In 2013, Signature Books published Earl Wunderli’s study of the Book of Mormon, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself, an analysis, as the subtitle implies, about the internal clues that for Wunderli, point to the book’s origin. Wunderli, who spent decades examining the book, concludes that Joseph Smith is the clear author of the volume. Robert Rees, former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and former professor of English at UCLA, reviewed Wunderli’s book in the Summer of 2014 at the annual FAIR conference and took issue with many of Wunderli’s assumptions about the book. Rees argues that Wunderli overlooked complex features within the book’s story, structure, and depth. Rees has long written about and defended the Book of Mormon from the perspective of literary criticism. While this angle will illuminate the text for many, it was not Wunderli’s focus in his study. Bob Rees’s review is found here [link]. What follows is Earl Wunderli’s response.

Hi Bob:

Thank you for sending your FAIR paper to Tom Kimball, who forwarded it to me. I’ve read it with great interest and will respond to it here.

In your Abstract, you note two criticisms. First, you write that my case “exaggerates Joseph Smith’s intellectual and cultural background and compositional skills.” Some believers are indeed convinced that the Book of Mormon is true because Joseph Smith could not have written it himself. It was because of this stumbling block for some readers of my book that I explore this briefly in a section entitled “Joseph Smith as Author” on pages 50-56, pointing out that beyond his limited formal schooling, he was intelligent if not a genius, a good reader who read widely and studied the Bible, was creative, imaginative, and a good story teller, among other things. We don’t know just how intelligent Joseph Smith was or how much he was handicapped by his cultural background. Neither do we know what kind of compositional skills he had. Such judgments were what I was trying to avoid in my study. From my research, which I believe shows that the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth century creation, I would argue that we may well underestimate Joseph Smith’s intelligence and compositional skills, and overemphasize his cultural background.

Your second criticism is that my case ignores “the Book of Mormon’s deep structure, narrative complexity, and often intricate rhetorical patterns.” Literary analysts like Grant Hardy, whom you praise and to whom I’ll return, are wonderfully adept at finding these things in this or virtually any other literary work, which were presumably beyond Joseph Smith’s capabilities but not beyond Nephi’s, Mormon’s, the writers Mormon abridged, or Moroni’s.

After reading the nice things you say about me and my research (thank you!), I’m down to your second page, where you describe my approach as based on “reason, science, and truth.” This is essentially true, although I used the words “evidence and reason” in order to invite readers, whose testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon is grounded on faith and prayer as prescribed by Moroni, to look at the evidence. I did not disparage the opposition by calling them “unreasonable, unscientific and inclined to believe in myths and falsehoods.” There are many issues, in and out of religion, for which evidence does not point clearly to one answer or another, and here we must use what you call “studying, weighing, pondering, considering alternate/opposing views.” Indeed, as I wrote, “I admire scriptural scholars and value their work. Many scholars, both defenders and critics of the Book of Mormon, have done sound research. Any comprehensive analysis of the evidence supporting or refuting the historicity of the Book of Mormon must take into account the internal and external evidence together.” But the key is “evidence.” We cannot disregard the evidence. If it points in one direction, we must go as far as it takes us, after which we use our judgment (study, weigh, ponder, consider alternatives), as long as our judgment is consistent with the evidence. In short, my approach is not Manichean. There is not just one way to discovery. There is a place for carrying water on both shoulders, but, again, it begins where the evidence ends.

In your following paragraph, you again endorse both reason (Isaiah) and spirit and inspiration (Job), but again, spirit and inspiration, in my view, enter where evidence and reason no longer take us. Those who rely on evidence and reason, you suggest, “miss the intuitive, poetic, and deep structural complexities of the text,” which I suggest can be found in many if not most texts by those looking for them. See, for example, my critique of John (Jack) Welch’s chiasmus at pages 243-54. Such findings again are judgments and are interesting but hardly a substitute for hard evidence and reason. Indeed, such persons are much like those you describe who rely “solely on the spirit,” being “indifferent to any evidence” that may challenge them. One of my most serious criticisms of religion generally, including the LDS church, is its emphasis on faith over reason; rarely is reason encouraged, but faith is elevated to a high virtue.

You assert farther down the page that as a “long-time student of the book,” you “find the facts anything but simple and the internal evidence anything but obvious.” I don’t believe we’re talking about the same set of facts. Mine are in fact simple and, once identified, are obvious. Whether we’re dealing with words, phrases, names, prophecies, and any other internal evidence, they’re right there in the book. They’re not going to change. Anyone can get to them. In contrast, historical and other external facts cannot all be found in one book, they’re always subject to revision in the light of new findings, and so forth. My effort was to see if the internal facts meant anything and, as it turns out, they mean a great deal. I agree with Billy Collins’s approach to poetry but it is hardly applicable to my study, which was concerned with objective truth and not with the literary analysis of a poem.

Your paragraph following the Billy Collins’s one is, I confess, a little beyond me. I can explain my own thinking, which you quote. At that early stage in my research, I was trying to see whether the claim that “the several ancient writers of the Book of Mormon differed from one another in writing style.” So I decided to look at every word and phrase each of the ancient writers used. I wasn’t then thinking that my research would unveil other areas to explore, like proper names, prophecies, borrowings from the Bible, curiosities, and other things; my imagination didn’t carry me beyond comparing the several purported ancient writers. I don’t understand how the myth you mention suddenly enters the picture.

Your next two paragraphs reveal your much greater knowledge of literature than my own but again, I don’t see their applicability to my study. Indeed, you note that my “approach seldom gets beyond the book’s details,” but that’s precisely what my book is about: details, and what they mean or suggest. Giving the text “a deeper seeing, a more profound probing, a greater attention to its density, patterns, and complexities” and seeing “through, beneath, and beyond” the facts are all well and good if my evidence isn’t convincing that Joseph Smith not only could have written but did write the book. Then your deeper probing might suggest that what you find was beyond Joseph’s capabilities. Many defenders of the book claim this but they rarely spell it out in detail.

In the next paragraph dealing with my appendices, you mentioned Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” with which I AM familiar. But it is unclear to me what you believe I missed that was as obvious as the letter in plain sight. You refer generally to “the interpretive forest” that I missed and I believe you’re referring again to all that a literary analyst could do with my lists of names (not quite as obvious as a letter in plain sight). What was in plain sight was the number of names that were the same as or similar to biblical names, the number of names that could have been derived from other names, the number of identical and similar Nephite and Jaredite names, and so on. In other words, could an author have made up so many names, and the lists suggest that one could have done so.

Your paragraph on irony is interesting. I’m pretty sure I read your 2003 article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, having borrowed all of Michael Marquardt’s Journals in order to read everything that scholars defending the book have said in it, but I can’t find my review of your paper at the moment. So I reread 1 Nephi 16 and 17 which you cite and about which you write that “these chapters contain a sophisticated play on the words ‘to know,’ showing how Nephi very cleverly uses repetition to turn the epistemological tables on his older brothers. It is a brilliant tour de force, one that is all the more successful because Laman and Lemuel unknowingly set themselves up for it.” So I took special note of the word “know.” Besides Nephi’s two uses of “knew” at 16:2, the verb “know” is used only once in chapter 16 (verse 38), by Laman, who conspires with Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael to kill “our father” (who is not the father of the sons of Ishmael) and Nephi, who Laman says is planning to rule over them (incidentally, how does Nephi know what Laman says to Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael unless Laman is conspiring within Nephi’s earshot (16:37-38)?). This brings us to chapter 17, where at verse 19 the brothers “knew” that Nephi could not construct a ship and “knew” that Nephi was lacking in judgment. Then in verse 22, the brothers “know” (twice) that the people in Jerusalem were righteous (incidentally, do Nephi’s brothers speak in unison at 17:19-22?). Finally, Nephi speaks, and this is presumably where the irony begins. In verses 25-29, Nephi uses “know” eight times to tell his brothers that they know that the children of Israel were in bondage, that they were laden with tasks, that it would be good for them if they were brought out of bondage, that Moses was commanded to do it, that the Lord parted the Red Sea, that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, that the Israelites were fed with manna in the wilderness, and that Moses smote the rock and brought forth water. I must confess that I find no irony in this, but of course I’m not a literary critic. The brothers were wrong in their “knowledge” that Nephi could not build a ship and that the people in Jerusalem were righteous, but this says nothing about whether the brothers “knew” the standard elements of the exodus account that Nephi recounts. I find nothing sophisticated, clever, or brilliant here that would have been beyond Joseph Smith.

I should point out that “know” is used 473 times in the Book of Mormon and, with all its variations and derivatives (knew, knewest, knowest, knoweth, knowing, knowingly, knowledge, known, knows) 910 times. Only six words (thing(s), now, land, yea, behold, and people) are used more. I’m only suggesting that there is much opportunity among so many uses of “know” to find, arguably, some irony, whether it is, as you rhetoricians would say, “meiosis and litotes (understatement), hyperbole (overstatement), antiphrasis (contrast), . . . chleuasm (mockery); mycterism (the sneer); and mimesis (imitation, especially for the sake of ridicule).” Finally, on rereading 1 Ne. 16 and 17, I noticed some curiosities in addition to those I noted in the preceding paragraph. When Nephi breaks his bow, his brothers get angry because they obtain no food, but what about the bows of the brothers? Well, all their bows had lost their springs (16:21). Nephi goes right out and makes a new, wooden bow, but why couldn’t the brothers do this? Nephi also makes an arrow out of a straight stick (16:23), but what happened to his other arrows that he was going to use with his steel bow? And don’t the brothers have any arrows? As for the ball with the two pointers and writing that appears and changes from time to time, Nephi writes that “by small means the Lord can bring about great things” (16:29). Maybe Nephi’s referring to this wondrous ball as “small means” is an example of understatement (meiosis). And how is Nephi able to name a place by the English “Bountiful” rather than some exotic name like “Irreantum,” which he interprets (17:5-6)? As between Nephi and Joseph Smith as the author of these two chapters, I think the evidence favors Joseph Smith.

I can do little with your next paragraph, without specific examples, where you extol the irony found in the book, which you consider “significantly beyond the literary capacity of Joseph Smith at the time he supposedly wrote the Book of Mormon.” I confess that I lack “experience in analyzing ironic texts.”

Likewise, I can do little with your next paragraph, in which you refer to “rhetorical patterns, styles, tones, images, symbols and other elements,” without specific examples to examine. I believe this highlights the difference in our approaches, your emphasizing the literary analysis, which calls for judgment (see Grant Hardy below) and my examining in detail what facts are in the Book of Mormon and what they might mean, avoiding judgments as much as possible.

In the next paragraph, you note that I “over-emphasize errors in the text while ignoring the substantial corresponding consistencies.” For example, I point out two errors involving the cities of Nephihah and Mulek but “ungenerously” fail to mention that these are “the only inconsistencies in over four hundred geographical references,” which you describe as “an astonishing feat.” I agree that the consistency of the geographical references is impressive except that Joseph Smith may well have had a crib sheet of some sort; we apparently don’t know exactly how the dictation proceeded; and perhaps a quarter or so of the names are used only once (for example, of the eleven place names beginning with A in the Nephite history, four are used but once (Amnihu, Angola, Ani-Anti, and Antum), and others are used just two or three times). A closer look at the place names may reveal other curiosities. There’s also the problems that none of the names are tongue-twisters as we would expect from a translation of a foreign language, and none of the names are found in the archaeological record. And of course we’re back to just how much ability Joseph Smith had, a question that I suppose we’ll never resolve.

Your next paragraph is on my “tendency to focus on individual words rather than on the deliberate longer allusions (as evidenced by some combination of their explicit attribution, length, context, or clustered borrowing).” You give two examples, “Alma 36:22 quoting 1 Nephi 1:8” and “Helaman 5:9 quoting Mosiah 3:17.”

Alma 36:22 quotes Alma talking to his son Helaman about his conversion experience, with Alma saying that he thought he saw, “even as our father Lehi saw,” God sitting on his throne, surrounded by “numberless concourses of angels” singing and praising God. This parallels 1 Ne. 1:8, in which Lehi thought he saw the same thing in the same language. It’s not clear to me what you make of this. The idea of God’s throne (an archaic idea) is found in the Bible (see, e.g., Psalm 47:8; Matt. 23:22; Rev. 7:10), and may well have been something believed by Joseph Smith, since it is found several times in the Book of Mormon (see 1 Ne. 1:14, 17:39; 2 Ne. 28:23; Jacob 3:8; Morm. 3:10; Moro. 9:26). Isaiah uses it (Isaiah 6:1/2 Ne. 16:1), as does Jesus (Matt. 5:34/3 Ne. 12:34). And it’s not quite true that I focus on individual words rather than on longer expressions. Mormon/Alma and Nephi/Lehi use the same expression to describe their visions, but I consider this to be one of hundreds of expressions common to two or more of the purported authors of the Book of Mormon.

Helaman 5:9 quotes Helaman talking to his sons, advising them to remember the words that King Benjamin spoke to his people, that “there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.” King Benjamin does indeed say something similar at Mosiah 3:17, that “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ.” But Alma also speaks similarly to his son Shiblon at Alma 38:9 that “there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ.” And Nephi at 2 Ne. 31:21, speaking of Christ, says that “there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.” So it isn’t just Mormon’s expression in his abridgment of the records of Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman, but also Nephi’s. This is another example of hundreds of expressions used by more than one purported author.

In the same paragraph, your critique is a little confusing. You state that I mention the “Mosiah-first translation theory” only to buttress my claim that Joseph Smith is the sole author but “never as a potential counter to this theory” (emphasis added). It is not clear to what this italicized “theory” refers. Grammatically it seems to refer to the only other “theory” mentioned, i.e., the Mosiah-first translation theory. But it makes no sense that I never mention the Mosiah-first translation theory to counter the Mosiah-first translation theory (and I don’t believe you challenge the Mosiah-first translation theory). So what I think you mean is I never mention anything to counter the “Joseph Smith as sole author” theory, although you don’t refer to this as a “theory,” which creates the confusion. You give two examples of narrators alluding to “source texts not yet quoted,” which presumably challenge the “Joseph Smith as sole author” theory.

The first example is “Moroni at Ether 12:41, alluding to a phrase from his father’s epistle produced in Moroni 9:26.” At Ether 12:41, Moroni concludes chapter 12 by commending his readers to seek Jesus, that the grace of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost “may be and abide in you forever. Amen.” At Moroni 9:26, Mormon concludes his second epistle to Moroni by wishing that the grace of God and Jesus Christ may “be, and abide with you forever. Amen.” The common phrase is apparently “be, and abide in/with you forever. Amen,” referring to God’s grace. This particular phrase referring to God’s grace is used nowhere else in the Book of Mormon nor in the Bible. While you believe that Moroni is alluding to this phrase in Mormon’s epistle to him (it is just an allusion, as you say, since Moroni never refers to Mormon’s epistle), it seems just as likely that it belongs to Joseph Smith as the author, who believed in the importance of God’s grace since it is referred to many times throughout the Book of Mormon (2 Ne. 2:6, 8; 9:8, 53; 10:24; 11:5; 25:23; Jacob 4:7; Mosiah 18:16, 26; 27:5; Alma 5:48; 7:3; 9:26; 13:9; Ether 12:26, 27; Moro. 7:2; 8:3; 10:32, 33). Toward the end of the book (Ether 12:41, Moro. 9:26), Joseph Smith may have wanted to leave this important wish to his readers. Under my theory, Moroni gave it first in Ether, and Mormon used the same phrase later in Moroni.

Your second example is Moroni’s “‘curtain call’ in Moro. 10 alluding, in turn, to the farewell comments of each of the small plates’ authors in 2 Nephi-Omni that had not yet been dictated” (italics yours). Here you cite Hardy in a footnote, who quotes from verses 27-31 and 34 of Moro. 10, at the very end of the Book of Mormon. Before going through each of his quotes, let me note a few things related to all of them. As you seem to recognize with your italicized phrase, Nephi-Words of Mormon were dictated after Moroni, so if there was any copying, it would have been the author (Joseph Smith) copying Moroni and not Moroni copying Nephi and the other early prophets. Actually, there may not have been any copying at all. Few if any of the quotes are word for word, and some of the language appears elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. In other words, the language was part of Joseph Smith’s religious vocabulary, much of which he may well have gotten from the traveling preachers during the Second Great Awakening. Each of the early prophets is speaking solemnly at the time, using language that reflects the solemnity of the occasion. Hardy quotes the following:

  • “ye shall see me at the bar of God” (Moro. 10:27); “you and I shall stand . . . before his bar” (2 Ne. 33:11). God’s “bar” is used by Nephi again four verses later at 2 Ne. 33:15, and by others at Jacob 6:9, 13 (twice); Mosiah 16:10; Alma 5:22, 11:44, 12:12; Morm. 9:13; and Moro. 10:34.
  • “like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out the dust” (Moro. 10:27); “as the voice of one crying from the dust” (2 Ne. 33:13; cf. 2 Ne. 3:19; Isa. 29:4//2 Ne. 26:16). See for “crying from the dust”: 2 Ne. 3:20; Morm. 8:23; Ether 8:24.
  • “they shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the everlasting God” (Moro. 10:28); “the words which shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the Lamb of God” (2 Ne. 33:14; cf. 2 Ne. 3:21). See 2 Ne. 29:2; cf. 2 Ne. 8:4.
  • And God will show unto you, that that which I have written is true” (Moro. 10:28-29); “God will show unto you . . . that they [the things I have spoken] are true” (Moro. 7:35; cf. 2 Ne. 33:11). Cf. 3 Ne. 18:37.
  • “come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift” (Moro. 10:30); “come unto Christ” (Omni 1:26); “lay hold upon every good thing” (Moro. 7:19, 20, 25). See Moro. 7:21.
  • “Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem” (Moro. 10:31); “Awake! And arise from the dust” (2 Ne. 1:14, 23; cf. Isa 52:1-2). Joseph Smith apparently got this from Isaiah 52:1-2, part of deutero-Isaiah.
  • “And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite” (Moro. 10:34); “I soon go to the place of my rest” (Enos 1:27).
  • “and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah” (Moro. 10:34); “I bid you farewell, until I shall meet you before the pleasing bar of God” (Jacob 6:13).

In the following paragraph, your comments at the 2013 Sunstone Symposium on Joseph Smith’s authorship reflect what many Mormons believe, that Joseph Smith could not have written the book, being a barely literate farm boy, as BYU scholars call him. Dictating the book in three months was indeed a remarkable achievement. My treatment of this accomplishment is in my book (pages 51-56). Without repeating my treatment, I will simply repeat my conclusion that “Joseph was apparently much more than a barely literate farm boy, although this part of him shows through in the spelling and grammar in the first edition of the book.” I go on (pages 56-64) to point to passages throughout the book that suggest a first-draft dictation, such as long, incomplete sentences and mid-sentence corrections. Also, Joseph Smith anticipated and answered potential objections to his book, unlike what we have experienced with real ancient writers.

You note in your next paragraph that I, like other scholars, “seem unable or unwilling . . . to be truly open to any evidence that challenges their axioms.” You’ll note that throughout my book I’ve considered the views of apologists and invariably found them wanting. I have not consciously steered clear of opposing views but have considered them and challenged them based on a close look at them. To what extent I’ve resisted ideas supported by evidence staring me in the face, as you note of scientists in your next paragraph, someone else will have to point out. But I do think that defenders of the book disregard abundant evidence of the non-historicity of the Book of Mormon staring them in the face. The evidence ranges from external evidence such as the creation accounts and the tower of Babel story, both reflected in the book; Deutero-Isaiah; lack of archaeological evidence and Hebrew DNA in Native Americans; to internal evidence such as the two Jesuses, common vocabulary, and all the other stuff I cover in my book.

You proceed with high praise for Grant Hardy, and I think he has done an outstanding job of both formatting the Book of Mormon in The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition, and providing a literary analysis of it in Understanding the Book of Mormon. I had not read either one when I was doing the final editing of my book, although I believe Understanding the Book of Mormon was published much less than three years before I finished my editing. I believe (I don’t remember exactly) that my manuscript sat at the publishers for upwards of two years before the final editing. Even so, I proceeded on the assumption that, given all that had been written about the internal evidence by BYU professors and other defenders, there wouldn’t be a lot more to say, and I don’t believe Hardy contributes anything to my own research because of his different approach. I’ve now read Hardy and will here contrast his approach with my own.

A good example of his approach is found on page 142. I will focus on Alma’s relationship with his oldest son Helaman and “successor as high priest.” Alma recounts his conversion story to Helaman, which “may make us wonder about his relationship with Helaman,” who was “the one son he did not take with him on his missionary journey to the Zoramites at Antionum (Alma 31:6-7). Perhaps Helaman had other obligations that kept him at home, but there may have been spiritual concerns as well. It sounds as if Alma desperately wanted Helaman to take his words to heart.” Alma’s telling his conversion story “is the most complete account of his conversion we have.” “By contrast, we see only an abbreviated version in his words to his second son, Shiblon, along with an acknowledgment of Shiblon’s faithfulness and diligence.” “There is no similar praise for Helaman.”

This is just part of the story but it makes my point. There is a lot of speculation: “the urgency of Alma’s . . . retelling . . . may make us wonder about his relationship with Helaman”; “perhaps Helaman had other obligations that kept him at home”; “it sounds as if Alma desperately wanted.” Hardy certainly has a gift for making the characters come alive. But a literary analyst could paint a completely different picture of Alma’s and Helaman’s relationship. Hardy writes that Alma’s recounting his conversion story to Helaman “may make us wonder about his relationship with Helaman,” but it does no such thing. Indeed, if Alma is going to recount his conversion story to anyone, who better than to his oldest son Helaman, in preparing him to take charge of the records. Alma may well have left Helaman behind on his missionary journey because he was the nearest thing to a high priest in Alma’s absence. And Helaman may not have needed the explicit praise that Shiblon did, which related to his actions among the Zoramites, and Helaman was not there; Alma’s confidence in Helaman is shown by the long recounting of his conversion and as the designated receiver of the plates; Alma refers to each of his three sons as “my son,” but as “my son Helaman” four times (a term of endearment?), “my son Shiblon” once, but not once as “my son Corianton”; Alma was capable of criticizing a son’s behavior, as he does to Corianton but not to Helaman; and Alma advises Corianton to “counsel with [his] elder brothers.” This does not sound like Alma lacked confidence in Helaman. I will not even guess as to what Joseph Smith had in mind when he wrote this, other than to note that Alma’s conversion story is, as I wrote in my book, not the chiastic masterpiece that Jack Welch claims for it, or even a chiasm as Hardy calls it.

In your next paragraph, in which you extol Hardy’s “much deeper, more careful and more precise analysis” than my own requires little comment, given his literary analysis as compared with my own approach. You note that Hardy “makes a convincing argument that there are three major narrators of the text—Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni—and that each has a distinctively different style.” My research was to determine, in part, whether there was a difference among the several writers, and the evidence suggests that there is not, based, for example, on their vocabulary and idioms, and in contrast to the biblical writers, who are clearly different from them. Of course, Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni wrote on significantly different things, Nephi writing a first person account of his journey to the western hemisphere, Mormon writing a third person abridgment of the historical and religious accounts of the Nephites and Lamanites, and Moroni writing both a third person account of the Jaredite history and a first person account of his own times. One would think their accounts would be noticeably different in style, but I believe that if Nephi wrote Mormon’s and/or Moroni’s accounts, they would be the same. And I’m surprised that Hardy would write that “the narrators are explicit, self-disclosing presences in the text in a way that Joseph Smith never is.” Joseph Smith was purporting to translate plates, not write them, so why should he be an “explicit, self-disclosing presence?” And Hardy just confirms my point that Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni are indistinguishable in being “explicit, self-disclosing presences.”

You then write that my “own study contains a number of mistakes and careless errors,” giving some examples. I really appreciate this section because if anyone should be able to spot mistakes and errors in my book, it is you. I’ll comment on your examples in order:

  •  I wrote that “it is unclear why the Book of Mormon includes the book of Ether . . . .” The thrust of this statement is that the book of Ether adds little, if anything, of a religious nature to the Nephite history. It’s an abbreviated history of a people who self-destruct. The best reason for its inclusion, I believe, is that people were in the western hemisphere before the Nephites/Lamanites, as the story at the tower of Babel states. I wrote, of course, from the premise that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and had to include it because the Bible says that people were here. That Mormon promises way back in the book of Mosiah to include the Jaredite story, as you note as the reason for the inclusion, does not answer the question of why the book of Ether is even included. Your answer just shows that Joseph Smith knew early on that he’d have to include a story of earlier people, but didn’t want to complicate the Nephite history so he made the Jaredite history short and sweet.
  • You write that Samuel the Lamanite explains why the unrighteous Lamanites were not swept off like the Jaredites, citing Hel. 15:10-13 for his explanation. Samuel’s explanation that the Lamanites were not swept off because of their once steadfastness is unconvincing and in any case seems to apply to the “latter times.” I suspect that Joseph Smith wanted to explain where the dark Indians came from, who they were, why they were not destroyed earlier as the Nephites were, and what could become of them.
  • You may well be right that an angel and not Joseph Smith showed the plates to the three witnesses. I don’t remember where I got my information. An angel rather that Joseph Smith would strengthen the argument that the witnesses saw the plates in vision.
  • You are also right (thank you for pointing out my errors) that the KJV is not based on the Greek texts of Isaiah. Of course it is the New Testament that comes from the Greek; the Old Testament, as far as I know, comes from the Hebrew.
  • You’re right! “Abinadi” should be “Aminadi.”
  • You’re technically right about Mark Thomas never being a professor at BYU. He was the full-time director of field studies in BYU’s Marriott School of Business from 2001 to 2007, when he was dismissed at the behest of the religion department essentially because of the publication of his book, Digging in Cumorah, in 2000, which was published before he was asked by BYU to join the staff. He tells me that students may have referred to him as “professor.”
  • You’re right that Micah was an “eighth century BCE prophet, not a ‘late Old Testament author.’” In my defense, I should note that one of my editors included Micah, which I simply took at face value since I’m not a Bible scholar. I will also note two additional points, first, that the things and language attributed to Jesus, including the language from Micah, sound nothing like him in the Sermon on the Mount; and second, that the language from Micah quoted by Jesus shows Joseph Smith’s deep familiarity with the Bible (although he may have gotten some of the familiar language from the traveling preachers).
  • Finally, you challenge my understanding of 2 Nephi 11:3. You say that this verse is not about latter-day witnesses to the Book of Mormon but is explicitly about Nephi, Jacob and Isaiah as witnesses of Christ. This is true as far as it goes, which is down to the semicolon. But then Nephi talks about sending their words (Jacob’s and Isaiah’s) forth to his (Nephi’s) children to prove that his (Nephi’s) words are true. The time periods are a little fuzzy but part of this section seems clearly to talk about the future, as, for example, 10:7, where God promises the Jews that when they believe in Christ they’ll be restored to the lands of their inheritance. And this chapter 10 goes on to talk about this land being a land of the Gentiles’ inheritance, a land of liberty with no kings, and about the Gentiles and the native Americans (Lamanites) and other things, which all seems to be about the United States as Joseph Smith knew it in the early 19th century. In chapter 11, it becomes less clear but Nephi talks about sending Isaiah’s words unto his people. Be this as it may, I should probably have quoted 2 Ne. 27:12-14, in which God expands on what Ether wrote at Ether 5:2-4 about three witnesses with no mention of any others. 2 Ne. 27:12-14 speaks about three witnesses to the Book of Mormon except for “a few according to the will of God,” and “as many witnesses as seemeth him good.” So due, perhaps, to a severe truncating of my manuscript, there IS a “rhetorical hedge” regarding the number of witnesses.

Following your list of mistakes that I made, you accuse me of being “deliberately unfair” to Joseph Smith for his mistakes. I’ve always maintained that dictating the Book of Mormon in three months was a remarkable achievement. We still know too little about the dictation process, but the “curiosities,” which differ in number and nature from my own, suggest that the book was not a translation from ancient gold plates but oversights by a gifted story teller.

In your following paragraph, you note that believers and nonbelievers alike make up their minds and then collect evidence to support their beliefs (with the exception of Grant and Heather Hardy). I was uncertain about the church when I began my study, bewildered by the opposing views of people like Fawn Brodie and Hugh Nibley. I began my study specifically to avoid as much bias as possible, hoping to follow the facts wherever they led, and they have led me to side with the nonbelievers. You may believe otherwise, but I can’t escape from the facts right there in the Book of Mormon, available for everyone to see.

Your next paragraph praises Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon. I’ve discussed Hardy enough and his literary analysis. You note that he provides both argument and counter-argument, but from my reading of the book, it is clear which side he is on.

In your penultimate paragraph, you note a shift in my tone from the Introduction to the Conclusion. If this is true, it would seem that my book follows the same arc as my research, which began as uncertainty and ended up as near certainty.

In your concluding paragraph, you say some nice things about me and my approach, and I appreciate that. You are so bright and articulate and well-informed that I’m sure you have loyal followers in the church. I’m just disappointed that you will continue to defend the Book of Mormon, a book that has so many problems with it that reveal its true provenance. You are helping to postpone the day when the truth will win out.

Sincerely, Earl
November 10, 2014


Earl M. Wunderli has degrees in philosophy and law from the University of Utah. He retired in 1993 as Associate General Counsel for IBM in Connecticut. As a young man, he studied hoteliery in Lausanne, Switzerland, worked as a chef in the Bahamas, and was trained as a navy pilot before settling down to study law in Utah. He is a member of the board of directors of the Sunstone Foundation. He has presented aspects of his research at the annual Sunstone Theological Symposium in Salt Lake City and has published on Book of Mormon chiasmus and Book of Mormon geography in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

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