Wordprint or stylometry studies try to identify the author of a text. Studies have tried to prove ancient as well as modern authorship. What does Brian Hales think of these studies? Is there a gap in Book of Mormon authorship?
GT: Well, I know there’s been a lot of wordprint studies trying to identify [a specific author.] There was the Stanford study that said, “Oh, see, Solomon Spalding was the real author.” Whereas, then BYU guys used the same methodology, but they included a “none of the above,” and, I think, pretty much blew the Stanford guys out of the water on that. But it seems to me, and I don’t know how you feel about word print studies. There are a lot of BYU guys that say, “Well, there’s 30 authors. We can show there’s 30 different authors of the Book of Mormon.” Then, you have the Stanford guys who are like, “No, it’s Solomon Spalding.” Do you have any point of view on word print studies?
Brian: Well, they call them stylometrics, and I only include four, mostly because as I’m reading those four authors, I can even detect some differences that a person making up the text would have to take into account. There are two studies that, as you said, are saying it was written by Joseph or by Spalding or by Rigdon. Then, there are studies by Church members that show different authors, and it couldn’t be Joseph. I don’t put a lot of stock into it. But again, I can tell a difference of how Nephi is writing in his books versus how Mormon is compiling in his sections.
GT: I will just say if this was something that was a valid science, I think the FBI would have done that for Mark Hofmann.
Brian: (Chuckling) Well, and maybe you know, but I heard. Who was it? Mark Hofmann had paid somebody $5,000 to try to break down the sentence structure of the Book of Mormon, and he’d made hundreds and hundreds of three by five cards that were catalogued. Who was that?
GT: That was Brent Ashworth.
Brian: Brent, and so you can see that just to try to imitate 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, the amount of work Mark Hofmann was going to go to, the best forger of this era. So, I think he’s showing us this wouldn’t have been easy to do in the first place, let alone try to imitate it in the second place, as Hofmann was maybe planning to do, because he could do Martin Harris’ handwriting. But, creating those actual sentences is a whole ‘nother ballgame, rather than just writing.
What are your impressions of Wordprint studies? Are they valid?
Many critics point out that there are anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. Native Americans didn’t use steel, there were not horses, elephants, etc, so why are they mentioned in the Book of Mormon?
Brian: For me, I think anachronisms are the weakest criticism of the Book of Mormon for several reasons. First off, we haven’t done all of the excavations, yet. Some of these items, maybe not all of them, but some of them could still be discovered. They have LIDAR studies of Northern Guatemala and the Yucatan of Mexico. These LIDAR studies show that there are people that lived there, seven to 11 million [people] in a 40,000 square mile radius area, and 3% to 5% of those have been excavated. So, there’s, there’s lots of things that still could be discovered in the anachronisms. Another reason I think anachronisms are weak is that if you’ve ever translated from one language to another, some of the literal qualities of an item may be lost, or new literal qualities may be gained. You know, silk, did they have silkworms there? Probably not. Did they have shiny material? Maybe so. So, some of these things can be explained away.
Brian: Now, you mentioned horses, a great example. Because what we find in the Book of Mormon, horses, I think are mentioned 11 times, and they are mentioned with chariots. There’s no mention of wheels. But what’s interesting is in Joseph’s day, a horse was ridden. A horse would pull a wagon with wheels. It was used in cavalry, you know, to ride in battle. Well, we don’t find any of those things in the Book of Mormon. You don’t ride on horses, so far as it says in the Book of Mormon, they are only associated with royalty and with a chariot of some sort. We don’t know exactly. People make assumptions of wheels. They think Ben Hur, and all of this. We don’t know what the word chariot signifies.
GT: I mean, if they came from the old world, wouldn’t you expect Ben Hur to be in America with chariots? Because the Egyptians pulled chariots with horses, right? I mean, wouldn’t you expect the same sort of thing in America?
Brian: Well, chariots are mentioned so seldom, that I don’t know that we should assume they have wheels. If they had wheels, don’t we think we would probably have more mention of the use of the wheel in the Book of Mormon? We don’t. We’re making an assumption there. I understand, but this could be just translation on the word chariot. The chariot is only mentioned, I think, four times. We’d have to go back and look. So, again, this particular anachronism, to me is not a real problem, because the horses in the Book of Mormon are not doing what horses did in Joseph Smith’s day.
We’ll also talk about the concepts of tight vs loose translation. In tight translation, God provided every word of the Book of Mormon, but in loose translation, Joseph used some of his intellect to translate the Book of Mormon. Does Brian prefer tight or loose translation? Do you prefer tight, loose, or some other authorship theory? Why?