Skip to main content
Updated date:

More on Mark Twain's Critique of the Book of Mormon

Sometimes writers distance themselves from religious subjects. Religion is still taboo to speak about. Read about it instead.

Eric Dierker, a fellow writer at Hubpages, stated that "[Twain] is more a writer of fiction with some interesting thought thrown in. And not a writer of fact with thought thrown in."

Eric made an important point about Twain's qualification as a traveler seeking for interesting stories to tell and not a journalist seeking for news to report.

The following article concludes a review of the critique of one of America's favorite literary geniuses on the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which millions consider to be sacred writings of holy prophets.

on-mark-twains-critique-of-the-book-of-mormon-2

Twain's quoted from the semi-autobiography Roughing It chapter 16 saying,

The book [The Book of Mormon] seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s translation of the Scriptures...1

Twain's estimation of the Book of Mormon is a flowery re-working of the New Testament. Of course, as an active student of the Book of Mormon, I could not disagree more.

A Tedious Plagiarism of the New Testament

Apparently, Twain thought that Joseph Smith attempted to make the scriptures that he translated sound like the Bible. I agree with him. Joseph did love the Bible. When he realized the gravity of what he was doing, translating a book of scripture, why would he not place the words in such a way that it reminded him of another sacred book, the Bible?

on-mark-twains-critique-of-the-book-of-mormon

The big accusation here is that Twain figured that it was a crafty plagiarism of the New Testament because the phrases were similar and the gospel message was the same. I must confess, this is odd. Why would the message be different? The stories being different makes sense. The lives of the people in those stories differed. On the other side of the coin of history, the stories and situations can and may repeat. Each generation comes up with ideas that may appear similar to the generation before. If the stories in the Book of Mormon were the same as those in the Bible, it would still not mean that it was plagiarism. Humanity is very similar though we differ in languages, cultures, political systems, and religions. The Golden Rule, for example, can be found in every culture in form.

Do to others that thing that you want to have done to you.

I changed the wording a little from what is normally written so the sentiment of the Golden Rule would receive the most attention. In Romans chapter seven, Paul mentions to the saints his disappointment in the natural man. Records he, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24) Paul bemoaned his awful state due to the desires of his flesh and how the law of Moses condemns him and all others to death because of it. He then poses the question to which he already has an answer regarding deliverance from death, which, of course, he teaches is through Christ alone.

In The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Nephi, several hundred years Paul's predecessor, laments, "O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities." (2 Nephi 4:17) Nephi experienced the same sentiments as Paul who lived centuries later. When Joseph Smith saw the similar sentiments of Paul and Nephi, did he think of what Paul wrote to the Romans and express Nephi's sentiment in similar words? It's plausible!

Does the possibility of that mean that portion of the Book of Mormon plagiarizes the New Testament because old Joe Smith needed to make his "Mormon Bible" look and sound the part? Or, because of the universality of the human experience and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ a similar circumstance occurred to more than one person?

Nephi exploded into a lamentation and praise session from his statement. Both Paul and Nephi taught that life comes through Christ and death through the natural man or flesh. No amount of works can save a person. Reading Romans and 2 Nephi, they do not sound the same or produce the same atmosphere; however, they teach the same doctrine in Christ.

life-before-the-eden-garden-part-one

Twain calls the plagiarism tedious because the principles are the same while the wording is different. He did not think that another book of scripture could exist with the same teachings as the Bible unless it was some type of plagiarism. He had only spent two days among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during his travels. It is my estimation that his limited time among the Latter-day Saints and with The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ colored his opinion of the book an adaptation of something familiar: The King James Version of the Bible. This view is satirical in nature. Twain's estimation dismisses the claim of the Book of Mormon to be another testimony of the divinity of Jesus Chris, which in turn stands with the Bible as two written witnesses that Christianity is divine and God is real!

Twain did not enter the world of the Latter-day Saints with an open mind about religion since it was not his intention to explore the possibility of the need of more than the books already accepted in his mind found in the Holy Bible. Why would he? Like many Christians, Twain's opinion about the mater appears to match what Nephi wrote: "A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible." [2 Nephi 29:3]

Mongrel Scripture

Mark Twain virtually called The Book of Mormon a bastard! He claimed that due to its unsanctioned marriage of King James Version phraseology and 19th century English the product of that union is illegitimate; therefore, it is fakery.

The fact that Twain referred to the book's glibness is an indication that the allure of the book spoke to his soul as he mentioned that it was a novelty to him. He humorously states that "Whenever [Joseph Smith, Jr.] found his speech growing too modern—which was about every sentence or two—he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again." 1

These "Biblically sounding phrases" led Twain to conclude that “If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet." 1 Anyone familiar with the Book of Mormon is well aware of the prevalent use of those connector phrases in the record. It merits a chuckle at least and a severe possibility that Twain read the book with some thought. He did admit that the three and eight witnesses in the front of the record provided evidence, enough evidence that the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated existed. The next hurdle for him would have been to discover if the words on the plates are actually what became the English translation of the book.

An article in the New Yorker that came about during the Mitt Romney run for US president expresses the same sentiment that The Book of Mormon was not as important for what it contains as much as what it represented to the followers of Joseph Smith. Adam Gopnik produced a rivetting piece in 2012 covering the faith of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint from a secular perspective when he wrote with the supporting work of Matthew Bowman's The Mormon People and French historian Jean-Christophe Attias:

The powers that possession of the Book of Mormon conferred mattered more than the doctrines that it contained. “Rarely did missionaries draw on the verses and stories of the Book of Mormon in sermons,” Bowman explains. “Rather, they brandished the book as tangible proof of Joseph Smith’s divine calling.” Some holy texts, the Gospels, for instance, are evangelical instruments meant to convert people who read them; others are sacred objects meant to be venerated. The Book of Mormon is a book of the second sort. As the French religious historian Jean-Christophe Attias points out, in traditional Judaism the physical presence of the Scripture is at least as important as its content: when the Torah is unrolled during the service, it’s meant to be admired, not apprehended. That the Mormons had a book of their own counted for almost as much as what the Book of Mormon said. 2

Gopnick suggests that the book is nothing more than a symbol for Latter-day saints as the cross is a symbol for most Christians and the scroll of the Torah is to the Jews. However, as a reader of the book and a member of the church that uses it as a missionary tool to introduce people to the reality of Christ, I Challenge his conclusion. Most Latter-day Saints are converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and live outside the United States of the 16 or so million members. The Book of Mormon is a missionary tool.

The cry from every missionary (a group of which I am formerly full-time) is to read the book with an open mind and pray for guidance from God whether it is what it claims to be, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It is meant to be read daily. Its teachings are meant to be followed as they are Christ-inspired. It is not simply something to be adored as an object of affection.

Conclusion

Mark Twain was in no danger of becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though he gave credit to those who put their names out to the world as witnesses of its truths. He said,

The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read, but there is nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is unobjectionable—it is “smouched” from the New Testament and no credit given. 1

Mark Twain thought the book to be plagiarism and stupid as a piece of literature; however, he saw nothing alarming in the teachings within because in his estimation it came from something he already believed, the New Testament.

Can I compare to Mark Twain enough to dismiss what he thought of this book? No. He is a legend. I am not in the same league. I am no expert on linguistics or history. What I can say is that I read The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ before I was a Christian and it converted me to Jesus Christ. There is no incontrovertible evidence of the record's truth in physical evidence currently to prove the record is what it purports to be.

If it is important to know if the book is truly not a work of plagiarism, wouldn't it be an act of faith to read it and ask God if the record is true? Why make an educated guess if the source of all knowledge can help with that question?

Sources

Mark Twain - Roughing It 1

Adam Gopnik - I, Nephi 2


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rodric Anthony Johnson

Comments

Rodric Anthony Johnson (author) from Surprise, Arizona on October 26, 2019:

Thanks Mark.

Mark Richardson from Utah on October 16, 2019:

Another great article

Related Articles