Who Uses the Word Resurrection in the Book of Mormon and How Is It Used?
John Hilton III and Jana Johnson
While there are only a handful of primary speakers in the Book of Mormon, many voices are heard within its pages. The fact that multiple people speak in the text provides the opportunity to investigate whether these people have varying patterns of speech.1 The purpose of this study is to report on the word resurrection, which has unusual usage patterns by individual speakers in the Book of Mormon. For example, there are curious patterns in terms of who in the Book of Mormon employs (or does not employ) resurrection, how individuals in the Book of Mormon use this word, and how it collocates differently in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible. We will see that individuals in the Book of Mormon had various propensities for employing resurrection and used the word in distinctive ways. We will also demonstrate that patterns of usage in the Book of Mormon regarding resurrection differ from biblical usage, indicating that Book of Mormon prophets developed distinct ways of discussing the resurrection. All these points add to an overarching thesis that the Book of Mormon is a rich and complex work.
While the ways in which individuals in the Book of Mormon use specific words is potentially important, it is difficult to prove statistically that individual speakers use any given word in a unique way. According to Phillip Allred, "Even though an author's use of a word might potentially qualify for statistical significance, any statistical model that could be employed to determine such significance would necessarily assume normal or similar topic distribution within the Book of Mormon. Because the different writers treated diverse subjects, . . . it is nearly impossible to prove objectively that an author's word usage is statistically significant on the basis of word frequency alone." 2
Nevertheless, Allred provided a cogent example of how an individual speaker uniquely uses a word through explaining Alma2's use of the word state (meaning "condition"). He pointed out that "all but two of the eleven writers who used state did so infrequently and sporadically. In contrast, the recorded writings of Alma, and in one case, Lehi, contain passages that display unusual concentrations of the word state." 3 Allred went on to demonstrate that not only does Alma2 use the word state more often than other speakers in the Book of Mormon, he uses it differently than others do. While these facts do not guarantee statistical significance, they argue that Alma2 may have a distinct pattern of speech in his use of state. This suggests that further research concerning word use patterns in the Book of Mormon is legitimate and possible.
The word resurrection appears eighty-one times in the Book of Mormon.4 A traditional database search for occurrences of the word resurrection provides the following results as listed in table 1.
Table 1. Occurrences of resurrection by book
|Book||Number of Occurrences of Resurrection|
While it is interesting to know the frequency for each book, it is not immediately clear which individuals most commonly utilize resurrection. For example, are the twenty instances of its use in Mosiah equally distributed between King Benjamin, Abinadi, and Alma? Using another database, one created for the purpose of searching the text of the Book of Mormon by speaker, brings results listed in table 2.5 The speakers are sorted by the frequency with which they use the word resurrection per 1,000 words attributed to them. This table illustrates that while some people speak relatively few words, they frequently employ resurrection. In contrast, some who speak a great deal rarely use this word.
Table 2. Use of resurrection by speakers who speak more than 1000 words*
|Attributed Speaker||Times resurrection is used per 1,000 words attributed to speaker||Times used||Percent of total words in the Book of Mormon attributed to this individual||Percent of total uses of resurrection|
|Samuel the Lamanite|
Before proceeding, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of this approach. The database parses the text of the Book of Mormon by the person to whom the text is attributed. This database is limited in that it assumes that editors such as Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni accurately recounted the words spoken by specific individuals, rather than simply paraphrasing their words, and it assumes a literal translation of the Book of Mormon.6 However, the fact that the large plates are an abridgment of even longer records, and therefore may not necessarily reflect the speech patterns of the attributed authors, does not impinge on the results of this study. This study will show that a unique pattern of the usage of resurrection exists between attributed authors in the Book of Mormon, thus corroborating the accuracy of Mormon's rendering of different, original authors. If Joseph Smith had simply concocted the different voices in the Book of Mormon, or if Mormon and Moroni had heavy-handedly imposed their style on the disparate voices in the Book of Mormon, it is doubtful that the unique patterns would show up as clearly as they do.
Searching by speaker makes it clear who uses the word resurrection, not just where the word is used. It is interesting to know that resurrection appears seven times in 2 Nephi, but it is perhaps more informative to know that six of these references are spoken by Jacob. Overall, Jacob employs resurrection nine times in the Book of Mormon (compared to just one instance by Nephi). Jacob is one of only five individuals in the Book of Mormon who use resurrection more than once. Major speakers such as Jesus Christ, Helaman1, King Benjamin, Nephi2, and King Mosiah never use this word. Alma2 uses resurrection thirty-four times, more than any other speaker. But when the total number of words spoken by Alma2 is compared with those of Abinadi, we see that Abinadi recited resurrection three times more often (per thousand words spoken) than Alma2.
Understanding that some speakers use resurrection more commonly than others can help us focus our attention on what we can learn from the emphasis that a speaker places (or does not place) on resurrection. For example, why does Abinadi, in answering a question about Isaiah 52:7–10, focus so heavily on the resurrection? Part of the answer to this question may lie in Abinadi's testimony that "redemption cometh through Christ the Lord" (Mosiah16:15). While the priests of Noah state that they "teach the law of Moses" (Mosiah 12:28), Abinadi focuses on the fact that "salvation doth not come by the law alone" and that Moses "and even all the prophets . . . said also that he [Christ] should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead" (Mosiah 13:28, 33, 35). As Abinadi answers their specific question about what it means to publish good tidings, he speaks of "the Lord, who has redeemed his people . . . [and] bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead" (Mosiah 15:18, 20). Thus Abinadi uses resurrection in part to emphasize the fact that ultimately Jesus Christ is the one who "bringeth good tidings" (Mosiah 15:18). For Abinadi, the resurrection illustrates one reason why the law of Moses is insufficient and demonstrates that Christ is the true source of salvation.7
Not only are there differences in how frequently Book of Mormon speakers use resurrection but also in how they use it.
The first appearance of resurrection in the Book of Mormon is in 2 Nephi 2:8, where Lehi tells Jacob that the Messiah will "bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise." It is interesting that Lehi is the first person in the Book of Mormon recorded as using the word resurrection, given that he is closest to the time and culture of the Old Testament, in which the word resurrection never appears.8 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has noted that the Book of Mormon "links the religious worlds of Malachi and Matthew not only by bridging the intervening years between them . . . but, more important, by bringing Old and New Testament texts together in the continuity of doctrine taught." 9 Lehi's use of resurrection is one example of such a linkage.
Perhaps because Lehi had discussed the concept of resurrection with Jacob, Jacob was motivated to make it a regular part of his discourses. In addition to frequently employing resurrection, Jacob utilizes it in some phrases that are uniquely his. For example, he is the only speaker to use the phrase power of the resurrection, a term he uses on three occasions (2 Nephi 9:12; 10:25; Jacob 4:11). The words power and resurrection collocate twelve times in the Book of Mormon; in five of those instances Jacob is the speaker. Jacob also exclusively uses the phrase the resurrection which is in Christ (Jacob 4:11; 6:9). It makes sense that Jacob (like any other individual) would have unique ways of expressing himself. The facts that Jacob uses the phrase power of the resurrection on three separate occasions and also connects the words power and resurrection more frequently than other speakers suggest that these were words he gravitated toward.10 We would expect individuals to speak differently, and we can see that Jacob does just that through the unique collocations of resurrection that he uses.
After Jacob, the next speaker in the Book of Mormon to use resurrection is Abinadi, who makes this an integral part of his teachings to the priests of King Noah. Abinadi is the first speaker to teach about the first resurrection,11 an expression used only by Abinadi, Alma1, and Alma2. Abinadi employs first resurrection six times (Mosiah 15:21, 22, 24, 26);12 thus it seems likely that Abinadi's use of this phrase influenced these later prophets. Alma1 was obviously touched by Abinadi's words and recorded them (see Mosiah 17:4), and Alma2 explicitly states that he is aware of an earlier source as he teaches Corianton about the first resurrection, stating, "And behold, again it hath been spoken, that there is a first resurrection" (Alma 40:16, emphasis added). Chart 1 illustrates the lineal descent of this expression in the Book of Mormon:
Chart 1. Lineal descent of the phrase first resurrection in the Book of Mormon
Here we see how consistently individuals in the Book of Mormon behave in accordance with our expectations. Alma1 writes down important things he learned from a spiritual leader and later uses some of these words in his own teachings. When Alma2 is faced with difficult questions about the resurrection, he looks to the words of his father and his father's mentor.13 We see an evolution in understanding the resurrection, and in particular the meaning of the first resurrection, as Alma2 expands Abinadi's teachings.14 This lineal descent of Abinadi's use of first resurrection demonstrates the complexity and consistency of the Book of Mormon, with implications for selective, multiple author influences.15
While Alma2 employs resurrection more than any other speaker, his uses cluster in just three passages. He uses it three times while preaching in Ammonihah (Alma 12), once while preaching to the Zoramites, and thirty times while talking to Corianton (twenty-seven times in Alma 40 alone). This concentrated usage in Alma 40 is explained by the fact that Corianton's "mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead" (Alma 40:1), and Alma2 seeks to resolve this concern. Like Jacob1, Alma2 shows strong preferences for using certain collocations with resurrection. Of the eight verses in which resurrection and body appear together in the Book of Mormon, six of them are Alma2's words. Alma2 is the only Book of Mormon author to use resurrection and time together, in six different verses. While one could argue that the appearance of such words together in the same verse is coincidental, the fact that Alma2 so frequently uses these words together (and others rarely do) indicates that Alma2's speaking patterns are different from others in the Book of Mormon.
Mormon employs the word resurrection only thirteen times, which is less than 0.02% of the total number of words attributed to him.16 In keeping with the format of most of his writing, Mormon talks about resurrection almost exclusively in a narrative sense; however, he does use it in his own teachings in Mormon 7:6 and Moroni 7:41.
The variety of ways in which resurrection is employed may indicate that Mormon and other writers of the Book of Mormon were accurate when they recounted the words spoken by individuals throughout the Book of Mormon. While it could be argued that Mormon is using his own words as he writes the tale of the Nephites, it seems strange that in doing so he creates characters that uniquely collocate words. If Mormon were creating the words of individual speakers in the Book of Mormon, it would seem that the unique collocations described previously (such as Alma2 consistently using resurrection and body together) would not have appeared. This may indicate that Mormon stayed faithful to records originally written by other authors and in doing so preserved their voices.
Another way to approach the foregoing discussion of the distinct ways in which Book of Mormon speakers use resurrection is to ask, "Did Joseph Smith have the authorial wherewithal to invent separate characters, several of whom used unique collocations of resurrection?" These usage patterns discussed thus far suggest that either (1) he was a compositional genius or (2) the Book of Mormon is in fact what it claims to be—an ancient multifaceted work by different individuals.
We come now to the final point of this paper, a comparison of the use of resurrection in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Some may wonder if Joseph Smith exclusively copied biblical language when producing passages about resurrection in the Book of Mormon. We will next demonstrate ways in which resurrection is discussed in the Book of Mormon, but not the Bible. In other words, not all the Book of Mormon usages of resurrection can be traced to the King James Bible.
In addition to the ways in which individuals in the Book of Mormon use resurrection, there are several phrases in which resurrection is consistently used in the Book of Mormon but not in the Bible. The consistency with which these expressions are used in the Book of Mormon and not in the Bible expand the previously discussed idea of lineal descent and indicate that Book of Mormon prophets developed unique ways of talking about the resurrection. Taken together, this consistent phrasing adds credibility to the idea that Joseph Smith did not simply borrow biblical phraseology as he translated the Book of Mormon.
For example, consider the consistent connection in the Book of Mormon between the words resurrection and presence of God (or the Lord). Lehi affirmed that "there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through . . . the Holy Messiah, . . . that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead" (2 Nephi 2:8). Jacob then taught that "the resurrection" will overcome the effects of the fall and bring us back to "the presence of the Lord " (2 Nephi 9:6). Alma2 likewise explicitly states that "the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God " (Alma 42:23). Samuel the Lamanite echoes Alma2's words: "The resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord " (Helaman 14:17; see Helaman 14:15–16). Moroni also collocates these words together in a similar way (Mormon 9:13).
The words resurrection and presence, while consistently used together in the Book of Mormon, never appear in the same verse in the Bible and only once in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 133:55). If resurrection and presence frequently appeared together in the Bible, one could claim that Joseph Smith was dependent on the concept from that source. Or if those two words frequently appeared together in the Doctrine and Covenants, one might suppose that these words could simply have been familiar to Joseph from his environment. However, since they collocate nearly exclusively in the Book of Mormon, one plausible explanation is that Lehi originated this pattern of speech, which was then used by later Book of Mormon prophets.17 Thus the Book of Mormon is consistent in its use of resurrection and presence of God and is not dependent on the language of the King James Bible. Perhaps the collocation reflects a doctrine specific to the Book of Mormon peoples. They may have understood that resurrection was a vital part of overcoming the first spiritual death and coming back into the presence of God to be judged.
Another example of a consistently used phrase relating to resurrection is bring(eth) to pass the resurrection, which appears almost exclusively in the Book of Mormon and never in the King James Bible.18 The first instance of this is found in 2 Nephi 2:8, where Lehi says, "The Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise." The next time this expression appears is in the words of Abinadi, who makes it clear that he is referring to an earlier source: "Have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead?" (Mosiah 13:35). In context, Abinadi makes reference to Moses (Mosiah 13:33), Isaiah (Mosiah 14:1), and "all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began" (Mosiah 13:33). Since this phrase does not appear in the Bible and is only used by Lehi previously in the Book of Mormon, it is plausible that Abinadi is referring to Lehi's earlier teaching when he utilizes the phrase bring to pass the resurrection.19
The phrase bring(eth) to pass the resurrection is also used by Alma2, Samuel the Lamanite, Mormon, and Moroni. In fact, of the six individuals who use resurrection more than once, only Jacob does not employ this phrase. As with resurrection and presence, the consistent use of the phrase bring(eth) to pass the resurrection in the Book of Mormon (but not the Bible or, with one exception, the Doctrine and Covenants) indicates a pattern of speech that was developed and used by Book of Mormon prophets.
There are additional ways in which resurrection is used in the Book of Mormon, but not in the Bible. The expression concerning the resurrection appears seven times in the Book of Mormon and never in any other book of scripture. Atone(ment) and resurrection also appear together in seven Book of Mormon verses and never in any other scripture.20 Only in the Book of Mormon and once in the Doctrine and Covenants are the words resurrection and body used together.21 These additional uses of resurrection that occur in the Book of Mormon and not the Bible may add layers of evidence indicating that Book of Mormon prophets developed distinct ways of talking about the resurrection and that the Book of Mormon phraseology was not simply derivative from the Bible.
As Allred concludes his discussion of Alma2's use of state, he writes,
Alma certainly stands distinct from the other authors in the Book of Mormon when his use of state is analyzed. Alma's unique concentration of state, his tendency to reword with state, and his distinctive treatment of a shared topic involving state all point to him as a unique writer within the Book of Mormon. This is perfectly consistent with Joseph's claims about the Book of Mormon.22
Similar statements could be made about resurrection. The patterns of how individuals in the Book of Mormon use resurrection point to people who had different ways of speaking and different points of emphasis. In addition, some of the findings we have presented suggest that Book of Mormon speakers frequently use certain phrases in the Book of Mormon that are not found in the Bible.
"There are at least two distinct reasons to examine the literary structure of the Book of Mormon," wrote Noel Reynolds. "For those who recognize the Book of Mormon as sacred scripture, such a study can enhance their appreciation of its teachings. For others, a literary analysis provides a subtle test of the skeptical hypothesis that this book is a unique product of early nineteenth-century American folk culture." 23 We believe that in a small way the present study helps to fulfill these two reasons for studying the Book of Mormon's literary structure. Examining how individuals employed resurrection can enhance our understanding of the meaning of the text by focusing our attention on the unique ways people used the word and by showing us that later Book of Mormon prophets were aware of how earlier prophets used the term. It challenges the idea that the Book of Mormon is the product of Joseph Smith or a derivative of the Bible by demonstrating that the individuals in the Book of Mormon had different ways of discussing resurrection and that several phrases associated with resurrection appear consistently in the Book of Mormon but not elsewhere.
Much more work remains to be done in examining unique patterns of speech in the Book of Mormon. There are additional words that, like resurrection, have statistically unusual patterns of use among speakers in the Book of Mormon.24 In addition to these individual words, there are patterns to be discovered in how and why individuals use specific phrases. Analyzing phrases sometimes yields insights that analyzing individual words does not. For example, there are no unusual patterns in how the word delighteth is utilized in the Book of Mormon; however, Nephi1 exclusively employs the phrase my soul delighteth, and his use of it spreads across four separate passages. Additional research should identify and analyze such expressions that appear to have been used in unusual ways. Continued research into how words and phrases are used in the Book of Mormon can lead to a greater understanding of both its theology and authenticity.
John Hilton III is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He has a master’s degree from Harvard and a PhD from BYU, both in education. He has written several nonfiction books, including The Little Book of Book of Mormon Evidences. Besides being with his family, his favorite hobbies are reading, writing, and learning Chinese.
Jana Johnson is a senior at Brigham Young University and will soon graduate with a BA in linguistics. She served a mission in Seoul, Korea, and enjoys learning about Korean culture. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Voices of the Book of Mormon project.
1. For an overview of stylometry and a comprehensive review of its relation to the Book of Mormon, see G. Bruce Schaalje, Matthew Roper, and Paul Fields, "Examining a Misapplication of Nearest Shrunken Centroid Classification to Investigate Book of Mormon Authorship," Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011): 87–111; Matthew Roper and Paul Fields, "The Historical Case against Sidney Rigdon's Authorship of the Book of Mormon," Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011): 113–25; and Matthew Roper, G. Bruce Schaalje, and Paul J. Fields, "Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon: A Short History," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/1 (2012): 28–45.
2. Philip A. Allred, "Alma's Use of State in the Book of Mormon: Evidence of Multiple Authorship," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 141, emphasis in original.
3. Allred, "Alma's Use of State," 141.
4. No derivatives of resurrection appear in the Book of Mormon. The only time a derivative form appears in scripture is Doctrine and Covenants 129:1, 3.
5. This database is known as Voices of the Book of Mormon Database and was developed by John Hilton III, Shon Hopkin, Jennifer Brinkerhoff, Randal Wright, and Jana Johnson.
6. See Royal Skousen, "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998): 22–31.
7. Dana Pike writes, "My reading of this episode [Mosiah 15:14–18] suggests that Abinadi, and probably also the priests, viewed the prophesied Messiah as the messenger with glad tidings." " ÔHow Beautiful upon the Mountains': The Imagery of Isaiah 52:7–10," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 264. Abinadi's use of resurrection in connection with the passage further bolsters Pike's reading.
8. This is not to say that the concept of resurrection is not found in the Old Testament. Some references that may refer to resurrection could be Job 14:13–15; 19:25–26; and Daniel 12:2–3.
9. Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 13–14.
10. See Moroni 7:41 for the phrase power of his resurrection.
11. We also read about the first resurrection in Revelation 20:5–6.
12. Alma1 uses it once, and Alma2 uses it three times.
13. See John Hilton III, "Textual Similarities in the Words of Abinadi and Alma's Counsel to Corianton," BYU Studies Quarterly 51/2 (2012): 39–60.
14. Like other ancient authors, Alma2 does not explicitly cite his sources. "Our understanding of the prophetic word will be greatly expanded if we know how one prophet quotes another, usually without acknowledging his source." Bruce R. McConkie, "The Doctrinal Restoration," in The Joseph Smith Translation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1985), 17.
15. Abinadi is also the first to use the phrase the resurrection of Christ (Mosiah 15:21), which is later used by Alma2 (Alma 40:16, 18–20), Samuel the Lamanite (Helaman 14:17), and Mormon (3 Nephi 6:20); this phrase also appears in Acts 2:31.
16. In comparison resurrection comprises .57% of the words attributed to Abinadi. While we acknowledge that this is not a completely fair comparison, similar comparisons could be made to other speakers whose words primarily come to us in the form of discourse.
17. Another possibility is that Lehi borrowed this phraseology from an unknown passage recorded on the brass plates. As noted previously, it is important to remember that we read Lehi's words only through Nephi.
18. Bring(eth)/brought to pass the resurrection occurs eleven times in the Book of Mormon and one time in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 88:14); see Luke 3:7 JST.
19. Another possibility is that both Lehi and Abinadi are alluding to an unknown passage from the brass plates.
20. 2 Nephi 10:25; Jacob 4:11; 4:12; Alma 21:9; 33:22; 42:23; Moroni 7:41. In other restoration scripture—the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price—those terms do not appear together. These words also do not collocate in the Old Testament because that part of the Bible never uses the word resurrection, and they do not collocate in the New Testament because the word atonement appears so rarely.
21. These words occur together in eight Book of Mormon verses but never in the Bible. The variants resurrected and bodies appear in D&C 129:1.
22. Allred, "Alma's Use of State," 146.
23. Noel B. Reynolds, "Nephi's Outline," in Book of Mormon Authorship, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1982), 54.
24. The Voices of the Book of Mormon Database identifies 155 such words.