Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
Editor’s Note: The following is an introductory excerpt to a series of article taken from “Evidences for the Prophet Joseph Smith as Found in the Pearl of Great Price” To learn more about this text, click here.
This book is about the Pearl of Great Price, but to get there, I have to start with my relationship with the Book of Mormon. In 2010, I received the idea to type out the text of the Book of Mormon, which I did. It took me eighteen months—565 days to be exact—which is five hundred more days than it took Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to complete the original. I typed every word, cover to cover, except the footnotes. It was an amazing adventure to have the people become real and the doctrines personal. I cannot overstate the power of the experience.
However, the process was long and tedious. I typed early in the morning, late at night, and in between everything I did. When I finished the book of Mosiah at page 207 with 324 pages to go, I experienced what I thought was Book of Mormon–typing fatigue. I wanted to quit, to be done with the project. It had taken me more than seven months to get that far, and as rewarding as it had been, it was taking up all my spare time.
For several days, I lingered in limbo, weighing the practicality and usefulness of continuing. Finally I was motivated by the thought that there might be something more, something of value to experience, so I decided to keep typing, typing, typing to the end.
Never could I have imagined what was awaiting me. All I had to do was continue typing exactly where I left off, bridging the gap between the end of Mosiah at chapter 29 and the first verse of Alma. I wrote about the experience in the first chapter of The Book of Mormon Is True, which I abridge here.
As I began to type, individual words seemed to call attention to themselves. Thoughts came, such as, I don’t remember typing that word before, and This text feels somehow different. After typing more than two hundred pages, I could tell something had changed. I could not identify what it was, but something felt unsettling.
I decided I should pay attention to what I was feeling. Even though I had already typed most of Alma 1, I deleted it and started the chapter over. I suspected I was experiencing the differences in two authors’ styles, which I should have anticipated because King Benjamin’s son Mosiah—who wrote the last chapter of Mosiah—and Alma’s son Alma—who wrote the first chapter of Alma—would have expressed themselves differently. It would be like reading a summary of a talk by Gordon B. Hinckley and another by President Thomas S. Monson. You would feel a change of style and tone, even if the talks were summarized. But then the thought occurred to me that what I was experiencing might be more than just the differences in Mosiah’s and Alma’s styles. Could it be that they expressed their thoughts using different words?
As I started to retype Alma 1, I watched for words that might have triggered my feelings that something had changed. I typed: “Now it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, from this time forward, king Mosiah having gone the way of all the earth, having warred . . .” I paused and looked at the word warred. I could not think of a scripture that contained the word warred and couldn’t recall typing it. So I typed w-a-r-r-e-d into the scripture search program and saw ten occurrences—nine in the Old Testament and one in the Book of Mormon, of course in Alma 1:1.
Then, just two words after warred, I saw the word warfare and typed it into the scripture program. Warfare is found eight times in all scripture—two times in the Old Testament, three in the New Testament, and three in the Book of Mormon, all three in Alma. I kept trying more and more words, looking specifically for those found for the first or only time in Alma 1.
I think the text (really the Spirit) caught my attention because I was typing words I had not typed before, and there are forty-six unique words in the thirty-three verses of Alma 1! Here are the words alphabetically: acknowledge, acknowledged, admonishing, athirst, babblings, bearing down, belonging, blows, circumstances, costly, endeavored, enforce, enforced, esteeming, exercising, fists, force, hearer, hearers, homely, ignominious, imparted, introduced, learner, leaving, liars, liberal, neat, noted, persecuting, pleaded, preacher, pretended, priestcraft, sharply, silk, sorceries, spreading, steadiness, strife, termed, thieving, warfare, warmly, warred, withdrew.
At this point, I thought Alma 1 was probably an anomaly, but just in case, I decided to go back to the last chapter of Mosiah to see if Mosiah’s vocabulary is different enough that it would have triggered a subconscious awareness that something had changed. I was barely cognizant that a pattern was emerging. Without much effort, using the same criteria, I found thirty unique words in Mosiah 29: all-wise, anxious, appoint, arrange, business, disadvantages, enacteth, enumerated, exacted, expressed, extending, higher, inequality, iniquitous, interposition, lower, lucre, newly, plundering, privileges, relinquished, remains, repugnant, rightly, sincere, teareth, trampleth, troubles, tyrant, willingness.
Curious, but still not realizing what I had stumbled on to, I moved to Alma 2, looking for words that appear for the first or only time in that chapter. In verse two, I saw the word drawn. In verse three, I saw alarming and then persuasions and typed each of them into the scripture search program. All three were found for the first time in the Book of Mormon in Alma 2:1–3.
Soon I found more words and then more words—and more and more. It was astounding! Before long I had more than a hundred words on the list and couldn’t keep track of them anymore. So I alphabetized them. A few days later, I had found so many that I needed to number them. I also modified how I kept track of the words—not by book but rather by the person who was being quoted or written about. These were words used only by one person. My list of distinct words got longer and longer with every chapter I typed.
Every time the plates were passed to a new record keeper or another individual was quoted, I started a new list. When I got to 3 Nephi, I wished I had started looking for unique words when I’d first begun typing. After a few days of indecision, I knew I had to go back. I stopped typing at the last chapter of Helaman and went back to read 1 Nephi (I didn’t think I needed to type it again) through Mosiah 28, watching for possible unique words and adding them to my lists. When I reached Alma, I skipped forward and typed until Moroni’s final words, along the way adding to my now very long list of unique words. In the end, I had more than 1,700 words organized by author or speaker or person quoted on a spreadsheet, not including proper nouns.
Of course, this experience could not have happened without a computer, which I did not immediately appreciate. When I was about halfway through the project, my visiting teacher and dear friend Leslie Goodwin happened to be going through a box of old books. When she opened the box and read the title of the book that was on top, she felt she should give it to me. The book, by J. N. Washburn—The Contents, Structure and Authorship of the Book of Mormon—was published in 1954. I was amazed to read that Brother Washburn had a similar idea that somehow the specific words of the Book of Mormon were evidence of its truthfulness.
With no computer to help him, he chose twenty-five religious words and twenty-five nonreligious words to track through the Book of Mormon. He said, “I then read the Book of Mormon entirely through and kept a careful record of the recurrence of those fifty words.” After finishing this experiment, the data was inconclusive. He said, “Just how significant this little experiment was I cannot say, but it seems to suggest something of value” (Washburn, The Contents, Structure and Authorship of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1954], 77–78).
When the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829 and when Brother Washburn gathered his data in 1954, few people on earth had an inkling that a device would be invented which could instantly display how many times a word is used and jump to that exact spot in the text.
Sitting at my desk, looking over my extensive list of words and knowing there were many more yet to be found, I felt awe, and I knew more than ever before that the Book of Mormon could not be explained away as the work of one or several nineteenth-century authors. No man or woman—be it Tolstoy, Tolkien, or Twain—could use unique vocabulary for over fifty individuals. I had long before received a spiritual witness that Joseph Smith did not compose the Book of Mormon, but now, based on the evidence of hundreds and hundreds of unique words, I concluded that Joseph did not even use his own words in translating the Book of Mormon (see Linford, The Book of Mormon Is True [American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2015], 7–15.)
It took fifty-four chapters to share these findings. What an incredible journey it had been—the culminating writing experience of my life! The Book of Mormon Is True was my twelfth book, and I was happy to let the book-writing part of my life be over.
I enjoyed that thought for about three days after the book’s release. Then my youngest son, Daniel, said, “I know what your next book should be.” I answered, “There isn’t going to be a next book.” He said, “Yes, there is. You need to do the same thing you did with the Book of Mormon to the Pearl of Great Price.”
The intrigue hit me instantly. I had to know. Since Joseph Smith was the source of everything in the Pearl of Great Price—the book of Moses, the book of Abraham, the inspired revision of Matthew 24 from the New Testament, the key events of Joseph Smith’s history, and the Articles of Faith—I wondered, would there be distinct words for each writer as there were in the Book of Mormon or would it all be in Joseph Smith’s vocabulary? Would there even be enough evidence since the Pearl of Great Price is only 61 pages? How many different voices would there be? How many unique words? Would there be any doctrinal “aha” moments?
And so I began on September 21, 2015, nervously hoping for more discoveries and seriously hoping that reading the Pearl of Great Price would yield enough information because I most certainly did not want to have to type it. Even sixty-one pages seemed overwhelming.
My goal was not to secure or shore up my testimony of the Pearl of Great Price. I already believed all the canonized scriptures of the Church were the word of God. However, it seemed a timely project because the Pearl of Great Price, particularly the book of Abraham, continues to receive negative attention in the press, as disaffected members and anti-Mormons question Joseph Smith’s seership.
For me the authenticity of the book boils down to this: when Joseph Smith quotes God, Moses, and Satan in the first chapter of Moses, are the words Joseph’s or are they the actual words of God, Moses, and Satan? When you read the book of Abraham, are you reading Joseph Smith’s words or Abraham’s? Are the additional text and the reorganization of Matthew 24 Joseph’s own genius or the actual restoration of words that Jesus Christ taught His Apostles?