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Conflicting results of computer
analyses of the Book of Mormon

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Computer analysis of the Book of Mormon:

At least three computer analyses have been completed to date in an effort to determine who wrote the Book of Mormon, and whether it was a single individual or a group.

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1979 study by Mormon researchers indicates multiple authors:

Statisticians at Brigham Young University completed a computer analysis of the Book of Mormon.

"Three different types of 'wordprints' or stylometry were used in examining the authors of the Book of Mormon: (1) frequency of letters, (2) frequency of commonly occurring non-contextual words, (3) frequency of rarely occurring noncontextual words. Three types of statistical methods will be used with this data: Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA)Cluster Analysis, and Discriminant or Classification Analysis. ... Writing of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries was also included. Ninety blocks of words were used from Joseph Smith, W. W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Sidney Rigdon, and Solomon Spaulding." 6

They concluded that the book was written by at least 24 individual authors, apparently including God and the author of the book of Isaiah. That would support the belief that the book was definitely not written by Joseph Smith or by any other single individual who lived in the 1830s.

A 1979 article in the Provo Herald allegedly stated:

"Statisticians, using modern computer techniques to digest and analyze the Book of Mormon word by word, are debunking the 150-year-old claims that the book is the work of just one man."

"Utilizing a computer to identify 'wordprints' or word use patterns that scientifically differentiate between individual writing styles, researchers have uncovered what they claim is conclusive evidence that the Book of Mormon is the work of many authors."

"This is in direct contradiction to critics who claim the book is a fictional work written in the 1820s by Joseph Smith, the prophet-founder of the LDS Church, or by Solomon Spalding, ..."

"The research was done by Dr. Alvin C. Rencher, a professor of statistics at Brigham Young University, and Dr. Wayne A. Larsen, a statistician for the Eyring Research Center, both located in Provo."

"'The overwhelming evidence given here should permanently lay to rest the alternative theories that Joseph Smith or Solomon Spalding wrote the Book of Mormon,' a report on the study says. ..."

"Wordprint comparisons between the Book of Mormon and the known 19th century writings of Joseph Smith and Mr. Spalding show conclusively that neither of these persons, authored the book, the scientists say."

"In fact, their research indicates that the book was authored by at least 24 different writers, and possibly more, whose styles bear no resemblance to that of Joseph Smith, Mr. Spalding or other 19th century writers whom they examined. ..."

"One of the tests went so far as to indicate that 'odds against a single author exceeded 100 billion to one,' the statisticians noted in the report."

"Are the conclusions of the study final? 'I don't think the last word is in yet,' Dr. Rencher says. But he also says he is confident the research is valid and the statistical methods used in the study are sound. ..."

"Wordprints are developed by feeding passages of 1,000 word minimum for each author into a computer and analyzing the frequency of what Dr. Rencher calls 'non-contextual words' such as and, for, it, as, be and which.
"Different authors develop different patterns in the frequency of use of such words--patterns not related to the context of the material but constant throughout the individual's writing.

"That makes the wordprint a useful tool for identification of authorship, much like a fingerprint or voiceprint can be used to identify an individual, Dr. Bencher said." 1

David I. Holmes, a Senior Lecturer in Statistics at Bristol Polytechnic, pointed out a very serious deficiency in this study which throws very serious doubt on its validity:

"The most impressive statistical analysis carried out on the Book of Mormon is that undertaken by Larsen, Rencher and Layton. ... The authors conclude that their results all strongly support multiple authorship of the Book of Mormon yet their whole case rests on the assumption that the frequency of occurrence of non-contextual function words is a stylistic discriminator. The article claims that there is no resemblance between the authors of the Book of Mormon and the nineteenth century authors sampled, but the case rests on usage of words such as 'unto, behold, yea, forth, verily, lest and nay' which would all naturally be prominent in an archaic biblical-type style, but could hardly be expected to occur with the same frequency elsewhere, even in the early nineteenth century. 2

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Subsequent British analysis for the Association for History and Computing

A similar multivariate analysis technique conducted by a British non-Mormon, David I. Holmes. 3  He concluded that the author of Doctrine and Covenants and of The Book of Mormon was the same person, Joseph Smith.

He analyzed:

bullet 14 large blocks of text from the Book of Mormon, totaling 120,000 words.
bullet Documents written or dictated by Joseph Smith between 1828 and 1833.
bullet Three blocks of about 10,000 words from the early revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants,
bullet Text from the book of Isaiah and
bullet Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham.

Holmes concluded:

"... the aim of my research is to complement historical and scientific studies into the authenticity of the Book of Mormon by subjecting it and related Mormon scripture to stylometric analysis. In this paper it is understood that a particularly effective measure for purposes of discrimination between writers is the vocabulary richness of a text....

"We may summarize by noting that the analyses have shown that the Joseph Smith and Isaiah samples form distinct and separate clusters, whereas all other samples tend to cluster together...."

"The formation of the clustering observed here, provides evidence of the utility of the multivariate technique advocated by this study. ..."

"An important discovery is the fact that the samples of writings from the various prophets who purportedly wrote the Book of Mormon do not form prophet-by-prophet clusters. The dendrogram in Figure 2 shows that only the two samples from Alma display internal homogeneity... There appears to be no real difference between Alma's vocabulary richness and Mormon's vocabulary richness within the Book of Alma, a conclusion in direct contradiction to the findings of Larsen and the Brigham Young University team. This study has not found, therefore, any evidence of multiple authorship within the Book of Mormon itself. Variation within samples from the same prophet is generally as great as any variation between the prophets themselves.

"Two of the three 'revelations' samples are also indistinguishable from the Book of Mormon prophets. ... The dendrograms and principal components plots place the Book of Abraham text (AB) firmly in the main 'prophet' cluster, its nearest neighbor being sample R1 from Moroni. In terms of vocabulary richness, clearly the Book of Abraham is indistinguishable from the Book of Mormon prophets and from samples D2 and D3 of Joseph Smith's revelations....

"It is my conclusion, from the results of this research and the supporting historical evidence, that the Book of Mormon sprang from the 'prophetic voice' of Joseph Smith himself, as did his revelations and the text of the Book of Abraham. We have seen that the style of his 'prophetic voice' as evidenced by the main cluster of the textual samples studied, differs from the style of his personal writings or dictations of a personal nature."  2,3

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An informal analysis by Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Joseph Smith's writing style:

Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Utah Lighthouse Ministry, an evangelical group known for its intense opposition to and criticism of the LDS Church, performed their own brief computer study. 2 They searched through the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price and concluded that they "were all the product of one mind", Joseph Smith.

They quote Mormon scholar Elinore H. Partridge who commented on Joseph Smith's style of writing:

"Joseph Smith's writing is characteristically marked by series of related ideas joined by simple conjunctions: and, but, for. In his handwritten manuscripts, he used neither punctuation nor capitalization as sentence markers. When his writing has been edited, or when someone else wrote words which he dictated, the result is an unusually large number of sentences beginning with for, and, or but." 4

The Tanners selected the Book of Alma, Chapter 2, at random. They found that 62% of the sentences begin with for, and or but.

Next, they analyzed Smith's account of the First Vision from "Joseph Smith's 1832-34 Diary." They found that 61% of the sentences tested began with one of these three words. 1

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Related essay on this web site:

bullet Who wrote the Book of Mormon?

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Quoted in: Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "BYU Computer Study," The Salt Lake City Messenger, #41, 1979-DEC. Online at: We were unable to locate the original quote from the Provo Herald.
  2. "Salt Lake City Messenger," Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Issue 84, 1993-April, P. 9-10, at:
  3. D.I. Holmes, "A Multivariate Technique for Authorship Attribution and its Application to the Analysis of Mormon Scripture and Related Texts," History and Computing, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1991, Pages 14, 20-21.
  4. Elinore H. Partridge, "Characteristics of Joseph Smith's Style and Notes on the Authorship of the Lectures on Faith," Task Papers in LDS History, # 14, 1976-DEC, Pages 1 & 2.
  5. Wayne A. Larsen and Alvin C. Rencher, "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints," in Noel B. Reynolds, Ed. "Book of Mormon Authorship," Bookcraft, (1982).
  6. "Stylemetry Authorship Analysis," at:

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Copyright 1997 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-NOV-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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