw parallels between modern Native American dress, hairstyles, and even physical features with those of Jews and Europeans. For example, Jewish payot and tefillin (misspelled “Teffillin” in the AEBOM) are said to evoke similarities with the hairstyles of modern Native Americans (253). Likewise, Jewish tzitzit are compared to “similar fringes” found in Native American clothing (146). Absolutely no justification is given by Hocking or Meldrum for why they chose to draw these specific comparisons over others. The parallels appear haphazardly and at random, lacking any kind of methodological consistency or rigor. Fringes or tassels are, in fact, commonly found in the clothing of various cultures down to the present day. If the presence of fringes on nineteenth century Native American dress somehow proves they are descendants of ancient Jews, then does such prove the same for Woodstock hippies from the 1960s?
  • The AEBOM highlights “early 1868–1898 photographs of direct descendants of the American Cherokee Nation” with what the editors claim are “facial features of the Cherokee men and young women show[ing] European/Middle Eastern hallmarks” (132). Besides this being an inherently subjective (and borderline racist) argument that is in the eye of the beholder, Hocking and Meldrum never pause to consider the possibility that these European “hallmarks” might be the result of at least two centuries of European admixture with native North American peoples,6 and not from a supposed Lehite migration to the “heartland” in antiquity. Again, absolutely no justification for this subjective line of argumentation is provided.
  • The execution of Colonel William Crawford in 1782 is presented as a parallel to the martyrdom of Abinadi in Mosiah 17 (175). After being captured by Delaware Indians, Crawford was executed by being burned with faggots and hot coals. This “parallel” with the Book of Mormon, however, overlooks the fact that capital punishment by means of scourging with faggots is a practice documented among the ancient Maya.7 The parallel cited by the AEBOM post-dates the event described in Mosiah 17 by nearly two millennia, whereas the Mayan evidence dates much more closely to Abinadi’s life and even more closely matches the description offered in the text of Mosiah 17.8 So while the parallel offered in the AEBOM in this instance is supportable, it is far weaker than comparisons that can be made between the Book of Mormon and ancient Mesoamerica.
  • A chart provided on p. 542 lists “words and phrases” that are shared by “Indians of America” and biblical Hebrew. The first problem with this chart is that it does not specify which “Indians of America” are being discussed, so it is impossible to verify which language to check to see if the parallels are valid. The short citations of two eighteenth and nineteenth sources to give some kind of credence to the chart are woefully inadequate, as they offer no genuine anthropological or linguistic insight, but rather reflect what is now widely considered to be thoroughly out of date speculation, at best, about Native American origins.9 Besides this problem, the chart also suffers from the fact that many of the Hebrew words listed aren’t actually Hebrew. “Jehovah,” for instance, the first word cited as parallel to the “Indian” word “Yohewah,” is not actually Hebrew, but the English mispronunciation of the German mispronunciation of the Latin mispronunciation of a deliberate Hebrew mispronunciation of the tetragrammaton (YHWH),10 which is believed to have originally been pronounced something like ya-weh.11 “It was never actually pronounced ‘Jehovah’ in antiquity.”12 Additional non-Hebrew words (or badly confused words) in the chart include, but are not limited to, those for Heavens (shamayim, not “Shemin”), Wife (ʾishah, not “Eweh, Eve”), His wife (ʾishto, not “Lihene”), nose (ʾaf, not “Neheri”), Winter (choref, not “Korah”), Do (ʿasah, not “Jannon”), and Assembly (qahal, not “Grabit”). The last phrase on the chart, Waiter of the high priest, has no known correspondence in Hebrew or Aramaic. It is obvious that Hocking and Meldrum are clueless to even the basics of Hebrew, and have merely passed on spurious parallels they uncritically accepted from thoroughly outdated sources.

Many more examples of parallelomania could be cited and discussed (e.g. 120, 142, 152, 450, 540). The point here should be sufficiently clear: the AEBOM is riddled with spurious “parallels” that do not pass even the slightest scrutiny.

  1. See “Parallelomania” online at Wikipedia.
  2. Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature 81, no. 1 (Mar., 1962): 1.
  3. For more on the Anthon Transcript, see Stanley B. Kimball, “The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems,” BYU Studies 10, no. 3 (1970): 325–352; FARMS Staff, “Martin Harris’s Visit with Charles Anthon: Collected Documents on the Anthon Transcript and ‘Shorthand Egyptian’,” FARMS Preliminary Report (1990); Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, and Robin Scott Jensen, “The ‘Caractors’ Document: New Light on an Early Transcription of the Book of Mormon Characters,” Mormon Historical Studies 14, no. 1 (2013): 131–152.
  4. Sarah Rivett, Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2017), 55–58, 74–88, 201–206. Le Clercq was evidently “inventing or adapting” his system partly off of pre-existing Mi’kmaq pictographs, since at least two glyphs pre-dating Le Clercq have been identified, but they appear not to have been alphabetic signs but rather mnemonic ideograms, and in any case, they date to no earlier than AD 1500. Rivett, Unscripted America, 77–78.
  5. The sixth character down on the left-hand side of Figure 2 on p. 91 that Hocking and Meldrum claim comes from the Anthon Transcript in fact has no corresponding character on the Anthon Transcript.
  6. On which, see Ann McGrath, Illicit Love: Interracial Sex and Marriage in the United States and Australia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015). In fact, one of the very Cherokees the AEBOM draws attention to, John Ross (446), himself had a white wife, Mary Brian Stapler.
  7. See Mark Alan Wright and Kerry Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources and the Death of Abinadi,” in Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise, ed. Shon D. Hopkin (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: Religious Studies Center at BYU and Deseret Book, 2017), 209–230.
  8. Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources and the Death of Abinadi,” 218–223.
  9. In fact, although the AEBOM cites Elijah Haines, The American Indian (Uh-Nish-In-Na-Ba): The Whole Subject Complete in One Volume (Chicago, Ill.: The Mas-Sin-Na-Gan Company, 1888), 100 for the chart, Haines himself reproduced the chart from Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, 2nd ed. (Poultney, VT: Smith and Shute, 1825), 90, who in turn was citing “Doct. [Elias] Boudinot [1802–1839], [James] Adair [c.1709–1783], and others.” Needless to say, the citation of a chain of two-hundred-year-old references who uncritically relied on others for their information inspires little confidence. It is also ironic that the AEBOM (unwittingly) cites View of the Hebrews, a favorite candidate for Joseph Smith’s alleged plagiarism among anti-Mormons.
  10. “While it is almost if not quite certain that the Name was originally pronounced ‘Yahweh,’ this pronunciation was not indicated when the Masoretes added vowel sounds to the consonantal Hebrew text. To the four consonants YHWH of the Name, which had come to be regarded as too sacred to be pronounced, they attached vowel signs indicating that in its place should be read the Hebrew word Adonai meaning ‘Lord’ (or Elohim meaning ‘God’). . . . The form ‘Jehovah’ is of late medieval origin; it is a combination of the consonants of the Divine Name and the vowels attached to it by the Masoretes but belonging to an entirely different word. Although . . . ‘Jehovah’ [is used] to render the Tetragrammaton (the sound of Y being represented by J and the sound of W by V, as in Latin) . . . the word ‘Jehovah’ does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew.” Bruce M. Metzger, “To the Reader,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael D. Coogan, 5th ed. (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2018), xvii.
  11. See Josef Tropper, “Der Gottesname Yahwa,” Vetus Testamentum 51, no. 1 (January 2001): 81–106. See further the comments by Dana M. Pike, “Biblical Hebrew Words You Already Know and Why They Are Important,” Religious Educator 7, no. 3 (2006): 106–109, quote at 107: “The consonants in the name ‘Jehovah’ are transliterated from the four Hebrew letters of the divine name yhwh (again, the Hebrew ‘y’ is represented in English as ‘j’). And the vowels in ’Jehovah’ are derived from the vowels in the substitute title ‘ădōnāy, with a slight variation in the first vowel. Thus, the name Jehovah, which is very familiar to us, is a hybrid form that was written as early as he twelfth or thirteenth century, but is not well attested in English until the early sixteenth century. It was never actually pronounced ’Jehovah’ in antiquity. Based on evidence such as the shortened forms of yhwh that appear in Israelite personal names and in the Hebrew Bible (for example, Yah/JAH in Psalm 68:4, and the last portion of the expression halĕlû-yāh, discussed above), scholars postulate that the divine name was originally pronounced ’Yahweh’ or something similar.”
  12. Pike, “Biblical Hebrew Words You Already Know and Why They Are Important,” 107.

8 thoughts on “A Review of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (Part 4)”

  1. Anyone else see a problem with citing a Canadian First Nations ‘hieroglyphic’ (Pt 4) but limiting the definition of “America” to the Union and Confederacy (Pt. 3B)?

  2. Stephen,

    Are you inferring, indirectly, that LGT proponents like Gardner and Sorensen have some sort of historical basis with their writings?

    In reading your review, from the outside looking in, every argument you make against the HLT can be used for the LGT, or even the Hemispheric theory.

    I have been engaged in these types of discussions as a member, and a for the last 25 or so years as a ex-Mormon, on the old boards, and really nothing has changed in the structure of your arguments, and theirs, except that now instead of engaging with “antis,” you are now eating your own Stephen.

    You are young and have a lot to catch up on, if I may suggest one bit of advise, watch the ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai,” and see if you can draw what you are doing from what “colonel Nicolson” did.

    The historicity of the BoM has much larger problems than whether or not it was based in North America or Central America….You should first establish it being historically accurate anywhere let alone in one specific area. Your argument appears similar to two different factions arguing over what type of cheese the moon is made of…Swiss or Cheddar.

    I

    • “The historicity of the BoM has much larger problems than whether or not it was based in North America or Central America….You should first establish it being historically accurate anywhere let alone in one specific area.”

      You appear to be ignorant of what I have produced relative to the question of Book of Mormon historicity. I recommend you peruse my published work (made accessible under the “publications and multimedia” tab), my blog, and my work at Book of Mormon Central.

      My time and effort spent critiquing Heartlander arguments is something like a circus sideshow in the overall corpus of my work. I have spent what time and effort I have refuting Heartlanderism not because it is the focus of my interest, or because I take some relish in combating Meldrum and his followers (“eating my own”), but rather out of a sense of duty to clear the garden of any noxious weeds that might choke the growth of meaningful, rigorous Book of Mormon scholarship. When it comes to the Book of Mormon, the overwhelming majority of what I have produced on my blog, in my published writings, and through my work at Book of Mormon Central has been precisely to advance arguments in favor of the text’s historicity and address criticisms of the same.

      So, respectfully, you can take your misinformed advice and keep it to yourself. I may only be turning 29 next month, but I’ve been around the block more than once (and I dare say more than you) when it comes to Book of Mormon historicity debates.

  3. Should you also keep it to yourself? It appears you can’t afford what you are dishing out. “Noxious weeds…huh?”

    Book of Mormon scholarship is nothing more than a small group of faithful… searching for something–anything, that ties it to reality. True scholarship would allow true peer review outside of the faithful. More properly put, what you call BoM scholarship is nothing more that a in house debate, with a comment or two from a Michael Coe now and again.

    Say what you will about the HLT, it was the chosen “theory” of my generation, my parents generation and my grandparents generation…I understand it allowed a larger expanse, but the heart of the BoM story was here in the Americas. Your 28 short years is ignoring what was once the status quo, and criticizing those that still “chose by agency and personal revelation” to hold to it. You also ignore that they see they holes in the LGT, and in order hang on to their testimony settle on the established story.

    In a strict LDS context, any real evidences aside…those of the HLT, and those of the LGT are both correct in what they teach, but yet both wrong in what they deny. Again two factions of the LDS church, arguing what type of cheese the moon is made of…and they see the LGT as Swiss, with far too many holes, and it appears you see theirs as stinky limburger.

    The LGT has far more issues to explain than the HLT folks. As an example the Hill Cumorah. Having to reinvent another Hill Cumorah with absolutely no other reason than if there is not another HC, then your model falls is obviously a telling clue as to as you fairly put it, “parallelomania refers to a phenomenon (mania) where authors perceive apparent similarities and construct parallels and analogies allegedly without historical basis.”

    The way I see it, as a saint of 34 years, and now out of the church for around 28 years, is that the champions of the HLT are those with a larger faith, and the LGT folks are those that understand the real problems with the HLT, and in order to prevent a damaged personal testimony beyond repair, are attempting to force a people and story into a culture and civilization that in no way compliments the BoM story. It is a revisionists history of a non existent history.

    What you don’t understand, but will someday see it, is that your “sense of duty to clear the garden of any noxious weeds that might choke the growth of meaningful, rigorous Book of Mormon scholarship” is actually damaging the testimony of those that want a strong faith, and could careless about “scholarship.”

    This is a good exercise Stephen, and hopefully you will take a step back and see what road you are going down.

    • Hi Markk,

      I hope you’ll pardon my interjecting. I find it surprising that an ex-Mormon would have a favorite in a debate over BoM geography, especially since you see it as valid as “arguing what type of cheese the moon is made of”. What’s more, you seem to favor HLT primarily because it was the favored model among the membership when and where you grew up. Why do you care? I don’t mean that sarcastically; I’m genuinely curious.

      On a separate note, regarding the Hill Cumorah, every model (HLT, LGT, etc.) has issues with it’s location. Sure, HLT has the benefit of tradition on it’s side, but not textual evidence. The BoM does not support the theory that Moroni buried the plates in the same hill where the final battle took place. It was this evidence (among others) that gave rise to other geographic models, not the geographic models that gave rise to a need to “reinvent” another Cumorah.

      Regards,
      Emerson

  4. Stephen,

    This is very helpful, although kind of depressing. I’m wondering if you would consider doing a post sometime about what it takes to provide a rigorous evidence? For example, does Brian Stubbs’ work on Uto-Aztecan provide good parallels, and if so why? Also, I am interested in your view of Sorensen’s Mormon’s Codex, which I’ve read and enjoyed. But I’ve also read critical reviews of it. Thanks!

    Collin

  5. Hey Emerson,

    I believe neither, I have stated this on other comments. I’m interjecting in that the HLT is more logical, even if wrong, given that it is more historically correct with Joseph’s story, and beyond the few “scholars” is not really cared about.

    Generally people are LDS for other reasons, and one thing Mormonism offer’s, and I can argue by design, is the ability to ignore real evidences and accept whatever is required for one personal testimony to survive.

    But again neither offer any tangible evidence. Both work backwards from a preconceived conclusion, and as I wrote, it a strict faithful LDS context, both are correct in many ways for what they teach, but both are wrong for what they deny. But overall, outside of that context, their is absolutely no real evidence for either.

    Stephens position is just old arguments, discussed over and over again on the old forums and boards, but instead of attacking anti’s and critic’s, like the Tanner’s, EV’s, and other outsiders…Stephen is attacking the faithful. And like DCP and the others, it will eventually come back at him. The book sales and interest by the general membership should be a warning sign.

    • “Generally people are LDS for other reasons, and one thing Mormonism offer’s, and I can argue by design, is the ability to ignore real evidences and accept whatever is required for one personal testimony to survive.”

      Let it be known, in all seriousness, that here is a person who lives as written in the above paragraph.

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