Episodes

Radio Free Mormon: 187: “Borrowed Robes”–The JST’s Reliance on the Adam Clarke Bible Commentary

In their long anticipated and recently released research paper, Haley Wilson-Lemmon and BYU Professor Thomas Wayment demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary in his production of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.  RFM walks us through each and every one of the seventeen examples set forth in their groundbreaking article!  This one is a game changer!

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16 thoughts on “Radio Free Mormon: 187: “Borrowed Robes”–The JST’s Reliance on the Adam Clarke Bible Commentary

  1. Finally, “17 points of the true church” gets a much needed reboot! So glad you went into detail on the meat of the arguments, instead of skirting around them like some other podcasts. Thanks.

    Funny that you mention Mormon Doctrine. Because that was a 20th century parallel to JST: another example where a Mormon prophet claims revelation, but they actually plagiarised a very famous Bible commentary (or commentaries). The Mormon Doctrine example is less well know, because BRM was not “THE prophet”, so could not publish his books as revelation, but that is implied: his authority is that he is an apostle, end of argument.

    The best example of BRM’s plagiarism is probably his teachings on Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, and the age of the earth. These are foundational to all his teaching, not just to how he sees the gospel, but also to why he rejects science with such confidence. As you are know, BRMs views on the creation came from his father in law, who got them from well known Protestant commentaries on the creation and flood stories (Price’s The New Geology, Morris’s The Genesis Flood, etc.) But the teachings are presented as revelation, right down to the phrasing, hence plagiarism.

    As you also no doubt know, until the 1920s, Mormonism officially had no view on evolution, and could even be seen as favourable toward it. The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion had an excellent paper on the topic – sorry, can’t find the reference now, but I found it in my university library back in 1988, so it’s before that date. The paper examined official statements on five doctrines, and showed that the average member believes the opposite of official church statements. One of the five topics was evolution. As late as the 1960s the Improvement Era published pro-evolution articles: But that changed when Joseph Fielding Smith became top guy. (I used to keep photocopies of such articles back when I tried to believe that the church was pro science.)

    For the details of how JFS got his creationist views from Protestant books, see the Dialogue article “Mormonism and the New Creationism” by David H. Bailey. Sunstone in October 2004 covered similar material. Bailey draws particular attention to the argument “No Adam, no fall; no fall, no atonement; no atonement, no savior.” which so impressed JFS that variations of this argument appeared in his and Bruce’s writings. That is exhibit “A” for plagiarism.

    Just as with Joseph Smith and the Adam Clarke commentary, it might at first seem that these similarities are coincidences: after all, a young Earth was a common belief, and the link between Adam and Jesus comes from Paul. But as with Smith and Clarke, when you see the number of parallels between JFS and those creationist books, and the fact that JFS changed Mormon belief after reading those books, it’s pretty clear that he got the ideas from the books and not from God. But then like a good plagiarist he does not credit the Protestants. but passed the ideas off as something he was just inspired to say.

    More recent plagiarism parallels are the temple changes, which come from market research, but are passed off as revelation. I am sure that every revelation can be traced to a mundane source if we look hard enough. But as good plagiarists, the prophets never acknowledge their sources.

    You are probably aware of the parallels, but I thought them worth pointing out anyway.

    • Great points Chris. There’s old saying that applies I think…

      “How you do anything is how you do everything!”

    • Hi, Chris!

      Great idea about the “17-points of the true church” versus these 17-points of the JST’s reliance on the Adam Clarke Bible Commentary!

      Also, I liked your comparison of this to what Joseph Fielding Smith did with the theory of evolution.

      I remember very well reading JFS’s “Man: His Origin and Destiny,” and his reliance on the idea that if there is no Fall, there is no need of an Atonement. I bought it hook, line and sinker when I read it back in the 1980s.

      Later, I came to the conclusion that it was pretty much a non sequiter; that the fact mankind seemed to be a species incapable of not “sinning” did not necessarily have anything to do with the Genesis account of special creation of Adam and Eve and their falling by eating of the fruit of the one tree they were commanded not to eat from.

      What I did not know, until you pointed it out, is that JFS was borrowing that axiom from Protestant theologians, without giving credit (at least no credit I can remember).

      I was aware that James Talmage borrowed from Protestant theologians and their arguments in advancing his position in “The Great Apostasy,” but not so JFS with the arguments against evolution.

      Thanks for giving me “the rest of the story”!

      • Alright RFM, you, being a fellow Shakespeare aficionado, have opened yourself up big time by bringing up the magic number: 17 (As in 17th Earl of Oxford. Coincidence? I THINK NOT!). At any rate, I won’t belabor the issue and I don’t know where you stand on the Shakespeare authorship question; however, I think that whole debate has many fascinating parallels with the BOM, POGP. and JST “authorship” debate.
        I bring it up because it was in the Shakespearean context that I listened to one scholar speak of the Allegory of Time Unveiling Truth (which I had never heard of before). It is a theme that some artists have touched on over the last couple centuries, where Time is portrayed as a winged, bearded old man drawing back the veil to reveal the face of a beautiful woman (Truth). This is usually done in the presence of a masked woman (Falsehood). Another variation shows Time rescuing a nude woman from the bottom of a well. Father Time seems remarkably averse to dredging up material evidence to support a fiction and I can’t think of any new facts that have come up as regards the LDS church that could be called “Faith Promoting”.
        As for the borrowings from Adam Clarke – one of the apologetic responses is that Joseph was just putting in the leg work to learn all he could while “studying it out” in his mind before he got the go-ahead from Above to give it his prophetic seal of approval. Maybe. But that does beg the question: Why go through all the bother of harassing a young Mormon lady for pointing that out?
        Then there’s the flip-side to this equation: What would a “false” prophet do? A false prophet would probably just plagiarize another man’s work while passing it off as his own “translation”.
        Love you RFM. Keep up the good work. It is my fantasy that one year we can hook up over a pitcher and that I might be able to look at you with my misty eyes, with lips a-quiver, and with my deeply resonant, sanctimoniously rhythmed, appropiately-choked voice (because the Holy Ghost is always coerced by such affectations) to bear my testimony of Edward DeVere, the 17th(!) Earl of Oxford.

        Affectionately Yours,

        Rob Hastings

        PS. I was at Sendai in 1982. At that time, I believe, Hokkaido had its own mission; however, I don’t know how things are consolidated now. When I first arrived I was sent to Hirosaki in the northern-most prefecture (Aumori) of Honshu. It snowed from the end of November to the middle of March.

  2. “Joseph?…..Joseph???….JOSEPH!!….What have you been doing here?”

    “I have been doing that which I have done with other scripture..”

    “What is that?”

    “Created so called new ‘translated’ canon by plagiarizing from other men’s work and then given it to ‘them’ as my own. ”

    “Oh, is that all?…very well then, carry on…”

    Thank you RFM. Can’t wait to hear the rest. You are making the most sense of this.

    • LOL, Angie!

      I went into a lot of depth in this podcast because I not only want the record clear on such an important issue, but also to lay the groundwork for further exploration into the subject in an upcoming podcast.

      As I hinted at the end of this episode, the part the new paper by Wilson-Lemmon and Wayment does not seem to want to get into is the Book of Mormon’s reliance on the Adam Clarke Commentary; even though they reference a 2003 Dialogue article in footnote 3 of their paper that does just that.

      I think the apologetics the new paper ventures to make room for faith in a prophet who makes an inspired translation of the Bible by means including borrowing from learned Bible commentaries is an argument that is difficult enough to make.

      Making the same argument as regards the Book of Mormon translation appears to be even more difficult.

      Stay tuned!

      • >the Book of Mormon’s reliance on the Adam Clarke Commentary

        I’m crossing my fingers for an in depth episode on the Book of Mormon’s reliance on pirates. Arrrr, Joe Lad! You know, Captain Kidd and Moroni in the Comoros islands, Oak Island and the whole meme of treasure in deep wells. When you get looking at it, the religion thing is just an afterthought: Joe’s career as money digger was all about buried treasure, and the gold plates were when he finally got some! With religion he just found away to actually claim he successfully retrieved the treasure (instead of it always slipping away), without having to show people actual evidence.

        The wooden box that he supposedly carried the gold plates in? Literally a treasure chest. And the belief that he had gold in that box (and not merely something to weight it down)? The whole authority of the Q15 rests on that chest being full.

        “Fifteen apostles on a dead man’s chest,
        Yo Ho Ho and a Book of Mormon
        Thinking and the Devil have Done For the Rest [a reference to how if you think too much the devil leads you astray]
        Yo Ho Ho and a Book of Mormon”

        I like to think that all the recent prophets have been Treasure Island themed:

        Hinckley was “Blind Pew” for his “I don’t know that we teach that” -heck, the name pew for members in the pews not seeing the changes – these jokes write themselves!

        Monson was Long John for his tall stories, and how, like the old sea cook, he presented himself as friendly and lovable while being a mean son of a bitch when out of sight.

        Nelson is Dr Livesay – specialist in blood letting and finding treasure that others hid

        And so on and on.

        One day I’ll persuade you to do a pirate episode!

        • LMAO!!!!!!!!! You’re hilarious!!! Yes what a motley crew they make!!!!!

  3. This hearkens back to the statement in the original Book of Commandments that, “Joseph shall pretend to have no gift other than translating the Book of Mormon, for I shall give him none.”

    Of course that got “updated” to “No other gift until after translating the BoM” in the D&C alongside many other “revised” statements to make Joseph look better.

    • The Lord commandeth and the Lord revoketh the command.

      Blessed be the name of the Lord.

  4. What I found interesting was that passage correcting the idea of damnation to the idea of condemnation with respect to taking the sacrament while doubting.

    Reminded me of 3 Nephi 18:29 “For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul”.

    I wonder, if Joseph had read that portion of Clark’s commentary, it would have changed what he dictated there.

    Was there any LDS scripture dictated after the JST that revived the damnation aspect of taking the sacrament improperly?

  5. This is an excellent observation, Ryan.

    It is, of course, hard to say exactly what Joseph Smith read and didn’t read from the ACC (Adam Clarke Commentary).

    One of the apologetics being attempted even now is that there were famous issues (even in Joseph Smith’s day) addressed by the ACC (and other commentaries); issues such as the late addition of the Johanine story about the woman taken in adultery; the Johanine Comma; and the long ending of Mark.

    All these things were “in the air” and much more significant than the minor modifications borrowed by Joseph Smith.

    So the apologetic is becoming that if Joseph Smith didn’t amend his scriptural productions to reflect these bigger theological/scriptural issues, then it shows he really didn’t rely “that much” on the ACC, if at all.

    It is a specious argument, I think, depending as it does on the unspoken premise that unless Joseph Smith adopted every change in the ACC (or at least these three big examples); then he could not have adopted any of them.

    Obviously one doesn’t have to borrow every idea in a commentary in order to borrow some things.

    And one doesn’t have to borrow everything from only one commentary when there are multiple commentaries available in the community with much of the same information.

    But most importantly of all, I think, is that one doesn’t have to have the contents of the original Bible manuscripts themselves revealed in order to make concomitant corrections when available commentaries already contain the information.

  6. You must have lived most of your life as a Mormon, pronouncing “Colossians” the way you do. 🙂 Mormons aren’t great on their NT. “Colossians” does not equal “collusion.” Either way, good episode, sir!

    • You think his “Colossians” is bad – did you hear how he pronounced Eidinburgh? I live in Scotland. I’m sure he just says “berg” to wind us up. 🙂

  7. You need to check out Journal of Mormon History 46:3 (July 2020)Joseph Smith, Adam Clarke, and the Making of a Bible Revision by Wayment and Gospel Tangents Interview with Dr. Thomas Wayment by Rich C. Bennett 2018 (see page 48).

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