Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Comparison Is Better Than Yours

In What Are the Odds Brian H. argues that Smith copied the terms Cumorah and Moroni come from the Comoros Islands and its capital of Moroni.  Other posters made sure to remind Brian that the terms were not on any maps known during the time, nor are there any extant dime novels or sources that contain the terms. But I wanted to take a step back and discuss methodology and comparisons.  Outside of the military kind, I’m not very strong with theory, but I think this is a good description of why ancient comparisons are stronger than modern ones. 

I wanted to comment on methodological consistency. In order for critics to support a naturalistic origin of the BoM they must find all sorts of sources and documents that Smith was supposed to have read, memorized, and then recalled in bits and pieces. For example, I read a critical website which claimed Smith had enough knowledge to plagiarize from: Caesar, Frontinus, Procopius, multiple Irish Legends, The Venerable Bede, Jonathon Swift, Vegetius, Sunzi, Wu Chi, Emperor Maurice, Moorish Legend, the Irish Book of Invasions, The Aeneid by Virgil, Roman legends, Plutarch, Polybius, Livy, Cincinnatus, Josephus, Pliny the Elder, Augustine, Eusebius, Tacitus, The Iliad by Homer, Sallust, Thucydides, and Herodotus.

            So now we can add Captain Kidd to that.

            Though when a world renowned non Mormon Egyptologist sees a distinct connection between Pahor and Paanch in historical sources and Pahoran and Paanchi in the BoM, it is immediately discounted without a second thought. Or its discounted with some lame attempts to show its just a common Italian name, but I guess we can just add that right next to the Irish legends and accounts of Sullust.  

             As my graduate adviser used to say, any monkey can make comparisons, so many of these, even the ones which support Mormonism aren't very strong. DJB and others have certainly shown that is the case with the Captain Kid comparison. They might be weak on their own, but when you end up having hundreds of comparisons, and dozens of names attested in ancient sources from the warrior Tecum in the Popul Vuh, to Egyptian names like Pahor and Paanch (noted by an eminent non Mormon Egyptologist), to the Olmec Kish, to the city of Lamani, who then happen to exist in the same time and place as the BoM suggests; it becomes much stronger than doing a google book search for some nouns or phrases that Smith supposedly learned within his vast underground library, that he secretly committed to memory during his nights off as a day laborer, so he could quote them, one line at a time, at random moments while dictating an intricately complicated text without notes. The absurdity of this theory is shown in this excellent satire by Jeff Lindsey, called One Day in the Life. Modern day scholars with access to the best research libraries, ample amounts of free time, and access to even more information on the internet would have trouble doing that.

             So that is the problem with comparisons and why this theory is rather weak. A stronger theory, and what ancient comparisons have going for them, is that it is consistent with Smith translating an ancient text. So he didn't have to know a few dozen sources- a couple from Kidd, a couple from a Greek source, a couple from a Roman source, and so on- and then plagiarize them, he could simply translate using the power of God, and the ancient comparisons (person names, place names, cultural clues, societal information [see the Mesoamerican Custom of Smiting Off Arms on murals for example], geographical tidbits, and so on) are there because its an ancient text. So ancient comparisons end up making that theory sound more plausible, while modern comparisons or plagiarisms combined with what we know about the production of the BoM make it the theory seem even more absurd.

             And to answer your question about percentages, there are only so many sounds in the human language. So there is a fairly good chance that any two sounds from two different languages can sound familiar. Thanks.

1 comment:

Grant said...

Thanks for that link to One Day in the Life! Somehow in all my perusal of apologetics I'd never come across that hilarious piece. It was all the better that I was familiar with many of the references; I could recognize many of the jokes (fireproof scrolls for the Book of Abraham would indeed have been convenient).