Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The "Book of Lehi"

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    The "Book of Lehi"


A FairMormon Analysis of: 'Book of Lehi'
A work by author: Christopher Marc Nemelka

About this work

The author claims to have been commanded to translate the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, as well as the lost 116 pages. As part of his 'prophetic call,' the author produced what he claims is a translation of the lost 116 pages, or "Book of Lehi." This portion of Mormon's abridgement (from Lehi to King Benjamin, roughly) was lost by Martin Harris after the manuscript was loaned to him by Joseph Smith (See D&C 3, D&C 10).

Answer


The "Book of Lehi" is a clumsy forgery that fails even a cursory analysis.

Detailed Analysis

In a scholarly or religious vein, the author's claims about the "Book of Lehi" can also be easily checked against what is known about Joseph Smith's translation of the same material. They fail even a cursory analysis.

Problems with Length

There are two extant Book of Mormon manuscripts. The original, dictated by Joseph Smith to his scribes, was probably about 480 pages long; we have fragments from 236 of these pages. A copy was made of the original manuscript—the so-called "printer's manuscript"—and is completely extant save three lines on the first page. This version occupied 464 manuscript pages. Thus, the two manuscript lengths agree within 3-4%.

A computerized count of the original 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon yields 270,745 words. Thus, each original manuscript page would have held about 564 words; the printer's manuscript about 583.

The author's "Book of Lehi" contains 26,709 words when the italicized chapter summaries are excluded. Dividing by 116 pages, we get 230 words per page. The "Book of Lehi" seems, therefore, to contain only about 41% (at best) of the material which one would expect.

The author includes an introduction to his "translation" of the "Book of Lehi", in which he indicates that

It depended on the particular writing style of each individual scribe, but generally, there were about 225 words per page that were translated by the prophet and written down by his scribe… [1]

Unfortunately for his plan to produce the 116 pages, the author has his details wrong. The paper was folded either lengthwise or widthwise before being written on. Both methods were used during the Book of Mormon translation, though widthwise was more common.

Count of lengthwise pages: Page seven of the manuscript (corresponding to 1 Nephi 4:20-37) contains 580 words, which matches the estimate of 583 words per page nicely.
Count of widthwise pages: Alma 45:17-24 through Alma 46:1-6, Helaman 1:5-17, and Alma 42:29-31 through Alma 43:1-10 are all extant widthwise pages from the original manuscript. Word counts in the 1830 edition give values of 523, 526, and 511 respectively, again much closer to the estimate of 583 from the actual Book of Mormon text than the author's claimed 225.

This discrepancy demonstrates that the author is missing at least half of the material that should be present. One might not expect his translation to match Joseph Smith's word-for-word, but the Book of Mormon text produced by Joseph is not so wordy that one could simply eliminate over half of it and retain the same meaning. The author has underestimated how much material he needed to produce, and so his work is revealed for what it is—an amateurish forgery.

Problems with Missing Material

Hugh Nibley was the first to note that the Book of Mormon contains "colophons." As one review explained:

A colophon--Greek for "summit, top, finishing"--is a title or header, before or after a text, that may identify an author (such as by name, parentage, origin, education, etc.), the title of text, book, or section… [2]

Such colophons can be seen throughout the Book of Mormon—in the English scriptures, they are the italicized portions which precede the chapter heading at the beginning of 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, 4 Nephi, and Ether. The Book of Mosiah is the only large book without such an introduction. The books of Mormon and Moroni have no colophons, but they are the editors and authors throughout the abridgement, and so have already "given" their colophons initially, as well as identified themselves throughout the text. It's another subtle but authentic touch that no one of Joseph Smith's day knew anything about, or remarked upon until the late twentieth century.

The lack of a colophon for Mosiah is not surprising, since the first two 'chapters' of Mosiah were part of the lost 116 pages.

The author betrays himself here by being almost "too clever." He properly includes a colophon at the beginning of his Book of Lehi (imitating, perhaps, 1 Nephi's beginning). But, by the time he has reached the end of his "translation," he has forgotten (if he ever knew) that he needed a Book of Mosiah division with its own colophon.

Contradictions with the Book of Mormon Text

The author's offering illustrates the challenge of creating a lengthy, believable forgery.

The Book of Lehi was Mormon's abridged account of the material contained on the small plates, i.e. 1 Nephi - Omni. Therefore, the information in the Book of Lehi should agree with what is on the small plates.

Lineage Problems

The author makes two fatal errors in genealogy (one within the first chapter), in family lines of unquestioned importance for the Nephite record keepers:

"Book of Lehi" Claim Book of Mormon
1. Lehi is descended from Ephraim, son of Joseph (1:11-12) Lehi is a descendant of Manasseh (Alma 10:3).
2. "And Mosiah was a direct descendent of Zoram, the servant of Laban who delivered the brass plates unto Nephi and his brethren." (8:25). Mosiah is a Nephi descendant, and only Nephi descendants are eligible for the kingship. (Mosiah 25:13-14.)

Is the reader to believe that the Israelite Nephites, who put so much stock in genealogy and descent, really don't know the difference between two tribes of Israel? Would they really insist one needed to be a descendant of Nephi to rule, when Mosiah—from whom all subsequent kings and rulers derived their legitimacy, including the judges established by his grandson—wasn't even descended from Lehi, much less Nephi?

When this error was pointed out to him, the author responded by claiming that the Book of Mormon produced by Joseph Smith is in error on this point, and that this is a "stumblingblock" to "fools" who would challenge the authenticity of his work. (He even concludes with the helpful admonition to "get over yourselves!") [3]

Unfortunately for the author's scramble to save his forgery, he also has the "Book of Lehi" say this: "Behold, no revelation that cometh forth from the mouth of God by the power of His Spirit shall contradict or add to the words that Jesus spoke both to the Jews at Jerusalem, and also to the Nephites and Lamanites that were spared in the land of Bountiful." (TSP, “Book of Lehi,” 5:73)

So, the author's "Book of Lehi" claims that it won't contradict anything in the Bible or Book of Mormon. But, when he does contradict the Book of Mormon a crucial point, he claims the Book of Mormon is in error. So, he doesn't contradict—but if he contradicts, it isn't a contradiction!

How was the ship built?

"Book of Lehi" Claim Book of Mormon
1. Nephi built the ship "according to the promptings of the spirit." (6:11) Lord shows Nephi in revelation at the mountain how to build the ship. (1 Nephi 18:1-3)
2. Laman and Lemuel abandon plans to thwart Nephi's shipbuilding because they're so impressed by the ship's "curious" form. (6:12) Laman and Lemuel won't even help begin the ship's construction, and consider Nephi foolish. (1 Nephi 17:17-18) This prevents the work from progressing at all, and they then taunt Nephi for being unable to do what he proposed. (1 Nephi 17:19) They only start helping when they are shocked by the power of the Lord (1 Nephi 17:54-55, 1 Nephi 18:1)

There is no impressive ship to motivate them until after they begin helping.

The Problem of Multiple High Priests

In the "Book of Lehi," Lehi is identified as a High Priest after the order of Aaron. He is not the only contemporaneous High Priest, either, as the author mentions how there were an unspecified number of them present in Jerusalem at the time, in chapter 1, verse 15: "And many of these prophets were bound by the Jews and carried forth unto the High Priests to see what should be done with them." According to the author, these High Priests were called to serve by their lineage and "also by the laying on of hands by those who were in authority." Laban, who was later slain by Nephi, is identified as the chief High Priest.

From the time of Aaron until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there was always only one High Priest, who held that office due only to his status as a Levite and to his descent from Aaron, the first High Priest. Lehi was a Mannasehite, as was Laban, and was thus ineligible. Tellingly, the author's words "...also by the laying on of hands by those who were in authority..." make clear the source for his apparent Quorum of High Priests: his knowledge of modern-day priesthood government. The author's "High Priests" are a clear anachronism.

Notes


  1. The Sealed Portion Website, "Questions," last accessed 5 July 2005. off-site
  2. Thomas W. Mackay, "Mormon as Editor: A Study in Colophons, Headers, and Source Indicators," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 90–109. wiki
  3. The Sealed Portion Website, "Questions: Is Lehi A Descendant of Ephraim or Manasseh?," last accessed 21 October 2006. Italics in original.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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