Episode 92: Intertextuality in the Book of Mormon with Nick Frederick

In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, Laura Harris Hales interviews scholar Nicholas (Nick) J. Frederick about New Testament intertextuality in the Book of Mormon.

As an undergraduate classics major at BYU, Frederick became interested in studying Book of Mormon intertextuality. He wanted to discuss with other scholars what he was finding but encountered resistance from those who thought he was attacking the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Further frustration came as he realized that the few resources on the topic were primarily written by critics of the Book of Mormon arguing against historicity. Their research was overreaching and didn’t address how these New Testament elements were functioning within the text.

Frederick, who has since written a dissertation, book, and articles on the topic, hopes to expand the discussion of the New Testament elements in the Book of Mormon beyond that of simply whether they speak to historicity. That the New Testament can be found in the Book of Mormon is undeniable, but some might struggle with the notion of the New Testament as an antecedent text. Frederick suggests that we negotiate this roadblock by untethering the gold plates from the 19th century English document that we call the Book of Mormon because they are “two different texts that are related through translation.” Moving past the issue of why these passages are in the Book of Mormon to how the Book of Mormon affirms, comments on, corrects, and reimagines the New Testament is an important and fascinating discussion.

Unfortunately identifying common phrases isn’t as simple as it would seem. Sometimes there are direct quotations, such as from the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi—though even there Frederick discusses the fascinating influence of John’s gospel on quotations from Matthew. But the presence of the New Testament is often subtle. He explains that the Book of Mormon will “carefully weave these New Testament passages into the larger text,” so the interdependence does not readily stand out to the casual reader. The Book of Mormon seems to masterfully deconstruct and reconstruct New Testament concepts and phrases for its own purposes.

In an attempt to broaden the discussion, Frederick proposes a methodology for determining the probability of intertextuality, which goes beyond simply identifying common phrases. He adds four additional criteria to solidify connections. Through multiple examples, Dr. Frederick shows us how intertextual studies can enrich our study of the Book of Mormon.

About Our Guest: Nicholas J. Frederick served a mission in Brussels, Belgium, then attended BYU where he received his BA in classics and his MA in comparative studies. He then attended Claremont Graduate University, where he completed a PhD in the history of Christianity with an emphasis in Mormon studies, after which he returned to work at BYU. His research focuses primarily on the intertextual relationship between the text of the Bible and Mormon scripture.  He enjoys teaching courses on the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, particularly the writings of Paul and the Book of Revelation.

Extra Resources:

Episode 92 Transcript

“Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: a Proposed Methodology”

“If Christ Had Not Come into the World”

*Phrases in the Book of Mormon narrative that would appear to have been lifted directly from the King James Version of John 11 include “he stinketh,” “he is not dead but he sleepeth in God,” “he shall rise again,” “believest thou this,” “cried with a loud voice,” and “there was many that did believe.”


LDS Perspectives Podcast

Episode 92: Intertextuality in the Book of Mormon with Nick Frederick

(Released August 22, 2018)

This is not a verbatim transcript.

Some grammar and wording has been modified for clarity.

LAURA HALES This is Laura Harris Hales, and I’m here today with Nick Frederick to talk about intertextuality in the Book of Mormon. Nicholas J. Frederick earned a PhD in the history of Christianity with an emphasis in Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University. His research focuses primarily on the intertextual relationship between the Bible and Mormon scripture. He enjoys teaching courses on the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, particularly the writings of Paul in the Book of Revelation, which we’ll have to talk to him about for next year’s Gospel Doctrine year study.

Today we will be referring to “If Christ Had Not Come Into the World,” a chapter he wrote in Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise, and an article published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, titled “Evaluating the Interaction Between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: A Proposed Methodology.” The latter is available online for free, so I’ll provide a link in this episode’s show notes. Hello, Nick.

NICK FREDERICK Hello, Laura. How are you?
LAURA HALES Great. I’m so glad you finally agreed to come onto the podcast. I’ve been trying for about two years.
NICK FREDERICK Well, I’m happy to be here. I really appreciated your attendance at our Book of Mormon Conference and your participation there, and your interaction with Shon Hopkin in our Abinadi volume. I really appreciated that. While I am a little bit microphone shy, I am happy to be here today. And can I just say thank you for saying Book of Revelation, as in only one. One of my pet peeves is when people say Book of Revelations.
LAURA HALES What he is referring to is a new Book of Mormon Conference. The first year was last year. It was held at Utah State University. It’s open and free to the public. Tell us a little bit about the organization behind that and the dates of the second conference.
NICK FREDERICK The second conference will be held during the second weekend of October, and it started with me, Joe Spencer, and Mike MacKay—three faculty members here at BYU. We were a little bit frustrated; we didn’t feel like there was a good avenue for just good academic research on the Book of Mormon that wasn’t slanted towards an apologetic or a disproving historicity angle.

And so we said, “Why don’t we ask for some money and put on a conference?” It may just be a one-off. It may never happen again. We may have nobody show up, but at least we’ll have opened up a venue. We got some really nice papers turned in. It was a really fun two-day conference, and we decided to make it an annual thing. We got some great sponsorship from Phil Barlow at Utah State. We’re going to hold it again during the second weekend of October. Whoever’s out there who wants to make it, come on over.

LAURA HALES I highly recommend it. It blew my mind. It was phenomenal—a new way of looking at the Book of Mormon if you want to make a serious study of its contents. Let’s start our interview, okay? All right, Nick, what is intertextuality?
NICK FREDERICK Intertextuality is, at its most foundational, studying the relationship between texts. A French literary critic, Julia Kristeva, once said that all texts are a mosaic of quotations. You really don’t have anything like an isolated text that exists independent of other texts. Just by virtue of similar language, similar phrases, similar themes, all texts are going to be connected in some way.

What do those connections say about a text? You have some obvious ones like, you read The Chronicles of Narnia and you can see the Bible all over it. You can see Jesus in Aslan, or you can see Adam and Eve, the fall story, in The Magician’s Nephew. The Book of Revelation, is in The Last Battle. Those are obvious connections that I think Lewis wants us to see.

But the question is what about the less obvious ones? What about ones that we read where we wonder does the author mean us to see a connection or a parallel with this other text? And if he does, how might that influence our reading?

LAURA HALES In intertextuality, what is the idea behind studying it as you’re studying a text?
NICK FREDERICK The idea behind it, especially in something like biblical studies where intertextuality has become a popular field of study in the last 30 years, or with our own scripture, is the idea of how we handle the influences of different texts on the text that we’re studying? For example, it’s common to see people who do New Testament studies look at the Old Testament in the New Testament and say, “Paul uses this phrase here that’s also in Habakkuk or something like that. What does that mean? Is that intentional? Is that just in the air? And if it is in intentional, is there a theological meaning behind it?” For us in Mormon scripture, the idea would be to look at the influence of the King James text on the Book of Mormon, on the Doctrine and Covenants, on the Pearl of Great Price and say, “Okay. We have these connections. First of all, can we identify them? And second of all, what do they tell us about, perhaps, authorship on one level, but more important a theology meaning and significance, things like that. How can they help us further understand the text?”
LAURA HALES When you wrote your article for the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, you were trying to start a conversation. You wanted to establish a methodology for identifying and classifying phrases from the New Testament that are present within the Book of Mormon text. Why did you think this was necessary?
NICK FREDERICK Part of it was frustration. I studied classics here at BYU. My BA and MA are in classics, in particular New Testament Greek. As I studied the Book of Mormon in the D&C and I saw the influence of the New Testament, I realized I couldn’t really have conversations with people about it because on one hand, if I talked to believing Mormons, they would just say, “Well, do you still have a testimony of the Book of Mormon? Are you trying to undermine historicity? Are you suggesting that Joseph Smith plagiarized it?” And that’s where the conversation would stop.

Or one of the responses I would get from people would be, “Well, the New Testament is just the leftover Old Testament stuff. The New Testament actually just recycled the Old Testament, so if there is a New Testament for the Book of Mormon, it’s really just Old Testament, anyway.” It became this kind of thing that we had to build a barrier around because it was perceived as threatening historicity in some way.

I really couldn’t find anybody who dealt seriously with the New Testament in the Book of Mormon. And the places that I did were things like the Tanner’s book, Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. They have a list of several hundred phrases, but a lot of them are just two or three word consecutive phrases like, “He withstood,” or “of a God,” or something like that that doesn’t really tell us anything. Those may be from the New Testament, but that could just be King James English.

Part of it was me wanting to say, “Okay, rather than just doing word searches for consecutive words, let’s actually come up with a methodology that allows us to define whether we have a legitimate connection between this phrase and the New Testament.”

LAURA HALES You’re trying to take down roadblocks to a specific discussion you want to have. How do the two texts interact regardless of historicity, what came first, what came second? We don’t care for this discussion?
NICK FREDERICK I want to be careful there. I don’t want to say that we don’t care because it should be part of the conversation. If the New Testament does come first, and it is present in the Book of Mormon, then that should be part of the conversation. It should be, “How is the Book of Mormon using an established scriptural text?”

I wonder if an easier way around this is …

Too often when I hear Latter-day Saints talk about the Book of Mormon, they talk about the Book of Mormon and the gold plates as if they’re the same text. I wonder if it would be useful for us to conceptualize them as two different texts. The Book of Mormon is an English document that was produced in the 19th century by Joseph Smith, however you want to see translation happening. And the gold plates are a record that was written 2,000 years ago by Moroni, by Mormon, and by Nephi. They’re not the same text. One is a translation of another one.

If we’re comfortable saying that the New Testament is an antecedent text for the Book of Mormon, for the King James English 19th century Book of Mormon, then that opens up some wonderful avenues of inquiry. We can look at how those passages were understood in the 19th century and say, “Okay, is the Book of Mormon pushing back against something? Is the Book of Mormon affirming one of these ideas? What was the impact of these passages on early converts? How might this have changed through trajectories of 19th century theology?” Whereas if we just say, “No, no, no. It couldn’t be. There’s no way the New Testament was on the gold plates,” that just ends the conversation. If we see these as two different texts that are related through translation, then I think that helps us bridge this at least question of the New Testament in the Book of Mormon a little bit easier.

LAURA HALES You observe that, unlike the New Testament, the Book of Mormon doesn’t acknowledge its interactions with the Bible with formal questions. What does it do instead?
NICK FREDERICK In the New Testament the authors will say, “As it’s written in the Bible, or in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible,” or something like that, then they’ll give you their quotation. Paul loves to do this. The Book of Mormon never says this, or very rarely—it will do this with Old Testament passages, but it won’t do this with New Testament passages. It’s not looking back and saying, “We’re consciously citing from this established book of text.”

Instead, what it will do is carefully weave these New Testament passages into the larger text so that you almost don’t notice they’re even there unless you’re carefully looking for them. You have places like 1 Corinthian 13, and Romans 7, or the Sermon on the Mount in 2 Nephi 12–14, but the majority of places where the New Testament appears are just at the phrasal level. It’s just four or five (rarely) consecutive words. They’ll just be four or five words that are worked into a larger sentence, that are worked into a larger paragraph. But the words will be clear enough and obvious enough that you can say, “That’s likely drawn from the New Testament.” The problem is you just have to work to find them.

Grant Hardy’s work has been great here. His chapter on allusion in Understanding the Book of Mormon, where he deals with Hebrews 6 and 11 and Ether 12, and he shows that it isn’t just Moroni just wholesale lifting Hebrews. What Moroni is doing is carefully deconstructing and then reconstructing parts of Hebrews to create an entirely new text. And that’s what the Book of Mormon does with the New Testament that’s just so remarkable and so much fun to look for.

LAURA HALES You came up with your own terminology for the interaction between the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. Do you want to speak to that?
NICK FREDERICK Quotation, allusion, and echo are the standard terms that biblical scholars use when they talk about the intertextual relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament. And those are useful for the New Testament because a lot of their criteria are based upon consecutive words. Five consecutive words and more equals a quotation, and four consecutive words or less equals an allusion. Maybe one or two words equals an echo. You’re not going to have that in the Book of Mormon. It has some consecutive words, but a lot of the great interactions are ones where there are maybe four or five words from a sentence that are spread out over a verse, and they’re key identifiable words, but they’ve been deconstructed and reconstructed to form a new sentence. And so, quotation, allusion, and echo didn’t really seem to work because we’re not relying upon consecutive words.

What I tried to come up with instead is to determine how firm we can make this phrase here. We have a phrase from the New Testament. We have a phrase in the Book of Mormon that appears similar. It has some similar words. Can we qualify it as a precise interaction? This is definitely a New Testament phrase in the Book of Mormon indisputably. Can’t argue it.

Then you might say the next step down would be those that are probable. This is probably a New Testament interaction with the Book of Mormon. It’s a phrase. It’s probably from the New Testament, but there is some room for argument. It could just be the result of speaking in King James English.

Then you have just your possible ones. These are the ones that may be, but I can’t say one way or another for sure. My point in doing this was to say, “Let’s isolate the ones we know are from the New Testament, then we can start to talk about what the New Testament is doing in the Book of Mormon.”

LAURA HALES You identified five criteria for identifying possible biblical interactions. These are criteria that mainstream members could use in their study of the Book of Mormon. I think as Latter-day Saints, we’re really good at reading the Book of Mormon, but not so many of us know how to study the Book of Mormon. And I’m thankful that you provided tools for serious study because I go to these conferences like the ones you mentioned, and I think, “How do they do that?” But now, I really feel if I had a passage, I could use these criteria that you have laid out. Let’s start with your first criterion: shared terminology. Why do you think it’s the most important criteria?
NICK FREDERICK This is fundamentally how you’re going to identify it. If the terminology isn’t the same, then it’s not going to be from the New Testament. It may be a similar idea. Maybe you have synonyms present in the Book of Mormon, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you it’s from the New Testament. Fundamentally, before you even apply the other criteria, there has to be some shared vocabulary. There has to be some words in common, then we can start applying other measurements.
LAURA HALES Do you have an example of shared terminology in the Book of Mormon?
NICK FREDERICK For example, you have a passage in Mosiah 3, King Benjamin’s speech, where he says, “Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God.” That seems very similar to a passage from the Book of Revelation 14:10, where it says, “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.” So you have a similar verb: drink and drunk. You have five consecutive words, “of the wrath of God.” The question then becomes how the other criteria apply to this phrase, and say, “Okay, this is from the Book of Revelation.” We can say that for sure. Then we can start to ask why, or we just dismiss it and say, “Well, these are just similar words and an idiom that just appears in the Book of Mormon, but we can’t actually say they’re drawn from the New Testament.” That would be an example of one.
LAURA HALES This next criterion I thought was fun because at first, I’m like, “What?” The criterion of dissimilarity is fun because you actually are finding similarities between the two texts but not within the individual texts which is probably clear as mud to our listeners. So tell us how that actually works.
NICK FREDERICK The criterion of dissimilarity is essentially to eliminate coincidence. They’re both talking in King James English when the New Testament is translated or when the Book of Mormon is translated, so, of course, there’s going to be similarities using the same language. What I want to do is cut through the coincidence.

The criterion of dissimilarity looks at how often a phrase is used in the New Testament. If it’s only there one or two times in the entire New Testament, the chances are more likely that if you find it in the Book of Mormon, then it’s drawn specifically from the New Testament because it’s not an overly common phrase.

LAURA HALES It could be less words, but the fact that it’s dissimilar to the New Testament would intimate that there’s probable intertextuality.
NICK FREDERICK It would at least increase the possibility that it’s directly drawn from the New Testament.
LAURA HALES Do you have an example of that?
NICK FREDERICK You could look at a phrase like “full of grace and truth” from John 1, from John’s prologue. That appears only once in the New Testament, but yet it appears in 2 Nephi 2, Lehi’s discourse with Jacob. It appears in Alma 5 when Alma is talking to Zarahemla. It appears in Alma 9 and 13 in his discourse within the city of Ammonihah. You would look at that and say, “It only appears once in the New Testament. Here it is four times in the Book of Mormon. To me, that increases the likelihood that we’re intentionally supposed to see that as drawn from the New Testament in addition to the shared terminology. Having those two criteria filled I think would say this is a New Testament passage that finds itself in the Book of Mormon.
LAURA HALES How about the criterion of proximity?
NICK FREDERICK The shared terminology one is the one that matters. These other ones just kind of help us move it up the spectrum of possible versus probable versus precise. One of the things the Book of Mormon tends to do is it tends to cluster a lot of its interactions together. For example, in Mosiah 3, King Benjamin’s speech, you have five phrases from the Book of Revelation that appear between verses 20 and verse 27. If it was just one phrase, you might look at that and say that it’s possible that is from the New Testament, but five phrases all from the Book of Revelation suggests more strongly that what we have here is a conscious attempt to bring the language of the Book of Revelation into the Book of Mormon.
LAURA HALES That clustering is convenient in the case of the Book of Isaiah. Don’t tell Joe Spencer I told you that.
LAURA HALES Because it makes it easier to skip those passages.
NICK FREDERICK Yes. That is, unfortunately, true. Although Joe would say that the entire Book of Mormon is drawn on Isaiah, so you can’t actually get away with it.
LAURA HALES That’s true.

How is the criterion of sequence different than the criterion of proximity?

NICK FREDERICK The criterion of sequence is based upon the idea of proximity. You have these clustering of phrases, and sometimes they’ll just appear in random order, but other times the sequence of those proximity phrases will follow the same sequence in both the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, which, again, suggests to me that we have a conscious attempt to draw upon the language of the New Testament in the Book of Mormon.
LAURA HALES I’m sure you have an example on the tip of your tongue.
NICK FREDERICK One place you could look at is Alma 5. Alma’s discourse with the people in Zarahemla. It relies heavily upon the language of Matthew 3—Matthew’s story of the baptism of Jesus, in particular, John the Baptist’s own speech. As you look in Alma 5, you’ll find that there are phrases taken from verses 3, verses 8, verse 10, verse 12, that in several places actually follow the same sequential order that they do in Alma 5 as they do in Matthew 3. You’ll see a phrase from verse 3, followed by a phrase from verse 8, followed by a phrase from verse 10.
LAURA HALES I have read Alma 5 so many times. Until I’d read your article, I had never made the connection. I’ve also read the Book of Matthew, believe it or not. Pointing that out actually deepened my study of Alma 5 because I pulled it out, and I’m like, “Wow, he actually is right.” You shared one more criterion, but you said it was the weakest criterion, but it was something that we look at. It’s called shared context, which you touched upon earlier, but will you give us a little bit more detail of what shared context is?
NICK FREDERICK When we want to find or gauge the level of interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon this one helps us to push it in one direction or the other. For example, you have a passage like, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” It’s used in   Enos 1 where Jesus is talking with Enos, and it’s also used in Matthew 9 and Mark 5 with the woman with the issue of blood. You have two stories of people encountering Jesus and finding themselves healed. They use the same phrase. There’s the same context. That to me, is a little bump, but it’s a bump that pushes it into more likely territory. Of course, the problem with this is that the Book of Mormon often recontextualizes New Testament stories. This one isn’t always going to work, which is why I say it’s the weakest of the five criteria.
LAURA HALES In your paper, you shared several case studies comparing passages in the Book of Mormon and New Testament to determine the probability of intertextuality. We’re just going to go through one. It’s Mosiah 25:20 and Luke 5:1.
NICK FREDERICK This is an interesting one. Here we have a case again of consecutive word order. You have the phrase, “hear the word of God.” All right. Five consecutive words. It appears in the same order in both Mosiah 25 and Luke 5. I applied the criteria to this. It fits shared terminology, obviously. There’s a suggestion of proximity in the sense that that phrase is used elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. The other places it’s used in the Book of Mormon are in immediately surrounding chapters.

But there’s a lack of dissimilarity. It’s a common phrase that appears a lot. It’s very basic English. “Hearing” is going to appear a lot. “Word of God” appears all over the place. Then it’s too broad of a context to really be able to tell us anything from that perspective. I list this as a possible one. I guess it could be consciously that Mosiah 25 was drawing upon Luke 5, but I didn’t want to rank it as one that would be useful in helping us understand the true, obvious places where the New Testament is in the Book of Mormon. I just kind of dismissed that one.

LAURA HALES Your point for including it in the article was to show people who will say, “Look. New Testament here, there, everywhere.” Yes, but not in that specific instance probably.
NICK FREDERICK That’s what I was going for. It’s just to start this conversation. Let’s just cut through the whole “the Book of Mormon is absolutely true” or “the Book of Mormon isn’t true” and just say, “Let’s accept the New Testament’s here.” I don’t really see any way, honestly, to deny it. The New Testament is here, and I can show you several hundred places where it is. Let’s move past that conversation of is it or isn’t it, and let’s just start talking about why.

One of the things you have to do then is to get rid of all the places where it just sounds King James, and it could be from the New Testament, but you don’t really know. You have to get those out of the way, so you can determine where there are actual crystal-clear examples. Then we can really study these passages under a microscope and try to get a sense of what this is doing.

LAURA HALES You’ve given us a great framework for analyzing the Book of Mormon text. We’re going to have some fun here. You’re a specialist on the intertextuality of the Book of Mormon and John. In fact, you’ve published a book on the topic after writing a dissertation on the topic. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of a forthcoming article on a study you’re doing on a well-known story in the Book of Mormon in John 11, the story of Jesus’s raising up Lazarus from the dead. How might the Book of Mormon shed light on the Gospel of John’s reception history?
NICK FREDERICK Again, this comes back to the untethering of the gold plates, this ancient record, from the 19th century Book of Mormon. If we’re looking at the gold plates and the Book of Mormon as the same thing, it doesn’t help us at all. If we can see the Book of Mormon as a translated text that comes to life in the 19th century, then we can say, “What were the influences that led the Book of Mormon to construct a narrative, a story, the way that it did? And one of the ways that it does is to rely heavily on the language, the theology, and in some cases, even the narrative of the Gospel of John. Hopefully, it’s of interest to those outside the church. But how is the Gospel of John understood in the 19th century? Read the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon will tell you how one group of people, how one person in particular, takes the Gospel of John and interprets it.
LAURA HALES We are going to take a little side road here before we do this analysis of this Book of Mormon story. You refer to a study done by Krister Stendahl way back in 1978. He was studying the Sermon on the Mount, which is often cited as one instance where New Testament scripture is directly appropriated into the Book of Mormon text. What did he find in his study?
NICK FREDERICK This is an absolute gem of a piece. Krister Stendahl, not a Latter- day Saint, had no vested interest in the Book of Mormon. He was just reading the Book of Mormon and trying to look for, again, this question of what is it doing with the New Testament?

He reads 3 Nephi 12–14, compares it to Matthew 5–7, and finds out that while the majority of 3 Nephi 12–14 seems to be lifted straight from Matthew 5–7, there were some subtle nuanced changes.

For example, Jesus says things like, “Verily, verily,” in 3 Nephi 12–14, which isn’t there on the Sermon on the Mount, and, in fact, only comes from the Jesus of the Gospel of John. That’s a phrase that’s unique to him.

Stendahl brought out several more instances where it seems like you have Matthew’s text, but the speaker of that text is the Jesus of the Gospel of John. This makes sense of a lot of the surrounding chapters where you get lengthy interactions—things like John 10, “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold” that Jesus mentions. It’s the Jesus of John’s gospel speaking the language of Matthew’s gospel.

LAURA HALES Which is so interesting because Matthew was written by Jews for Jews. And John has a whole different focus.
NICK FREDERICK I am indebted to Stendahl for pointing this out because it pointed me in the direction that I took with my dissertation, then my book, which was to look more closely at what this Johannine influence is doing in the Book of Mormon. It’s really striking. All the way through the Book of Mormon you’ll find Jesus speaking as if he is John. You’ll see prophets speaking as if they’re using the language of the Gospel of John.

This applies to the D&C as well. When Jesus gives his revelations to Joseph Smith, when he identifies himself, it’s using the language of the Gospel of John. For whatever reason, when Jesus identifies himself to Joseph Smith, either through the Book of Mormon or in the D&C, it’s as the Jesus of the Gospel of John.

LAURA HALES Fascinating.

What were you looking for when you were studying John 11 and its counterpart in the Book of Mormon?

NICK FREDERICK I have to bring my coauthor, Joe Spencer, into this. The two of us sat down and said, “Okay, you’ve got these two stories, right?” Both form a serious turning point in the story. John 11 with the raising of Lazarus, then the story of Amman and Lamoni in Alma 19. They have very similar contexts, four primary characters, and it seems like, on its surface, this is just the Book of Mormon giving us a story that’s from the Gospel of John for whatever reason, perhaps just to make it look like it’s more like the Bible. But the closer you look, you actually find that there’s some serious theological implications with what the Book of Mormon does with that story.
LAURA HALES What broad parallels did you find between the story of the raising of Lazarus and Alma 19?
NICK FREDERICK Broadly, you have two protagonists who leave a safe territory and enter into a hostile territory. The actions of both will lead to very crucial turning points in the story. For Ammon it will be the conversion of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, for Jesus it will bring attention to him and will, of course, result in his eventual death.

Then you have these four characters, two men and two women, who find themselves in similar circumstances, which is the apparent death of a major character.

LAURA HALES Let’s go over the characters. How did the characters in the Book of Mormon line up with the characters in John 11?
NICK FREDERICK This is where the trick comes in. It seems that the Book of Mormon initially wants you to make the easy jump and see that Jesus is Ammon and Lazarus is Lamoni, Martha is the Lamanite queen, and Mary as Abish. This seems to be the way that it is initially set up.
LAURA HALES But how do the roles of the characters differ?
NICK FREDERICK What the Book of Mormon does that’s really cool is the Johannine narrative really pivots around this idea of Jesus as the one who encounters each of the other three one by one, eventually raising Lazarus from the dead. In the Book of Mormon narrative, you have the Jesus role taken up initially by Ammon, but then the twist comes when Ammon, himself, falls unconscious. Now your Jesus protagonist character has been removed from the action. You have people coming into the room, and it looks like their lives are in danger.

The Jesus role now falls, of all people, to a Lamanite slave woman named Abish. It’s she who emerges as this giver of life who then comes forward and raises the queen by the hand in a similar action to what Jesus does to Lazarus. Then she disappears. Then the Lamanite queen is the one who raises the actual Lazarus figure, her husband, Lamoni. The Jesus role plays out through both Abish and Lamoni’s wife.

LAURA HALES We referred to Krister Stendahl before, his study, and how the Book of Mormon Sermon on the Mount is a reshaping of the New Testament account. What does similar phrasing show us about the intent of the reshaping of the Lazarus story in the Book of Mormon?
NICK FREDERICK This is where I think the Book of Mormon consciously wants to draw our attention to the story from John 11. It intentionally puts six phrases from John 11 into Alma 19. It’s not just that the story is the same. It’s that the actual language of the narrative is the same. Alma 19 wants you to have John 11 in mind when you read Alma 19.

What this does is it serves to give you this twist when the story doesn’t go the way you think it’s going to go based upon your knowledge of John 11. You step back and realize the Book of Mormon has now opened up this space for discussion for analysis in reframing the Lazarus story. You’ll stop, and pause, and say, “What am I supposed to take away from this?” It isn’t just that we’re mimicking the New Testament, we’re playing with it. We’re revising it. We’re using this dissonance that’s been created through the reshaping of the narrative to ask questions.

LAURA HALES There are six phrases. We’re not going to give them to you. Actually, I will give you the first one it is “doth not stink.” Go to your Book of Mormon. Go to your New Testament. Find them.

What theology does the Book of Mormon accomplish in its recasting?

NICK FREDERICK On one level, it really does some nice work with female characters in the Book of Mormon who are largely pushed to the margins, largely pushed to the periphery. There are six named women in the Book of Mormon, only three of which actually appear in the Book of Mormon. And yet, here we have these two powerful female characters in Abish and the Lamanite queen.

It seems the Book of Mormon is saying that female characters need not be only those who believe or do not believe, or those who are misunderstood, or those who are instructed. In fact, they can do the Jesus work themselves. They can extend the divine message. They can instill faith. They can be the active movers, not just those who are passively on the sidelines.

LAURA HALES You mentioned in your article that Joseph Smith had an interesting relationship with John. Sometimes he’s marrying Johannine ideas. Sometimes he’s critiquing them. In the Krister Stendahl example, he’s taking Matthew and making it more Johannine. But how is this story, this reworking of John 11, a critique of Johannine ideas?
NICK FREDERICK As Joe and I sat down to discuss this and work our way through it, the conclusion that we came to is that the story in Alma 19 exposes a Johannine theological tension then develops it imaginatively. The Gospel of John promotes a very realized eschatology where the kingdom is here now, Jesus is here now, the Messianic age is here now, as opposed to the other gospels where the kingdom is coming. It’s in the future. It’s not here yet, but it’s coming. The Gospel of John says, “No, no, no, it’s here now.” The New Testament gives you these competing eschatologies.

The Book of Mormon from its very opening pages has what you could call a realized messiology. The Nephites have a knowledge of Jesus. They know what his name is going to be. They know where he’s going to be born. They know what his mother’s name is going to be. It’s almost as if Jesus is there from the very beginning. He has this presence throughout the Book of Mormon.

And so you say, “Well, it’s the influence of John.” It’s Johannine realized eschatology that manifests itself Christologically.

Then you get to Alma 19, and you realize that there’s something a little bit different. Alma 19 doesn’t actually give you Jesus. It doesn’t actually give you the kingdom. What it gives you is two Lamanite women who serve the role of Jesus. They’re functioning as Jesus, and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis respond not with the knowledge that comes from experiencing Jesus but with the faith and the hope that what you’re going to have is this later messianic age, which isn’t realized until, as Stendahl points out, 3 Nephi 12–14. That’s the true moment of realization. That’s where the kingdom is actually introduced.

What the Book of Mormon does is it gives you on the surface, again, this idea of this Johannine realized eschatology that the kingdom is here, but with a story that’s taken from John. It’s not realized until 3 Nephi 12–14. Up until this point, we’re still dealing with kind of a future eschatology. It performs a critique of Johannine theology with a Johannine narrative.

LAURA HALES Why must we do the work of finding out where these biblical interactions are before we can move on to discussing the how and the why?
NICK FREDERICK Because you can’t start the conversation until you’ve reached that point. In order to discuss how and why, you need to determine which phrases you are going to use. Are you going to say anything that sounds King James is New Testament? Anything that involves Jesus or sounds like it might be from the New Testament? Well, that’s going to distort any of your results.

What you have to come up with is a clear catalogue of phrases. These are the precise and probable interactions where the New Testament is present in the 19th century English Book of Mormon. And then you say, “We have this bank of interactions. Now let’s sit back and decide how they’re being used and what they mean,” or else you just get lost in the data. In my own list that’s coming out in a forthcoming publication, I’ve identified that we have about 650 phrases that I think you can demonstrate pretty clearly are from the New Testament in the Book of Mormon. And that’s a lot to have to deal with—650. But until you get to that point. Until you can start to say this phrase is here; this phrase is here; and this one isn’t, then any conclusions you come to, any analysis you do, is going to be a little bit flawed.

LAURA HALES I’m going to tug your arm and get some of those from your list, and we’ll put those in the show notes, so listeners can try their hand at identifying intertextuality in the Book of Mormon.
NICK FREDERICK Happy to pass it along.
LAURA HALES In conclusion, when analyzing these literary relationships, you mentioned that the how is more important than the why of intertextuality.
NICK FREDERICK When we get into conversations of why, we raise again issues of antecedent texts, of provenance. Why would the Book of Mormon put these things in here? Is it a challenge of faith to push a Latter-day Saint audience to read the text more closely? Is it simply a question of authority?

The New Testament was an authoritative text in the 19th century until the Book of Mormon was appropriating some of that authority through manipulating and appropriating some of the language from the New Testament. Those are interesting questions, but to me they’re not the important ones. Those are the why.

What I’m really interested in is how. What I really want to know is like with Alma 19 and John 11, how was the Book of Mormon taking a story, a phrase, an idea, some tension from the New Testament and reproducing it, reconstructing it, appropriating it?

That, I think, will take us to a point where we can really appreciate a deeper, fuller understanding of what the Book of Mormon wants to do with the Bible. It clearly loves the Bible. All throughout the Book of Mormon, it says this is written so that you’ll believe that. 2 Nephi 3 says that these things are supposed to grow together. The Book of Mormon says we want to be seen as part and parcel with the Bible. Now I think it’s our task to figure out where those similarities are, come to some initial thoughts on why, but then really try to dig into the how. How are they growing together?

LAURA HALES Thanks, Nick.
NICK FREDERICK My pleasure, Laura.
LAURA HALES We appreciate the research you’re doing in this important area of scholarship and that you’re starting a discussion that needs to be had instead of avoided.
NICK FREDERICK Good. I’m happy to be the one who starts it. I just don’t want to be the one who ends it as well. Anyone out there who’s interested, let’s get it moving.

Disclaimer:     LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS Church leaders, policies, or practices.

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