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In short, when applied to the Doctrine and Covenants, that insight is this: the Doctrine and Covenants is a thoroughly intertextual book. That is, in almost every revelation, the text itself draws on the language of other scripture and functions to bring the dispensations into dialogue with each other.

In the very language of the texts, the Doctrine and Covenants melds dispensations. This insight can powerfully reorient our study and teaching of the scriptures. It can help us to better appreciate the richness and complexity of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, and it can help us realize the great power and meaning these revelations had for Joseph Smith and the early Saints. In this article, I offer a broad overview of the purposes, meanings, and function of biblical intertextuality in the Doctrine and Covenants.

I will first consider three possible reasons for the presence of this feature in the text of the revelations. Then I will discuss several ways in which this intertextuality functions.


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Of necessity, this is a brief and suggestive treatment of a vast and complex subject, offered by way of making visible a feature of the Doctrine and Covenants that, for some, may be easily overlooked. In my experience, it is something that, once we have been alerted to its presence, can become a new and illuminating addition to our awareness when studying the scriptures. Why would there be so much intertextuality in the Doctrine and Covenants?

We will consider three related answers to this question. The first reason relates to the nature of God and his perspective on revealing the gospel throughout time. The third reason, which is related to the second, grows out of the historical and cultural setting in which the revelations were given, a time in which biblical language was widely familiar and recognized as authoritative.

These reasons are ultimately interrelated and are not mutually exclusive.


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  • While this statement is certainly true in broad terms—the Lord teaches the same truths to all men everywhere—at least in the English-language versions of the scriptures, it is also literally true. Certainly the Doctrine and Covenants, in its extensive use of language from the Bible, works with the Book of Mormon to fulfill these purposes. Another possible reason for the use of biblical language in modern revelations may grow out of the inherent difficulties of expressing revelation adequately in human language. The few eyewitness accounts we have of Joseph Smith receiving revelations suggest that it was essentially a process of dictation: Joseph felt or heard the words in his mind and then spoke them aloud to be written down.

    Parley P. This was the manner in which all his written revelations were dictated and written. There is good reason to believe, however, that for Joseph Smith, the process was not quite so easy. We know that receiving revelation was, first and foremost, work. While receiving and understanding the whisperings of the Spirit undoubtedly accounted for a large proportion of the work involved, it was also a struggle to find the right words to express that inspiration, and both Joseph and the Lord recognized that there would be a complex and sometimes difficult relationship between revelation—the language of God—and the language of men.

    Undoubtedly, as Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon—perhaps the formative experience through which he learned how to receive and record revelation—he had sympathized with Moroni, who spoke poignantly of the difficulties he and his fellow Nephite prophets had encountered in putting their inspired words into writing.

    Getting from revelation to text, then, was a complex process that involved rendering the still, small voice of the Spirit into English words that would be coherent and meaningful to Joseph and his nineteenth-century American associates.

    While it is true that the language of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants is comprehensible to us as modern English, it is also clear that, in expressing the revelations in modern English, Joseph Smith held definite ideas about what sacred, scriptural language should sound like. For the Lord, it offered a means of communicating with his people in language that was already familiar and authoritative. It brought the dispensations together and served as a further witness of his word.

    For Joseph Smith, struggling to write his way out of that narrow prison of language, the Bible offered both a model and a storehouse of words and phrases that enabled him to express his revelations in meaningful terms. The early Saints recognized in the revelations a blend of familiar words and new doctrines that mutually illuminated and validated each other. It is probably impossible for us today to fully appreciate just how central and fundamental an element the Bible was in the culture of English-speaking people in the early nineteenth century. People owned and read Bibles, to be sure, but we should remember that the culture was much more organized around face-to-face interaction and that the spoken word sermons, dramatic readings, storytelling provided the most common and fundamental forms of entertainment and education.

    Joseph Smith and his contemporaries knew the language of the Bible not only because they read it but because they heard it all around them—directly from the book, but also as part of the deeply embedded idioms of everyday speech. For many of the early Saints, undoubtedly, hearing was a primary means by which they learned the word of the Lord, and it is likely that Joseph and his contemporaries retained an auditory orientation to the scriptures that we have largely lost.

    Revelation Commentaries | Precept Austin

    In other words, the revelations sounded familiar to them because they had heard such language repeatedly throughout their lives. It is important to stress, I think, that we cannot know for certain which intertextual expressions in the revelations would have been previously familiar to Joseph Smith himself or to his listeners; certainly we cannot assume that any given person had essentially memorized the Bible.

    Therefore, it would be a highly variable matter to account for the biblical resonances in any given verse. Joseph Smith and his contemporaries would have heard not only the words of the modern revelation; but also those words in the context of the biblical passages to which they refer, often expanding or enriching their meaning in ways that we miss if we are not aware of the original. Moreover, we should also acknowledge that the intertextuality of the Bible with both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon has been cited by some observers as evidence that Joseph Smith simply composed the revelations himself by patching together biblical phrases and pseudoscriptural language.

    In my view, this explanation is much too easy. Looking at section 4, for example, we find in just seven short verses a complex and beautiful text that draws on over eight different biblical sources with little self-conscious marking of itself as quotation or allusion. It is a text that simultaneously stands on its own while resonating with the meanings and music of its sources.

    For those of us who accept the veracity of those revelations, the biblical intertextuality in the Doctrine and Covenants provides yet another witness of their authenticity. Having considered the why of biblical intertextuality in the Doctrine and Covenants, we can now turn to the how: How does this intertextuality function in the texts of the revelations? We can discuss only a few examples here, but I would like to identify three general patterns.

    If it would require more than one anachronism for you to disbelieve, how many such anachronisms would be needed for you to realize the writing was not what it claimed to be? For many apologists, if something is possible, no matter how implausible, that is enough to assuage their concerns.


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    • For critics, the idea is not what is possible, but what is probable. What is the probability of a reference to a clock that strikes hours realistically appearing in a document from 44 BC? A "Julius Caesar" apologist would believe so much in the historicity of the "Julius Caesar" document that she would try any method possible to wave away the clock anachronism.

      The critic would try to prove the clock was an anachronism, thereby proving its fraudulent provenance. The apologist may say that what the original document was referring to was simply a sundial, but the person translating it knew that it was some sort of timepiece and chose a timepiece they were familiar with, a clock. The critic would point out that the phrase "count the clock" and the word "stricken" clearly refer to clocks that make noise and that in the particular scene in "Julius Caesar" it was in the morning—not exactly a time at which a sundial would be consulted.

      So, although the apologist's explanation seemed to make sense, on further examination it crumbles. The apologist cannot leave it there, she must do whatever twisting and turning it takes to maintain her belief in the "truthfulness" of the document and its translation. This will lead to ever more absurd explanations and possibly outright lies to protect her belief about the historicity of the document at all costs.

      Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon present a problem for the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's statements that a the gold plates existed and b they contained a historical account from the time period it claims. It might be easy to brush off an anachronism or two, but how many anachronisms need to be found in the Book of Mormon for someone to say that the book was not what Joseph claimed it to be?

      Both critics and apologists understand that for each verifiable anachronistic item appearing in the Book of Mormon the odds increase significantly that the book's origins and content are not what they are claimed to be.

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      Not only does an increase in the frequency of anachronisms increase the probability that a work is not historically accurate, but the nature in which the anachronistic word is used can do so as well. In the clock example above, if "clock" were mentioned alone, it would be easier to pass off as some sort of translation error.

      But when the idea within which the anachronistic word is embedded relies on a specific meaning for that word, such as the idea that the clock must "strike" and be used at night, then the probability of it being an actual anachronism instead of just a simple mistake increases.

      When one looks at the frequency and context of Book of Mormon anachronisms "horses" in the BOM are often found coupled with either "chariots" or "cattle," both of which are also anachronisms , it's hard to imagine any other origin than it being the product of the mind s of a 19th century author s. Most critical thinkers believe the simplest, most logical answer is probably the correct one based on the idea of Occam's Razor. This is not to say that some answers and reasons can't be more complex, but when the preponderance of reasons and answers explaining a theory are complex, it might be time to give up trying to support that theory.

      What is the book of Enoch?

      Besides simply chronological anachronisms, the Book of Mormon contains items that might not be simply out of time, but they are geographically out of place for the time period the Book of Mormon covers. The Church teaches that the first inhabitants of the Americas were the Jaredites, arriving in the New World and beginning their historical records "approximately B.

      This means that anything mentioned in the Book of Mormon takes place from approximately BC to approximately AD. An example of something in the correct time period for parts of the world, but out of place for the Americas is steel. The same is true for many animals, such as horses, elephants, goats, donkeys, etc. Below are some of the contradictory and often anachronistic items in the Book of Mormon text. We list the critics' arguments and LDS responses. Some of the anachronistic animals found in the Book of Mormon include horses, cattle, oxen, donkeys, goats, wild goats, sheep, swine and elephants see 1 Nephi and Ether Scientists say that the modern-day horse did not exist in the Americas during BOM times.

      It is universally accepted among mainstream archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians that there is no evidence of the existence of a pre-Columbian horse, excepting the long-extinct species. The following is taken from wikipedia - Book of Mormon anachronisms as of May 20, :. Horses are mentioned fourteen times in the Book of Mormon, and are portrayed as an integral part of the cultures described. Horses evolved in North America,[2] but became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene[3][4]. Horses did not reappear in the Americas until the Spaniards brought them from Europe.

      Long, Mammal evolution, an illustrated guide , Facts on File, pg. Guthrie, R. Retrieved Baker, Barry W. Dale Guthrie, New carbon dates link climatic change with human colonization and Pleistocene extinctions, Nature 11 May , Kirkpatrick, Jay F. Singer, Ben. Canadian Geographic Magazine. However, we found two basic responses from LDS apologists. References are provided so readers can review the apologetic responses in detail. Reference: Wikipedia - Book of Mormon anachronisms :. Apologists assert that there is fossil evidence that some New World horses may have survived the Pleistocene—Holocene transition, though these findings are disputed by critics.

      Bennett stated that as a comparison the famed horses of the Huns did not leave an archaeological trace yet numbered in the thousands. He also points out the limited evidence of lions in Palestine:.

      The biblical narrative mentions lions, yet it was not until very recently that the only other evidence for lions in Palestine was pictographic or literary. Before the announcement in a publication of two bone samples, there was no archaeological evidence to confirm the existence of lions in that region. Reference: Neal A. Maxwell Institute :.