CES Reply: Iron Rod Head-Smacking

This is a serialization of “A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a Former CES Employee.”  You can download the whole PDF here, and you can also participate in the Latter-day Saint Survey Project by joining or creating one of the Canonizer camps in the links at the bottom of this post.

This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’s October 2017 iteration of the CES Letter. Jeremy’s original text appears in green, the color of life. My response text appears in black, the color of darkness.

9. The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain : 


The supposed parallels between The Late War and the Book of Mormon are, as Jeff Lindsay states, “weak, scattered, and not very helpful to a would-be plagiarizer.” And with each additional explanation for the Book of Mormon’s origins, you weaken the case for any of them. 


Once again, I’m breaking up your question into bite-sized chunks.

This book was an 1819 textbook written for New York state school children. The book depicted the events of the War of 1812 and it was specifically written in a Jacobean English style to imitate the King James Bible.

Yes, and that’s its only similarity to the Book of Mormon. The stories, characters, themes, and religious content bear no resemblance to anything in the B of M text.

This affected scriptural style was calculated to elevate the moral themes, characters and events depicted in the narrative to inspire the readers to “patriotism and piety.” Readers already accustomed to revere scriptural sounding texts in the ancient Bible would be predisposed to revere this history book which employs the same linguistic style.

It is not the only book designed to do that. Right after this, you offer up another one – The First Book of Napoleon. So which is it – did Joseph Smith rip off The Late War or Napoleon? Wait, wasn’t it View of the Hebrews that he was stealing from? Didn’t this all come from Captain Kidd and Keokuk-like lands of his youth?

Which is it, Jeremy? Pick one.

Because the Book of Mormon production process you’re now suggesting has Joseph poring over all different kinds of manuscripts – from childhood textbooks to Ethan Smith to that trusty, error-filled 1769 version of the KJV, rummaging through Captain Kidd’s letters and stories and maps of every tiny village across a 2,000 mile radius as well as maps of African islands – and lifting a word here, a two-or-three word phrase there, and somehow cobbling them into 265,000 words of an internally consistent, theologically complex, and Semitically-influenced tome that is markedly different from any and all of his supposed source materials.

What kind of plagiarist goes to that much trouble? What kind of writer could possibly work that way?

The first chapter alone is stunning as it reads incredibly like the Book of Mormon:

1: Now it came to pass, in the one thousand eight hundred and twelfth year of the christian era, and in the thirty and sixth year after the people of the provinces of Columbia had declared themselves a free and independent nation;

2: That in the sixth month of the same year, on the first day of the month, the chief Governor, whom the people had chosen to rule over the land of Columbia;

3: Even James, whose sir-name was Madison, delivered a written paper to the Great Sannhedrim of the people, who were assembled together.

4: And the name of the city where the people were gathered together was called after the name of the chief captain of the land of Columbia, whose fame extendeth to the uttermost parts of the earth; albeit, he had slept with his fathers…

You and I have a very different definition of “stunning.” Since this was deliberately written to sound like the King James Bible, the only way it can be said to be “incredibly like the Book of Mormon” is to be surprised that any other book would also choose to mimic the KJV. No one would be stunned to acknowledge that this reads “incredibly like the King James Bible.” In fact, nobody would be likely to say that at all, even though the phrases you later insist were lifted out of this book can all be found in the Bible, too, which is where the Late War authors got them.

In substance, this textbook is absolutely nothing like the Book of Mormon. The story is completely different; the characters are completely different.  There’s no mention of the War of 1812 in the Book of Mormon, and there are no lengthy religious sermons in the Late War. It would certainly help your argument if at some point when the Jaredites were fighting, Napoleon were to show up. I guess we have to wait until you talk about the next candidate you propose as a Book of Mormon source.

In addition to the above KJV language style present throughout the book, what are the following Book of Mormon verbatim phrases, themes, and storylines doing in a children’s school textbook that was used in Joseph Smith’s own time and backyard – all of this a mere decade before the publication of the Book of Mormon?

Rubbish. There are some (very) short Biblical phrases that appear in both the Book of Mormon and The Late War, but that’s it. No common themes, and certainly no common storylines. Do you have information to the contrary? If so, you haven’t provided it. Your link to “many, many more parallels” just gives me more snippets of text that the two books have in common. Nowhere on your site can I find any evidence of themes and storylines that are similar in the two books.

You haven’t read View of the Hebrews, and you clearly haven’t read this one, either. Does it embarrass you that you don’t even understand your own argument?

But okay, let’s get into this. Here are the “stunning” parallels.

• Devices of “curious workmanship” in relation to boats and weapons.

• A “stripling” soldier “with his “weapon of war in his hand.”

• “A certain chief captain…was given in trust a band of more than two thousand chosen men, to go forth to battle” and who “all gave their services freely for the good of their country.”

• Fortifications: “the people began to fortify themselves and entrench the high Places round about the city.”

• Objects made “partly of brass and partly of iron, and were cunningly contrived with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a

large ball.”

• “Their polished steels of fine workmanship.”

• “Nevertheless, it was so that the freeman came to the defence of the city, built strong holds and forts and raised up fortifications in abundance.”

• Three Indian Prophets.

• “Rod of iron.”

• War between the wicked and righteous.

• Maintaining the standard of liberty with righteousness.

• Righteous Indians vs. savage Indians.

• False Indian prophets.

• Conversion of Indians.

• Bands of robbers/pirates marauding the righteous protagonists.

• Engraving records.

• “And it came to pass, that a great multitude flocked to the banners of the great Sanhedrim” compared to Alma 62:5: “And it came to pass that thousands did flock unto his standard, and did take up their swords in defense of their freedom…”

• Worthiness of Christopher Columbus.

• Ships crossing the ocean.

• A battle at a fort where righteous white protagonists are attacked by an army made up of dark-skinned natives driven by a white military leader. White protagonists are prepared for battle and slaughter their opponents to such an extent that they fill the trenches surrounding the fort with dead bodies. The surviving elements flee into the wilderness/forest.

• Cataclysmic earthquake followed by great darkness.

• Elephants/mammoths in America.

• Literary Hebraisms/Chiasmus.

• Boats and barges built from trees after the fashion of the ark.

• A bunch of “it came to pass.”

• Many, many more parallels

Pictured: A 19th Century Persian Book about elephants with “astounding” parallels to the Book of Mormon. (Because elephants.)

I’ll bet! The “many, man more parallels” include 75 parallels from the common fill-in-the-blank copyright statement that was used by all books published in the same area. When a computer combs through two different texts without considering context, it’s pretty easy to find all kinds of things that have surface similarities but not much else.

The parallels and similarities to the Book of Mormon are astounding.

Color me unastounded.

I probably should go through each of these one by one, but so many of them are ridiculous on their face that they don’t merit comment. Wow, two books referencing ships  crossing the ocean? And both books also have elephants in them? What are the odds?!

As I implied above, these “staggering parallels” were not discovered by means of reading both books and looking for common themes or passages; they were discovered by means of a computer analysis looking for identical words in thousands of different texts. Conceptually, the passages containing these “parallels” are generally referencing starkly different things and events, and they are using similar short phrases to describe stuff with no  relationship to each other. Furthermore, none of the identical phrases are longer than five words long – i.e. “and it came to pass,” a Biblical phrase –  and almost all are only two or three words long.

So you provide things like the quote “partly of brass and partly of iron, and were cunningly contrived with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a large ball” as if that phrase appears in the Book of Mormon, which it doesn’t. Latter-day Saints, however, would read that phrase and assume it has reference to the Liahona, which was an item made of brass and of “curious workmanship.” But the Late War is here describing a torpedo, an item as unlike a Liahona as it is possible to be. So for this to be a Book of Mormon source, one has to think Joseph Smith scoured this text to find a phrase – “curious works” –  and modify it into “curious workmanship” and add “brass” and “ball” and apply it to a concept that has no corollary whatsoever in Late War. That’s convoluted nonsense, and it’s just not a reasonable explanation for how the Book of Mormon came to be.

Also, take the phrase “rod of iron” in Late War. It’s on page 15, and it reads like this:

Then will we rule them with a rod of iron; and they shall be, unto us, hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Hold to the rod/The Iron Rod/’Tis strong and bright and true…

The phrase “rule them with a rod of iron” is a Biblical phrase used twice in the Book of  Revelation – see verses 2:27 and 12:5 – and a variation is in the Old Testament in Psalm 2:9, which says “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.” In both Late War and the Bible, the rod of iron is a weapon, probably used to smack people over the head.  Nowhere in the Book of Mormon do we find a seven-word quote from “Late War,” so the Biblical “rule them with a rod of iron” becomes merely “rod of iron.” And, furthermore, Lehi’s rod of iron is some kind of a long handrail used to guide people through mists of darkness toward the Tree of Life, utterly unlike a rod of iron you rule people with, and with no head-smacking in sight.

Three identical words; two completely unrelated concepts. Yet we’re supposed to presume this where Joseph got the idea for Lehi’s “rod of iron?” That’s just goofy.

There’s also a great deal in this list that’s disingenuous on its face. For instance, in an attempt to beef up the list, you cite “false Indian prophets” and “three Indian prophets” as two separate parallels, likely in the hopes that readers will equate the one with the wicked Korihor or Nehor, and the other with the righteous Three Nephites. But the reality is that the “false Indian prophets” and the “three Indian prophets” are one and the same – three “savages” executed in cold blood after being hunted down on the field of battle. It’s not a story with any clear parallel in the Book of Mormon, and certainly it has nothing to do with the Three Nephites, who, as we all know, are still at large, changing tires.

This web page outlines very clearly and simply just how phenomenally unlikely it is that so many common rare phrases and themes could be found between these books without the Late War having had some influence on the Book of Mormon.

Whereas this web page outlines very clearly and simply why your web page is bunk.

Anyone can punt to other webpages to make their arguments for them. What this demonstrates, again, is that you are passing along someone else’s work without actually examining it, which, short of plagiarism, is the worst thing any scholar can do.

(At least, the worst thing in terms of scholarship, that is. Killing people would be worse. Probably.)

Former BYU Library Bibliographic Dept. Chairman and antique book specialist Rick Grunder states in his analysis of The Late War (p.770) 

“The presence of Hebraisms and other striking parallels in a popular children’s textbook (Late War), on the other hand – so close to Joseph Smith in his youth – must sober our perspective.” – p.770

When you offered this quote from the good Mr. Gruber in your previous version of your reply, you didn’t provide his credentials, and it was clear that he was the sole author of this deeply flawed study and the only source for this accusation against the Book of Mormon.

Here, you slather on the BYU cred and imply that “his analysis” is something other than the website and analysis upon which you’ve based this entire accusation. You seem to be making an attempt to hold up Gruber as a faithful, Church-approved source verifying someone else’s conclusions. That’s misleading, and it gives the illusion that more people than just this one guy think that these weak Late War parallels merit any concern whatsoever. Which they don’t.

The next bogus candidate for plagiarism appears in our next installment.  In the meantime, take a look at the Canonizer camps below. If you think I’m completely wrong, you can join a camp that says so – or create one of your own!