Yea, Verily, Yea: The Word Yea and the Book of Mormon’s Imitation of the King James Version

 

Yea, Verily, Yea

“Yea, verily, yea!” — Danny Kaye, in “The Court Jester” (1956)

Yesterday I posted a short article here summarizing the first three articles on IRR’s website in a new series entitled “Moroni’s New Testament.” In those articles, I showed that the author of the writings attributed to Moroni in the Book of Mormon was a modern English-speaking individual who was familiar with the New Testament in the King James Version (KJV) and freely drew on it in composing the books of Mormon and Moroni.

Several Mormons on Facebook commented on the matter. Some asserted that they saw nothing wrong with the Book of Mormon using the “terminology” of the KJV. Frankly, this response shows a lack of any serious understanding of the issue. When the Book of Mormon contains a passage that is verbally identical to a passage in the New Testament for a stretch of some 80 words (Mormon 9:22b-24 = Mark 16:15-18), such a phenomenon simply cannot be called “using the same terminology.” This response reflects the traditional LDS belief that God provided an inspired translation of the gold plates in which the English words were exactly what God wanted written in the English version of the Book of Mormon.

The most sophisticated response I have seen suggested, rather tentatively and hypothetically, that Moroni might have heard (or even read) statements very much like what is in the New Testament from the Three Nephites, the Nephite apostles who didn’t die according to the Book of Mormon. The Mormon speculated that the Three Nephites might have gotten together with the apostle John (whom Mormons also think never died) and compared notes. I just described this explanation as the most sophisticated, but that isn’t saying much. It is also so convoluted and so ad hoc that the Mormon who offered it admitted it was only a possibility, not something he actually believed. Here again, though, a close study of the three full articles should be enough to see why such an explanation simply is not workable. For example, there is a sentence in the Book of Mormon that echoes statements from two different books but that happen to fall in adjacent chapters in the New Testament canon because of the way the canon was organized (Mormon 9:9 = Heb. 13:8; James 1:17). This fact shows that the author of Moroni’s writings had access to an actual New Testament, not just to men who had talked to one of the Old World apostles.

By far the simplest and most plausible explanation of the evidence is that the author of the writings attributed to Moroni was a modern individual who composed the Book of Mormon drawing on his knowledge of the KJV. The evidence of the author’s cribbing from the New Testament is not the only evidence supporting this conclusion. There is much more.

In another new article, I have taken a close look at the occurrences of the little word yea in the Book of Mormon as compared to the Bible (specifically again the KJV). In the KJV, the word yea occurs 275 times in the Old Testament and 65 times in the New Testament, or 340 times in the entire Bible. In the Book of Mormon, though, the word yea occurs 1,254 times.

To put this difference in perspective, keep in mind that the Book of Mormon is only about a third the length of the Bible, yet the Book of Mormon has almost four times as many occurrences of the word yea as the Bible. It turns out that the word yea occurs once in about every 2,318 words in the Bible, but once in about every 215 words in the Book of Mormon. In short, in terms of frequencies or proportions, the word yea is used over ten times as often in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible.

Anyone interested in this topic will need to read the full article, which includes three tables with important statistical information as well as some details regarding the Hebrew and Greek words translated “yea” in the KJV. Here I will give just a brief summary of the article and not repeat all of the supporting details of my argument.

Having tabulated the number of occurrences of yea in both the Book of Mormon and the Bible, with the numbers for each of the 15 books within the former and the 66 books within the latter canon, I turn to consider four possible Mormon explanations for the disparity:

  1. Might the disparity be due to the Book of Mormon translating similar words in a different way than in the KJV of the Bible? I explain why this question should be answered in the negative by looking at all of the Hebrew words that are translated “yea” in the Old Testament of the KJV. There are simply not enough occurrences of words potentially meaning yea in appropriate contexts in the Hebrew Old Testament to come close to the frequency of its usage in the Book of Mormon.
  2. Could it be that the disparity is the result of a few books in one or the other canon having so many or so few occurrences as to skew the averages? The statistical evidence absolutely proves otherwise. The highest frequency of yea in any book of the Bible is in 3 John (one occurrence in 294 words), which is still higher than the average frequency for the whole Book of Mormon (one in 215 words).
  3. Could the disparity be attributed to different authors within the Book of Mormon using the word with different frequencies? This explanation won’t work, either. The three main authors named in the Book of Mormon all make heavy use of the word yea: once every 181 words (Mormon), every 257 words (Nephi), and every 514 words (Moroni). This is roughly the same range of frequencies found in the individual books attributed to Mormon, which range from once every 124 words (Helaman) to once every 516 words (Mormon 1–7). These variations sound large until you realize that the Old Testament in the KJV has 26 books with frequencies of one in 10,000 to 30,000.
  4. Might different genres account for the disparity? If anything, comparing genres only exacerbates the problem. In the Bible, yea is most frequent in the wisdom literature and other poetic texts and least frequent in its narrative histories. By contrast, most of the Book of Mormon purports to be mainly historical narrative and makes heavy use of yea; the book with the least narrative, Moroni, has the lowest frequency of yea.

Finally, I make two additional observations of some importance. The first is that there are numerous passages throughout the Book of Mormon where the use of yea is clearly excessive. The greatest concentration of occurrences of yea in the Old Testament is in Isaiah 44:8-19, where yea occurs six times—once in every 62 words. Yet in the Book of Mormon, there are at least 20 passages with six or more occurrences of yea with frequencies less than once every 50 words. There are four passages in the Book of Mormon with 10 or more occurrences averaging one for every 30 words or higher. Thus, even the most concentrated clusters of occurrences of yea in a couple of Isaiah passages are not nearly as densely packed with such occurrences as some twenty passages in the Book of Mormon. By far the best explanation for this otherwise peculiar phenomenon is that the author of the Book of Mormon was a modern author imitating the language of the KJV but overdoing it.

Second, and especially telling, is the use of yea in passages quoted from passages in the Bible. As is well known, these biblical passages in the Book of Mormon closely follow the wording of the KJV though with some variations. Where Book of Mormon sentences in these passages parallel passages in the Bible, they follow the wording of the KJV to about 96 per cent or more; that is, 96 words out of 100 in the KJV passages are found in the corresponding Book of Mormon passages.

It turns out that the Book of Mormon uses the word yea in these passages almost three times as often as the KJV. Of the seven passages that already have yea in the KJV, the Book of Mormon increases the number of occurrences in four passages and leaves them unchanged in the other three. For example, yea occurs in Isaiah 2–14 in the KJV 3 times but 14 times in the corresponding passage of 2 Nephi 12–24. The Book of Mormon also adds yea in four of its 14 biblical passages that do not have yea at all in the KJV. In no passage does the Book of Mormon decrease the number of occurrences of yea.

This phenomenon thoroughly undermines the most common explanation for the parallels between the KJV and the Book of Mormon quotations from the Bible. That usual explanation is that Joseph was inspired to use the KJV wording where it was close enough to the correct meaning to be serviceable. If so, then why did Joseph add yea 28 times to these biblical passages? It cannot be because their omission was of any significant importance, as anyone can see by reading the passages for himself.

By far the simplest, most obvious, and most plausible explanation is that the modern human author of the Book of Mormon used the KJV as his base text when excerpting passages from the Bible and that this author added yea in various places in those excerpts. Why would he do so? Two complementary reasons seem likely. First, the author of the Book of Mormon wished to make his text sound “biblical,” and using the word yea a lot would help do that even in passages quoting the Bible. Second, adding yea was a simple, painless, unobtrusive way to introduce some verbal variation from the text of the KJV without risk. If the modern author of the Book of Mormon wanted to convey that its biblical quotations were not copied directly from the KJV, introducing some verbal variations, even minor ones, might seem to help convey that impression.

Now put this finding alongside the evidence that the Book of Mormon makes extensive use of the New Testament (in the KJV). The ad hoc explanation for the Book of Mormon parallels to the New Testament all fall apart here. For example, the suggestion that God inspired Joseph Smith to use KJV wording cannot explain why the Book of Mormon uses the KJV word yea ten times more often than the KJV does. On the other hand, the hypothesis that the Book of Mormon was composed by a modern author familiar with the KJV explains both sets of evidence handily: He copied extensively from the KJV (both in direct quotations from the Old Testament and in numerous snatches of text from the New Testament) and throughout the Book of Mormon, whether quoting the Bible or not, imitated KJV language in what he thought was a biblical-sounding style.

Thus, by far the best explanation, and really the only plausible explanation, for this evidence is that the word yea was peppered into the text of the Book of Mormon by a modern author imitating the style of the KJV but greatly overdoing it.

 

 

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