Evidence #86 | September 19, 2020

Mosiah-First Translation

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Scripture Central

Abstract

When viewed in light of the Mosiah-First translation sequence, a number of textual allusions to the Small Plates of Nephi are difficult to explain for theories that assume Joseph Smith was the creator, rather than the divinely aided translator, of the Book of Mormon.

Scholars now widely agree that the books in the Book of Mormon were translated in the order shown in the following graph (Mosiah–Words of Mormon), rather than in the order that they were eventually published (1 Nephi–Moroni).1

Chart depicting the Mosiah Priority translation theory
Image via Book of Mormon Central.

Besides making clear sense of the manuscript and historical data, this understanding of the translation sequence (sometimes called the Mosiah-First theory) also provides evidence for the Book of Mormon’s complexity. This is because many passages from Mormon’s abridgment of the Large Plates, as well as from the books of MormonEther and Moroni, refer back to content from the Small Plates (see Appendix), even though the Small Plates hadn’t even been translated yet.

For instance, in Alma 3 Mormon referred to prophecies about a curse upon the Lamanites and those who would mix with their seed. This prophecy can be found in 2 Nephi 5:

 

2 Nephi 5

Alma 3

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing

 

23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

14 Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed

15 And again: I will set a mark upon him that mingleth his seed with thy brethren, that they may be cursed also.

 

In Alma 36:22, Alma referred to a vision given to the prophet Lehi. Alma’s specific phrasing is a verbatim quote from 1 Nephi 1:8:

 

1 Nephi 1:8

Alma 36:22

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.

Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.

 

And, in a final sample, language from Alma’s famous sermon on faith in Alma 32, and also from a description of Jesus and his followers in 3 Nephi 19, clearly allude to the Tree of Life imagery found in 1 Nephi 8 and 1 Nephi 15:

 

1 Nephi 8:11

1 Nephi 11:8

Alma 32:42

3 Nephi 19:25

And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.

… behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure;

… and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof.

 

These relatively frequent allusions and references back to content from the Small Plates make sense if the Book of Mormon is truly a compilation of ancient prophetic writings, as the text itself claims. Mormon, Alma, and other later prophets would have had Lehi’s and Nephi’s earlier writings to refer to and quote from, whether from the Small Plates themselves or from related texts (or versions of the same texts) on the Large Plates.2 On the other hand, these sometimes complex textual allusions are difficult to explain if Joseph Smith was simply making up the Book of Mormon’s content, as some have supposed. This is because, according to the witnesses of the translation, he rapidly dictated the Book of Mormon without relying on any outlines, notes, or reference materials.3

Commenting upon the allusions to the visions of the Tree of Life recorded in the Small Plates, literary scholar Alan Goff has argued, “It seems overly complicated to posit that a whole web of allusions to these tree of life images is created first and then later the coherent story that ties them all together.” Likewise, in regard to Mormon’s reference to 2 Nephi 5:21–24, as found in Alma 3:14, Goff explained,

If the Alma passage were written prior to the 2 Nephi passage, then Joseph Smith not only would have had to remember to pen the Nephi text without being able to refer back to the other passage but would also have had to build the specific reference to Nephi as the original source long before Nephi became the original source.4

Further analysis suggests the task may have been even more difficult than Goff has proposed. Not only does Mormon’s abridgment repeatedly refer or allude to content in the Small Plates, but it seems that some of its major narratives were specifically designed to show the fulfillment of Nephi’s earlier prophecies.5 In other words, not only minor textual elements, but the core design and undergirding structure of Mormon’s abridgment may be based on passages that, if Joseph were just making things up, hadn’t yet been written.

Book of Mormon Central, “How Does the ‘Mosiah-First’ Translation Sequence Strengthen Faith? (Words of Mormon 1:5),” KnoWhy 503 (February 22, 2019).

Alan Goff, “Positivism and the Priority of Ideology in Mosiah-First Theories of Book of Mormon Production,” FARMS Review 16, no. 1 (2004): 11–36.

See Appendix

See Appendix

Intertextual Connections to the Small Plates

*Intertextual relationships that are more easily explained by the text’s own claims about its origins, in light of the Mosiah-First translation sequence, are indicated by an asterisk.6

Topic

Quotation/Allusion

Small Plates

*Nephi and Lehi’s Goodness7

Helaman 5:5–6

1 Nephi 1:1

*Similar Introductions8

Mosiah 1:2–6

Mosiah 9:1

Mosiah 17:2

Alma 19:6

Mormon 1:2

1 Nephi 1:1–2

2 Nephi 2:16

Enos 1:1

Making a Record in the Egyptian Language according to the Writer’s Knowledge

Mormon 9:32

1 Nephi 1:2–3

 

*Making a Record With Hands and Knowing the Record’s Truth

3 Nephi 5:11, 18

 

1 Nephi 1:3, 17

 

*God Sitting on His Throne

Alma 36:22

1 Nephi 1:8

Choirs Singing and Praising God

Mosiah 2:28

Mormon 7:7

1 Nephi 1:8

Christ Will Descend Out of Heaven

3 Nephi 11:8

1 Nephi 1:9

*Firm, Steadfast, and Immovable

3 Nephi 6:14

1 Nephi 2:10

*Lehi’s Posterity Will Prosper or Be Cursed

Mosiah 1:7

Mosiah 2:22, 31

Mosiah 9:9

Alma 9:13

Mosiah 10:5

Mosiah 21:16

Mosiah 23:19–20

Mosiah 25:24

Alma 36:1, 30

Alma 37:13

Alma 38:1

Alma 45:8

Alma 48:15,25

Alma 50:18–22

Alma 59:3

Alma 62:48, 51

Helaman 3:20

Helaman 4:13

Helaman 11:20

3 Nephi 6:4-5

4 Nephi 1:7

Ether 7:26

Ether 10:16, 28

1 Nephi 2:20

1 Nephi 4:14

2 Nephi 1:9, 20

2 Nephi 4:4

2 Nephi 5:13

Omni 1:6

Jarom 1:9

 

 

*The Brass Plates Will Be Preserved

Mosiah 1:3, 16

Mosiah 28:11, 20

Alma 37:1–12

3 Nephi 1:2

3 Nephi 10:17

1 Nephi 5:18–19

 

*Desirable Fruit

Alma 32:39

 

1 Nephi 8:10, 12, 15

1 Nephi 11:22

1 Nephi 15:36

*Sweet/White Fruit

Alma 32:42

1 Nephi 8:11

1 Nephi 11:8

*Iron Rod/Word of God

Helaman 3:29

1 Nephi 8:24

1 Nephi 15:24

*Grafted into the True Vine

Alma 16:17

 

1 Nephi 15:15, 16

Days of Probation

Helaman 13:38

Mormon 9:28

 

1 Nephi 10:21

1 Nephi 15:31–32

2 Nephi 2:30

2 Nephi 9:27

2 Nephi 33:9

Partake of Fruit/Waters of Life

Alma 5:34, 62

1 Nephi 11:25

 

Living Waters/Love of God

Mosiah 18:5, 21

Ether 12:28

Moroni 7:1, 11, 44–47

1 Nephi 11:25

 

Tumultuous Noises Will Be Heard

3 Nephi 8:23

3 Nephi 10:9

1 Nephi 12:4

Rocks and Earth Will Be Rent

3 Nephi 8:6, 18

1 Nephi 12:4

1 Nephi 19:12

Cities Will Be Sunken

3 Nephi 8:9, 14

3 Nephi 9:4–8

3 Nephi 10:13

1 Nephi 12:4

Cities Will Be Burned

3 Nephi 8:8, 14

3 Nephi 9:3, 9–11

3 Nephi 10:13–14

1 Nephi 12:4

Cities Will Be Shaken and Tumble

3 Nephi 8:14

1 Nephi 12:4

A Vapor of Darkness Will Be Removed

3 Nephi 10:9

1 Nephi 12:5

The Righteous Will Be Preserved from Destruction

3 Nephi 9:13

3 Nephi 10:12–13

1 Nephi 12:5

2 Nephi 26:8

Heavens Will Open

3 Nephi 11:8

1 Nephi 12:6

The Lamb of God Will Descend

3 Nephi 11:8

1 Nephi 12:6

The Holy Ghost Will Fall on Twelve Disciples

3 Nephi 19:9–13

1 Nephi 12:7

Twelve Disciples Will Be Chosen and Ordained

3 Nephi 12:1

3 Nephi 13:25

3 Nephi 19:4

1 Nephi 12:7

Twelve Disciples Will Judge the Nephites

Mormon 3:18–19

 

1 Nephi 12:10

Righteous Generations Will Precede Final Destruction

3 Nephi 27:30–31

3 Nephi 28:23

4 Nephi 1:14–22

1 Nephi 12:11–12

2 Nephi 26:9

Lamanites will Overcome Nephites

Mormon 6:8–20

1 Nephi 12:19

Nephite/Lamanite Mixture Won’t Be Utterly Destroyed

Helaman 3:16

Moroni 1:2

Moroni 9:24

1 Nephi 13:30

2 Nephi 3:3

2 Nephi 9:53

Nephites Will Record Christ’s Words

3 Nephi 23:4

3 Nephi 27:23

1 Nephi 13:35

Justice/Hell Imagery

Mosiah 2:38

Mosiah 3:27

Alma 12:17

1 Nephi 15:28–30

2 Nephi 9:16

Jacob 6:10

Those Who Are Filthy Can’t Enter God’s Kingdom

Alma 7:21

1 Nephi 15:33–34

The Lord Will Visit the Righteous with His Voice

3 Nephi 11:1–11

3 Nephi 9:13

3 Nephi 10:12–13

1 Nephi 19:11

The Earth Will Groan

3 Nephi 10:9

1 Nephi 19:12

*Travelers to the Promised Land Must Be Led by the Lord

Helaman 6:10

Ether 11:21

2 Nephi 1:6

Omni 1:16

*God Will Mark Lamanites to Make Them Unenticing

Alma 3:14

2 Nephi 5:21–22

*Nephites Who Mix with Lamanites Will Be Cursed

Alma 3:15

2 Nephi 5:22

*Living after the Manner of Happiness

Alma 50:23

Helaman 7:7

4 Nephi 1:16–17

2 Nephi 5:27

Signs Will Be Given of Christ’s Birth

Helaman 14:2–6

2 Nephi 26:3

Signs Will Be Given of Christ’s Death

Helaman 14:14–28

2 Nephi 26:3

The Wicked Will Perish for Stoning, Slaying, and Casting out Prophets

3 Nephi 9:10–11

2 Nephi 26:3

Blood of the Saints Will Cry from the Ground

3 Nephi 9:7, 11

2 Nephi 26:3

Depths of the Earth Will Swallow the Wicked

3 Nephi 9:6, 8

2 Nephi 26:5

Mountains Will Cover the Wicked

3 Nephi 9:5

2 Nephi 26:5

Whirlwinds Will Carry Away the Wicked

3 Nephi 8:12, 16

3 Nephi 10:13–14

2 Nephi 26:5

Buildings Will Fall and Crush the Wicked

3 Nephi 8:14

 

2 Nephi 26:5

Despite Persecution, Righteous Saints Will Steadfastly Look for the Signs of Christ’s Coming

3 Nephi 1:8–9

2 Nephi 26:8

Christ Will Heal the People

3 Nephi 9:13

3 Nephi 17:7–10

3 Nephi 26:15

2 Nephi 26:9

Christ’s Ministry Will Be Followed by Generations of Peace

4 Nephi 1:1, 22

2 Nephi 26:9

The Spirit Will Cease to Strive with the Nephites

Mormon 5:16

2 Nephi 26:11

Nephites Will Be Speedily Destroyed

Mormon 4:18

Mormon 8:7

2 Nephi 26:10

 

Complexity
Intertextuality (Internal)
Mosiah-First Translation
Book of Mormon

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