At a Book of Mormon conference in Provo last Saturday, Matt Roper and Paul Fields set out to do just that. They intrigued the audience with a new study of Book of Mormon authorship using stylometry showing a wide variety of authors in the book.
Stylometry examines the styles of writing in a text by identifying word-use patterns. It is “also known as computational stylistics [and] is a method of authorship attribution that uses …statistical techniques to infer the authorship of texts based on writing patterns. It tries to describe an author’s conscious and unconscious creative actions with quantifiable measures such as the frequency with which an author uses certain words or groupings of words. Stylometric analysis is based on the fundamental premise that authors write with distinctive, repeated patterns of word use.”1
Comparison of the Book of Mormon to Novelists of the Same Time Period
In the past, Roper and Fields had used stylometry to show a consistency of authorship in Isaiah and the Pauline Epistles. But in this presentation, they chose to compare two novels each from Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, James Fennimore Cooper, Mark Twain with the Book of Mormon. Together these eight volumes have about the same number of words as the Book of Mormon, but contrast in voice, character development, and other aspects.
Using a 3-D computer model,
they showed a unity of authorship in each book written by contemporary authors along with the characters they each developed. However, as an example, Tom Sawyer’s voice is different from Huckleberry Finn’s, but both their voices are more like those of other characters created by Twain than they are like any of the other characters created by Cooper, Dickens, and Austen.
Roper and Fields than compared those novelists to the Book of Mormon writers. They showed how these authors did not come close to the 119 characters developed in the Book of Mormon. That book shows four major authors or abridgers, who between them go on include many more writing styles from other Book of Mormon contributors.
For example, Mormon as a writer contributed about 36% of the words in the Book of Mormon with a central theme around war. Nephi is the next most prolific writer with a theme around family. He is followed by Alma with a theme of faith and Moroni with themes of ordinances and governance. In each of these themes, the writer of abridger developed 24 more writing styles with 24 other sentiments. This is far too many for Joesph Smith to keep track of and many more than the selected contemporary authors of the prophet. In the same light, the 119 Book of Mormon characters shows narrative voices that eclipse any of the other contemporaries chosen.
Together this presentation helped the audience consider the impossibility of someone of Joseph Smith’s age and limited experience working with Oliver Cowdery over 60 working days to compose anything so complicated as the Book of Mormon. It worked for me and others in the audience.
Other Examples Stylometry and the Book of Mormon
At Book of Mormon Central, they posted “What Can Stylometry Tell Us about Book of Mormon Authorship?”, which lists several stylometric studies of the Book of Mormon.
Opponents to the Book of Mormon either claim that Joeseph wrote the Book of Mormon or cobbled it together from others like Pratt, Cowdery, Spaulding, or Rigdon. In just one example, Mark Twain, in Roughing It, accuses Joseph Smith of having “smouched from the New Testament” and then giving no credit in his “composing” the Book of Mormon.
In several stylometric analyses I have studied since the conference, each has consistently pointed to the fact that none of those parties, including Joseph Smith, wrote the book. Instead, as shown in figure 1 (below), in 2011, Fields, Roper, and Bruce Schaalje demonstrate the differences between the “wordprints” of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon authors.In 2011, Fields, Roper, and Schaalje, examined another study where they allowed for unknown authors not included in the set of potential candidates listed above, who could have written the text. They also included Joseph Smith as a potential author. In their findings, they showed “the chance of it having been written by one or more authors not included in the set turned out to be 93%
Like Fields and Roper, many other scholars have used stylometry to show the distinctive styles of the book. These studies show that the major contributors, Nephi, Mormon, Moroni and Alms, all have distinctive “wordprints” in comparison to Joseph Smith’s. Clearly, he did not author the book, but a team of many writers compiled it and none of them were Joseph’s contemporaries.
Other Related Articles
1 Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and G. Bruce Schaalj, “Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon: A Short History,” BYU Maxwell Institute, 2012
2 Louis C. Midgley, “Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? The Critics and Their Theories,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 101–39.