December 8, 2008

A New Book of Mormon Wordprint Analysis

Update: Check Jeff Lindsay's response here, which notes some benefits and drawbacks to the new wordprint analysis. 

Three scholars from Stanford recently completed another "wordprint analysis" of the Book of Mormon, the newest in a series of studies completed by various researchers over the past few decades. Matthew L. Jockers (Department of English), Daniela M. Witten (Department of Statistics) and Craig S. Criddle (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) published "Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification" in December 2008. The study can be found in the Oxford Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing.

I note out the outset I am not a statistics or linguistic analysis expert. I have read the paper and reached a few preliminary conclusions, though others are currently dissecting the paper and checking the intricate details. I expect a full response by people who know much more than me in the very near future. Be that as it may, I offer my initial thoughts here.

First, it should be stated that other wordprint analysis studies have been said to demonstrate the Book of Mormon had more than one author, and that statistically, the odds of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon or Solomon Spalding (sometimes Spaulding) were found to be slim to none.1 Those who performed these earlier studies included believing Mormons and others unaffiliated with the Church. In the case of the current study, Craig Criddle has participated on the website "Recovery From Mormonism" (RFM) detailing his loss of faith and his leaving the Church, and written on his disbelief in the Book of Mormon in other venues. Thus, like the former studies supposedly used to bolster the claims of Joseph Smith, the new study (potentially used to contradict his claims) is not untainted by ideology or presuppositions.

Second, I see a pretty big flaw in their method. It seems they decided to use the original text of the Book of Mormon as published in 1830 by E. B. Grandin rather than the original manuscript or printers manuscript. Thus additions made by Oliver Cowdery in editing/copying the manuscript for printing, as well as any changes made by the typesetters, are unaccounted for. More importantly, they decided to analyze the current chapter structure, rather than the original:

We opted to use the chapter structure currently recognized by modern Mormon Church editors to create our text samples. This results in a total of 239 text segments for testing. This approach yields texts that are generally of adequate size (verses are too small and books too large), recognizes natural breaks in the narrative, facilitates cross-referencing to online resources, and avoids the chance that we have imposed our own bias.2
The current chapter/verse structure is not original to the Book of Mormon. It was not created until 1879 when Orson Pratt published a new edition of the book under approval of the First Presidency. Brant Gardner's analysis of the Book of Mormon shows that Pratt follows a pretty consistent pattern in dividing chapters but actually did quite a bit of damage to the original structural patterns of the book. There are notable differences in chapter division style between the small plates of Nephi and the rest of the book, for example. He also divided chapters and verses to align with the structure of the King James Version of the Bible when a correlation was apparent. Like Pratt, Mormon also followed a consistent pattern in deciding when to begin new chapters and as Royal Skousen's work has shown, the original chapter divisions were a part of the original dictation manuscript.3 I believe this should have been taken into account. Were it shown that chapters overlap where different authors are said to have written the same chapter (now divided into separate chapters) the underlying assumption of the results is undermined. At any rate, I would have hoped that the group would stick to the original composition of the Book of Mormon as it was written.

Further, and I believe most damaging, the authors do not include Joseph Smith in the study. (Or did they include him, but not include the results in the published study?) Either way, that is a massively gaping hole. The study apparently shows that Rigdon and Spaulding are more likely than Pratt or Longfellow (a control subject) to have written the Book of Mormon. This says little about whether they did, only that it matches some better than others, and they did not include Joseph Smith himself. They also did not consider the nature of translation which is a fundamental aspect of approaching authorship of the Book of Mormon in my opinion. If it really is a translation we would expect it to reflect the knowledge or language of the translator. All the more reason Joseph Smith ought to be included in the results.

Finally, the study is premised on the shaky "Spaulding theory." I believe the historical foundation, as a result, is extremely tenuous.4 It also goes without saying that, despite Rigdon's falling out with the Church after Joseph Smith's death he never made a claim to have been involved with the Book of Mormon before his conversion.

Finally, as Ben McGuire pointed out to me, They do not claim to be able to assign a probability to each putative author. The authors of the study claim to be able to assign a relative probability to each putative author - that is, Solomon Spalding was 95% more likely to be the author of passage X than was Sidney Rigdon, and 99% more likely than Longfellow. In other words, it is not really proving any of the men wrote the book, only that some on their list are more likely to have done so, based on other writings, than the others. And again, Joseph is not in the mix. At best the study is a theory, though vastly far from hard proof. I remain unconvinced, just as before, in regards to wordprint analysis and the Book of Mormon.5 Now I wait to see what the experts have to say.

For a brief overview, check the article on FAIRwiki, "Book of Mormon wordprint studies." See especially the cited sources at the end of the page.

Criddle, et. al., p. 6.

While I do not follow all of Skousen's end conclusions, I believe his analysis of the Book of Mormon text itself is crucial and trustworthy. See Skousen, Translating the Book of Mormon, 85-86; Skousen, How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon, 27-28. His overall study is The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text, edited by Royal Skousen (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001) and The Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts, edited by Royal Skousen (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001). Gardner's Second Witness series makes great use of Skousen's analysis.

See Wade Englund's response to the Spaulding theory here and Matthew Roper, "The Mythical 'Manuscript Found,'" FARMS Review (City Unknown: FARMS, 2005), 7-140.

In regards to wordprint analysis and the Book of Mormon, a good primer is John B. Archer, John L. Hilton, and G. Bruce Schaalje, "Comparative Power of Three Author-Attribution Techniques for Differentiating Authors," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 6:1.


Papa D said...

Thanks for this post. Those are huge issues, indeed.

Kevin Barney said...

This section from my Documentary Hypothesis article might have some relevance:

Statistical Linguistics. In 1985 the results of the Genesis Project were published in English.[99] This project involved a combination of biblical studies, linguistics, statistics, and computer science in an analysis of the authorship of the book of Genesis, concluding that the book was a unified composition. As with chiasmus, informed Latter-day Saints are familiar with statistical linguistic studies due to their application to the Book of Mormon. I happened to be present at the BYU forum assembly where the initial results of Wayne A. Larsen's, Alvin C. Rencher's, and Tim Layton's study of computerized stylometry, or "wordprinting," of the Book of Mormon were presented, finding that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple authors as opposed to a single author.[100] That early work has been elaborated on by the late John L. Hilton, who went to great pains to immunize the methodology from criticism.[101] Wordprinting involves the measurement of non-contextual word rate usages of different authors and noting their statistical differences. The great hope and promise of wordprinting lies in the possibility of bringing a certain scientific "objectivity" to author identification and differentiation, a judgment that is otherwise profoundly subjective.

I remember being impressed by all of the charts and graphs used in that forum assembly. I am similarly impressed by those used since by Hilton, as well as those used in the Genesis Project. But while the charts look impressive, I have always felt that the basic assumptions underlying Book of Mormon wordprint studies are faulty. I concur in the assessment of John Tvedtnes, who points out that (1) an English translation should reflect the language of the translator more than that of the original author, and (2) the particles used in wordprint studies (such as "of") are often non-existent in Hebrew, which tends to use syntax to express the meaning of English particles.[102] An additional concern I have is with the naive assumption that speeches were perfectly transcribed. The reality, as seen in the work of such ancient historians as Herodotus and Josephus, is that such speeches were often composed by the historian himself as approximations of what the historical character would have said under the circumstances. Generally, historical speeches were not attended by court reporters making transcriptions of precisely what was said on the occasion.

Part of the problem with computerized stylometry is that the hoped for "objectivity" does not seem to have been achieved yet and may be unachievable. Yehuda Radday rejects the Documentary Hypothesis and so his team finds unity while other scholars who accept the hypothesis utilize statistical linguistics to find the very diversity they had expected to find all along.[103] It appears to me that there is still (unwitting) manipulation of the data going into the black box of the statistical construct (or unwitting manipulation of the statistical construct itself) so that the hoped for result indeed emerges from the other side. I frankly do not understand the statistics well enough to offer a useful critique of such studies. All I can do is report that I remain open minded about their possibilities, but I have not yet been convinced of their validity. As this fledgling bit of science develops, however, it does have the potential for making a legitimate contribution to the problem of the authorship of the Pentateuch. My own stance with regard to wordprinting is one of "watchful waiting”[104]

[99] Yehuda T. Radday and Haim Shore, et al.. Genesis: An Authorship Study in Computer-Assisted Statistical Linguistics (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1985).

[100] See Larsen, Rencher, and Layton, "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints," BYU Studies 20 (Spring 1980): 225-51.

[101] For a summary, see John L. Hilton, "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship," in Noel B. Reynolds, ed.. Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo: FARMS, 1997), 225-53.

[102] John A. Tvedtnes in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 33 [here critiquing Edward H. Ashment, "A Record in the Language of My Father': Evidence of Ancient Egyptian and Hebrew in the Book of Mormon," in Brent Lee Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 329-93, but agreeing with Ashment on this point].

[103] See the excellent comments of Shemaryahu Talmon, "A. Bible Scholar's Evaluation," in Genesis: An Authorship Study, 225-35.

[104] For a useful survey of such studies articulating common weaknesses, see A. Dean Forbes, "Statistical Research on the Bible," in David Noel Freedman, ed.. The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:185-206.

BHodges said...

I had forgotten you included that, Kevin. An overall excellent article.

See “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 33 No. 1, Spring 2000: 57-99.

Jacob J said...

Thanks for the heads up on this study, I hadn't heard of it.

H├╝ffenhardt said...

Since this article deals with the Spalding as author hypothesis that many believe had already been soundly defeated, I thought these two links might help illustrate what the most recent thinking on this hypothesis is. The following was written by Criddle (one of the authors of the word print study) and has been online for at least a couple of years:

And here is my short introduction to the two Spalding books confusion:

Matt W. said...

Daniela Witten? Well it's good to see I have at least one distant relative studying the scriptures.

Jacob J said...

They do not claim to be able to assign a probability to each putative author.

I just read their abstract. If they acknowledge they can't assign a probability to each author (only relative probabilities), then how do they support this statement from their abstract:

Our findings support the hypothesis that Rigdon was the main architect of the Book of Mormon

It seems impossible to support such statement given the constraints you mentioned in the post. Do they have any response to this problem?

BHodges said...

Exactly; if my understanding is correct, this is a fatal flaw in the study quite literally. I will look over the paper again and make sure, though. I'll run it by some people who are looking in depth at the study as well, especially Ben.

BHodges said...

It should be noted, as well, that the approach of using the current verse structure would be damaging if the study were to show "different authors" for what used to be the same chapter.

Bacardi said...

Jacob J and B Hodges:

Do you recognize the difference between something "supporting a hypothesis" and the same thing "proving a hypothesis"?

It is possible that the statement "supporting a hypothesis suggests, as it does elsewhere in scientific literature, that the authors recognize that more work needs to be done and that their contribution is not a definitive conclusion?

BHodges said...


Thanks for stopping in from RFM.
I'd say the very structure of the study is faulty. They are testing probability of authors in a select group rather than showing- out of all possible authors- who was the most likely.

From the start, then, the data is misleading if people conclude this shows Rigdon, for example, wrote the book. This study shows little more than that Rigdon is apparently more likely than Longfellow to have written it. Not too much substance there.

Bacardi said...

Nice try on the ID, BH. But, alas, you are way off. Not even RfM in spirit. Better luck next time.

It appears to me that you do not yet have a sufficient handle on the study itself to judge how faulty it is or is not. In the world of publish or perish, even scientists are forced to publish their work piecemeal. They generally don't simply wait 30 years to publish a book that covers every possible angle.

It seems to me that you are more concerned that others don't misunderstand the limited nature of the results to be something more than they are. And yet, in doing this, which is a fine objective, you overreach by criticizing the study as though it were something it is not, nor claims to be.

I would be more put off if these researchers had not specified, for example, why they had not included Smith, or had passed over this obvious gap in their work in silence. I imagine they will be more than willing to use the data they claim is being compiled to establish a reliable "author category" for Smith, when it is available. In other words, I see nothing dishonest in what they are doing.

If you understood the ethics of scientific research and the demands of tenure and promotion a little better, then you might appreciate some of these things. As it is, your critique comes off like a poorly-informed straw man argument.

BHodges said...

I didn't call anyone dishonest. Further, the authors state "Our findings support the hypothesis that Rigdon was the main architect of the Book of Mormon." The trouble is there is so little to go on, other than this study, which as I note is based relative only to the people they included in possible authors, which shows Rigdon had anything to do with it. You can speak in hushed tones about tenure and all of that; it doesn't make a wordprint study any more reliable. Especially given the methods of the authors. To be frank: the study does not "support the hypothesis that Rigdon was the main architect of the Book of Mormon" in general. It supports the hypothesis that, out of their selected group of purported authors, Rigdon is more likely than the others, no?

Again, I am no expert on wordprint, statistics, or linguistics. I am simply stating my initial reaction to the paper. There are much more rigorous critiques to come.

Last, it appears to me that you do not yet have a sufficient handle on my response to the study itself to judge how faulty it is or is not, especially since you haven't answered my most valid argument (in my view).

Bacardi said...

Again, try to think in scientific terms. If you start out with a claim, which most every scientist does, like "Rigdon is the principal architect of the Book of Mormon," and then you construct an experiment to start chipping away at the problem of proving that, you would be perfectly entitled to say that your findings supported your hypothesis, if, in fact, they actually did. This is quite a different thing from saying, "now we have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rigdon is the main architect of the Book of Mormon."

Undoubtedly, problems with this study will emerge. I think you were spot on in your comments about the manuscript use, and some of your other observations. Certainly, these are problems. That is far away from indicating that you are on to a "fatal flaw" (as one commenter expressed), an expression that sounds like a lead umpire calling a game in the first inning on a sunny afternoon. Instead, we can sit back and watch this thing unfold. These guys will meet their critiques with adjustments in their methodology, and over time they may come to different conclusions, but the initial effort will not have been wasted.

The initial rhetoric on this I see from Mormon apologists casts a very cynical pall on the activities of scientists. It is as though some of you really believe that these guys concocted this study just to invalidate your faith, and that they must a priori lack the ethics to deal with the results of their work honestly or deal with criticism usefully when it comes. I note that two of these folks are not LDS, and they may have little interest in invalidating Mormon claims. They could simply view this as a great experimental project!

Anyway, thanks for the insightful comments in your main post.

BHodges said...

You seem to place much more scientific faith in wordprint analysis than the statisticians and others with whom I have spoken regarding this study. I'm glad it appears we are agreed that the study has shown nothing more than that Rigdon is more likely than Pratt or Longfellow to have written the Book of Mormon, and practically little else.

Bacardi said...

Let me guess, were these people primarily LDS? Listen, I am fine with skepticism about wordprint analysis. Skepticism should abound about all claims, and good work should be done by supporters and detractors to either refine the technique or shunt it aside. I am not invested in wordprint studies, in particular, as you suppose.

What I am interested in is openness to a variety of methods in the study of literary texts. And, I am excited about the possibility that computer models can increase our understanding of texts for which the identity of the author is in question. It would be nice, for example, to be able to determine whether a single author wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

I do not share your dismissive attitude concerning such attempts, but I understand something of what might motivate you to hold such feelings.

BHodges said...

Thanks for the comments, Bacardi.

bloggernacleburner said...

Second, I see a pretty big flaw in their method. It seems they decided to use the original text of the Book of Mormon as published in 1830 by E. B. Grandin rather than the original manuscript or printers manuscript.

I'm going to challenge your reasoning on this one. I've read the Tanners and I've read Royal Skousen's critical text project. There are not that many differences, especially given the sample size that the papers authors used. Furthermore, the original manuscript exists in a seriously fragmented form... comes from being stashed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo Temple.

Do you really want to suggest there are massive differences from the original manuscript to the printed book, significant enough to move the authorship from 300AD to the 1820's?

BHodges said...


You'll note my larger concern is with the chapter divisions. I think it's good they used an older text, but yes, there were differences in the printers manuscript and the printed version of the book. Why not use the critical text project if it is available for use?

It's not about moving authorship the distance you note, it's about detecting patterns in writing that supposedly speak to authorship by contemporaries.

BHodges said...

As expected, smarter people than me have been sounding off regarding problems with the study. Ben McGuire's thoughts are here:

BHodges said...

To be clear and brief, in case anyone else is wondering, the study is relative probability, that is, probability of authors included in the study only. The authors grant this in saying:

"For each chapter of the Book of Mormon, using both NSC and delta, we compared the relative probability that a candidate author or a control author contributed to that chapter. We then established a ‘ranking’
for each of the seven authors (1–7) from most likely to least likely and calculated the percentage point difference between candidates in terms of their probability." (pg. 8)

Anonymous said...

May I ask a question? You said, "Those who performed these earlier studies included believing Mormons and others unaffiliated with the Church."

Who, specifically, are the others unaffiliated with the Church that you are referring to? Are they the so-called "Berkeley Group"? I find it quite odd that when John Hilton talks about the non-Mormons who helped him with his research, he always mentions their religion, but never mention their names (at least he didn't in his 1990 BYU Studies article).

BHodges said...

Yes, apparently Hilton says "Our group, later known as the Berkeley Group, included major contributors from different scientific disciplines and differing religious persuasions. All of us shared the scientific curiosity which led us to test the intriguing Larsen-Rencher-Layton claim." I don't know who was in the group but I imagine you could track Hilton down and ask. Either way, the Hilton study is pretty far from problem free, in my view.

cinepro said...

It sounds like many of us can agree that the study has problems (most notably the omission of Joseph Smith as a possible author). I hope we can look at this study as a starting point in a dialog on the subject, where additional studies can be refined to shed more light on the question. I, for one, would like to see some suggestions from LDS statisticians not only on how they would structure future tests, but also what they would expect as a result from future tests that would validate or falsify their currently held theories.

BHodges said...

Craig Criddle has requested I post the following history of his project to the site. I have no problem doing so, but also note that it does not discuss any of the problematic aspects of the wordprint study, and it also makes me wonder how familiar with the history of this theory the other authors of the study are. Criddle downplays his involvement, but cannot be absolved from the very foundation of it, which is based on his own historical research into the Rigdon/Spaulding issue. Again it is noted that the wordprint study is relative, and that plugging in any number of authors could yield similar results, as the results are based on the authors included alone, not on general authorship.


History of the Stanford Book of Mormon authorship Study

In the Fall of 2005, I posted an essay “Sidney Rigdon: Creating the Book of Mormon” at two locations on the internet. In that essay, I explained my background and biases with respect to the Book of Mormon, and I explained how I came to the conclusion that Sidney Rigdon was its likely architect. I based my conclusion on the evidence summarized in that paper. Among other things I had noticed word usage patterns in the Book of Mormon that seemed to me to be consistent with Rigdon's style.

While I found some intriguing patterns, I did not have the expertise to carry out a more detailed text analysis. In particular, I was not knowledgeable in computerized text analysis. I was actually manually calculating word frequencies, using the word count feature of Microsoft Word, combined with Excel tables.

Frustrated by that process, I typed the key words “computer text analysis Stanford” into Google, to see whether a colleague at Stanford might have the necessary expertise. I received hits for Matthew Jockers in the English Department. So I emailed Matt. I told him that I had a hypothesis regarding the authorship of the Book of Mormon, and that I was looking for a collaborator with expertise in computer text analysis. He was interested. So we met, and I showed him what I had. Matt knew very little about Mormonism and nothing about the Mormon scriptures, but he was familiar with authorship attribution scholarship and intrigued by my hypothesis that one or more 19th century authors potentially authored the Book of Mormon. He was also very knowledgeable in text analysis and had the computer tools and know-how needed to understand the problem and extract the word frequency data from texts. After some discussion, he agreed to do the analysis for me; at that point we had not discussed co-authoring a paper.

With the help of friends, I was able to obtain most of the texts we needed for analysis, but I was not successful in obtaining reliable text for Joseph Smith (which we are still hoping to obtain). Matt took the texts I provided, segmented and encoded them into the xml that his tools require. He did the same with two control texts that he obtained.

Initially, Matt provided me some lists of frequently used words, bigrams, and phrases in the Book of Mormon and in the other texts. I ran some tests using my amateur methods, and Matt ran some tests of his own using his methods. We had some similar outcomes, with Rigdon appearing as a likely major contributor. This led Matt to believe that the theory was worth rigorous testing using more sophisticated methodologies. He decided to organize and lead a team effort with an eye toward publication of the research. We both understood the need for a bona fide statistician, and Matt recruited Daniela Witten, a doctoral student in Statistics with expertise in machine learning and classification.

Matt organized and directed regular meetings of the three of us in which we discussed how to proceed. Matt wanted to conduct tests using the Delta method, a method commonly used for authorship attribution. Daniela proposed additional testing using the method of Nearest Shrunken Centroids (NSC), a pattern classification technique developed at Stanford.

Matt and Daniela then did the analysis, applying both Delta and NSC. I was not involved in that part of the work. We all recognized that I had a bias issue, and we agreed that we would let the chips fall as they would: if the results came back negative for Spalding-Rigdon theory then that’s what we would report. But the results came back supportive of the Spalding-Rigdon Theory.

Matt then wrote the first draft of our manuscript and sent it to me and to Daniela for our additions. I added my expertise in Mormonism and the historical context. Daniela wrote the sections on statistics and NSC. The manuscript went through more than 20 revisions thereafter. We also solicited help from a small group of informal reviewers and incorporated their suggestions.

On April 5, 2008, Matt submitted the manuscript to the Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing. The anonymous peer review process took six months. On October 7, 2008, we finally received notification that the paper was accepted pending an adequate response to the reviewer comments.
We completed our response to the reviewer comments and submitted the corrected manuscript on November 6. On November 24, we received word that the manuscript was accepted. At the same time we received page proofs. We corrected them and returned the article on November 27. It was published electronically on December 6.

I would like to make a couple of points.

First, this manuscript should be referred to as the "Jockers et al. (2008) study" or as the "Stanford authorship study," not as the “Criddle wordprint study”. Yes, I did contribute significantly, but Matt led and coordinated the team, and he is the corresponding author. That is as it should be. Without him, nothing would have resulted. Daniela’s expertise as a statistician and skills as a writer were critical to the paper, so her contribution should not be discounted either. This is important for all to understand.

One reason I am making these points is because, as many apologists have already (correctly) pointed out, I am the team member with bias. Matt and Daniela were unbiased, and had very little knowledge of Mormonism before they became involved with this project.

While I contributed expertise as a former Mormon, Matt and Daniela carried out the data analysis and the results are what they are, independent of my participation in the research.

I am hoping that by providing this background, it will become clear to all that this work should not be referred to as "the Criddle word print study”: it was a team effort led by Matthew Jockers. I was a member of that team, and, while my expertise was important, I did not carry out the analysis itself.

Craig Criddle

BHodges said...

By the way, cinepro, I personally view the "starting point" of wordprint analyses of the Book of Mormon to be earlier than this recent attempt. As early as 1980, with Larsen, Rencher, and Layton's study, we have a starting point. Soon their take was evaluated in Sunstone by Croft. After that, Hilton and the so called Berkley group formulated a new study. Subsequent articles in the Journal of BoM Studies describe their findings. The new study is another in a line of several wordprint attempts.

As with the former attempts I am relatively unimpressed with the latest one, most especially with the historical aspects undergirding the theory. I am no statistician, but I am a student of history, and I am not impressed whatsoever with the arguments for a Spaulding/Rigdon/Smith/Pratt etc. conspiracy. I am preparing more blog posts on the topic but suffice ti to say for now, this wordprint study looks to be pretty shaky at least from the historical standpoint.

Anonymous said...

I find your report interesting; however it seems as if you're trying to grasp at theories to make an assumption of yours override the results of wordprint studies.

You theory in the end rests to a large degree on Spalding and Rigdon being authors of the book.

Rigdon however was converted by Parly Pratt, who was converted by being loaned a copy of the Book of Mormon. Therefore your postulation that Rigdon somehow managed to assist in writing the book seems weak as it's well documented that he had never met Joseph Smith until he had a desire to meet the translator of the Book of Mormon.

Indeed many theories about the origins of the plates include him as a likely author; but it's resting on a false assertion made nearly two centuries ago which was as ridiculous then as it is now.

I'm fine with people trying to prove their theories about the Book of Mormon but placing Spalding and Rigdon together as collaborators really killed your article for me.

BHodges said...

Anonymous: This blog is a response to the wordprint study. The authors of the study won't be able to see your comment as I doubt they check the comments here.

Take care.

BHodges said...

Ben McGuire provides the following update (rumor is a full response to the Criddle et. al. paper is forthcoming):

The Spalding word print simply isn't heavy in the Book of Mormon. There are a lot of reasons why I say this, but I don't really feel at liberty to discuss everything on a public forum until a formal response has been published. However, I will reiterate one specific concern which I made quite early on when the Criddle study first came out. The test authors which were used (Longfellow and Barlow) were quite similar to the Book of Mormon. However, they were similar in the same ways that the artificial author Isaiah/Malachi was similar to the Book of Mormon. When run through the ringer, only two (IIRC) chapters were associated to Barlow and Longfellow. But, about a third of the chapters of the Book of Mormon which were not already recognized as effectively quotes from Isaiah were also identified as Isaiah/Malachi. If we remove the artifical author (Isaiah/Malachi) from the equation, many (if not most) of these thirty chapters don't get assigned to Spalding, or Rigdon or the other authors, but to Longfellow and Barlow. And this means that in dismissing the misidentified chapters that were connected to Isaiah/Malachi as simply reflecting biblical language, the study effectively dismisses any effectiveness of its test cases with a magic wand.

The study is only capable of telling us who is the most likely of the possible candidates. But it doesn't really tell us how likely any one of the candidates is on their own. (In fact, if we reduce the list of possible authors to only one, it will give us a 100 percent chance that this author is the author of the text in question - whether that candidate is Joseph Smith, Spalding, or Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev). The methodology used is problematic on its own, and the statistical model needs some kind of control built in to the mathematics (not into the rather subjective text and author selection) in order to be really usable.

See more of the discussion here:

ridgerunner said...

I find the idea that Spaulding or Ridgon the authors of the Book of Mormon unrealistic being that there are hebrewisms through out the text that would require, to my mind at least, a serious knowledge of hebrew. To my understanding, neither Spaulding nor Ridgon possessed that much knowledge of Hebrew sentence construction. Neither did Joseph Smith at the time.

It seems that there are many that want to show that the Book of Mormon is just another 19th century publication but the original text shows that not to be the case.

BHodges said...

Thanks for the comment, ridgerunner. I'm still not completely sold on Hebraisms generally as evidence. It remains to be seen how much Joseph Smith influenced the content of the translation, for example. Some Hebraisms may simply be similarities one could find in the KJV translation. I'm more interested in evidence such as chiasmus when it brings things out in the text I wouldn't have noticed without it. Fore instance, the chiasmus identified in some of Alma's stuff brings out themes we as readers should pay more attention to. FWIW.

Anonymous said...

I am curious about what writings of potential authors were relied on in order to perform the study. I mean, couldn't it be the case that Rigdon's (and others') writings might begin to approximate the Book of Mormon because they had read it and been affected by its form? Also, the "Rigdon behind the BOM" theory doesn't seem to explain why Joseph would be given all the glory and honor. Why not two prophets, at least? Why would Rigdon settle for a distant second if he was the mastermind?

BHodges said...

Anon, I also think Rigdon's lack of comment on assisting with the BoM is nice circumstantial evidence against his assistance especially given his bid during the succession crisis to step forward as a "guardian" to the Church.

Chris Spencer said...

I know this thread has gone stale, but Schaalje and friends from BYU have published a retort to Jockers et al. original study in the same journal. Their findings were basically opposite those of Jockers et al. The premise of the study is that Jockers et al used a closed NSC (nearest shrunken centroid) to address the authorship of the Book of Mormon whereas the BYU folks used an open NSC. The primary difference is that the closed NSC does not take into account that the author might not be any of the chosen test cases (someone other than Spaulding, Rigdon, Cowdrey, Smith, or Pratt) whereas the open NSC allows for a "latent" (or none of the above) author to account for the authorship. While the latter seems like a more reasonable approach to the question. It always seems suspicious that the BYU folks are the only ones who authored this paper. I see no reason why (if their study is valid) Schaajle et al. couldn't have found some non-Mormon colleagues to jump on board. Nevertheless and notwithstanding this is turning out to be an interesting dialogue.

You can find the Schaajle et al. paper here:

BHodges said...

Chris, thanks. I downloaded the paper last week but wanted to read it before adding anything on it here. From a quick scan it seems to me the authors have not simply rebutted the Criddle paper, but have offered a more fruitful way to apply statistical models to the question to begin with. It may seem suspicious to you that people at BYU are the respondents, but this should be no more suspicious than Criddle himself being a vocal ex-Mormon. In this case they are each making a statistical argument which allows for a somewhat less biased way to evaluate respective positions. The second article so far seems much more willing to admit shortcomings which should help raise your confidence level a bit.

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