Miracles and the Book of Mormon

Christians routinely dismiss many stories in the Book of Mormon and the Koran as being obviously stolen from previous stories. They are right to do so, but this article discusses whether the same rules apply to the miracles of Jesus. Were these stories also stolen from previous stories? I set out to show that Christians must concede that the evidence that the miracle stories of Jesus were taken from the Old Testament is just as convincing as the evidence that stories in the Book of Mormon and the Qur'an were simply lifted from the Old Testament.

Ruth Tucker is an evangelical Christian. In her excellent book, 'Another Gospel', (Zondervan,1989), she examines the beliefs of Mormons, Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses etc. Here is what she says about the Book of Mormon.

"Many of the stories in the Book of Mormon were, as Fawn Brodie and many others have shown, borrowed from the Bible. The daughter of Jared, like Salome, danced before a king and decapitation followed. Aminadi, like Daniel, deciphered handwriting on a wall, and Alma was converted after the exact fashion of St. Paul. The daughters of the Lamanites were abducted like the dancing daughters of Shiloh; and Ammon, the American counterpart of David, for want of a Goliath slew six sheep-rustlers with his sling".

What could be more obvious and clear-cut?

Or take Chapter 2 Verse 249 of the Koran, which is about the first king of Israel, called Talut in the Koran.

So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it. So when he had crossed it, he and those who believed with him, they said: We have today no power against Jalut and his forces.

Christians will at once recognise this strange story about how God tested the army of the Israelites by making them drink from a river. It is found in Judges 7:4-7. Perhaps the details of other Biblical stories were also weaved together into this one story.

4. And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.

5. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.

6. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.

7. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

It is very easy to spot when old religious stories have been recycled to produce new religious stories about other people.

I have been asked to point out that not all Christians agree, and directed to Glenn Miller, who writes here , 'Actually, I consider myself a Christian and I don't "recognise" this to be the case at all... the details aren't close enough to the story, nor clear enough in their referents.' And he later says 'As a matter of fact, the ONLY points of continuity are (1) the mention of a 'hand' (even there it is used quite differently in each story!); and (2) the general motif that God can take on large armies with smaller armies (a general pan-cultural theme in no way implying borrowing!). At most we have a very vague similarity with the biblical passage...... So, close attention to the details shows that the passages are not even remotely close enough to suggest 'literary borrowing' of the type suggested by our objector..... If the previous passage was supposed to be a good example, then I absolutely disagree.

But ,by and large, despite Miller's claim that the passages are not even remotely close, most people think that the stories are similar enough to suggest that one served as the basis for the other.

There is a Christian web site which sets out to answer Islam and they also think it obvious that this story comes from Judges 7. Their web page can be found at Answering Islam There, they write ' Instead this story is found in Judges 7, where Gideon lead the Israelites into battle. This is again a historical compression where the author of the Qur'an confuses details of separate stories and weaves them into one.

As I said, it is very easy to spot when old religious stories have been recycled to produce new religious stories about other people.

And the relevance to the Bible is?

Take the feeding of the 5,000.

In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha has a great many people to feed with only a few loaves of bread and a little other food. He delegates the task of feeding. There is a complaint that the quantity is too small. The feeding continues and everyone is fed. There is surplus bread left over. This older story from Kings has exactly the same plot as the feeding of the 5,000 - only the numbers are different.

The feeding of the 5,000 is such an obvious rewrite of the story from Kings that if I remind you that Jesus used barley bread, you can guess what type of bread Elisha used.

On page 176 of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, written by a raft of Catholic scholars, it says that 2 Kings 4:42-44 is 'obviously the inspiration for the NT multiplication miracles'. I like the word 'obviously'.

But one story is just a coincidence

Here are some more examples of Old Testament stories which have been rewritten to become stories about Jesus.

Below, LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This translation was done at least before 200 BC. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the writers used very often the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), rather than the Hebrew originals. Nowadays, Christians tend to reject the Septuagint, but the Gospel writers were heavily influenced by it, as we shall see below, and used many phrases from it , just as Joseph Smith was heavily influenced by the King James Version and used many phrases from it when writing the Book of Mormon.

In 2 Kings 4:27-37 a distraught parent of an only child comes to Elisha just as in Mark 5:22-24 (which continues in verses 35-43) a distraught parent of an only child comes to Jesus,pleading for help.

The story in Mark is such an obvious rewrite of the story in Kings that if I remind you that Jairus in Mark 5 falls at Jesus's feet, you can guess what the parent in 2 Kings 4 did.

The name Jairus has 2 meanings. 1 is 'he enlightens'. The other is 'he awakens'. Is not 'he awakens' a remarkably apt name for someone in a resurrection story, where Jesus says that the child is not dead but sleeping?

As confirmation that Mark used 2 Kings 4 for his stories of the feeding of a crowd, and the raising of a dead child, Mark 5:42 says that after the miracle, the parents were 'amazed with great amazement' (exestesan ekstasei megale), while 2 Kings 4:13 we have 'amazed with all amazement' (exestesas... pasan ten ekstasin tauten)

Here is a picture of Mark 5:41 Mark's Gospel

Here is a picture of 2 Kings 4:13 from the Septuagint (remember that this translation is largely rejected by Christians today) 2 Kings 4

What more clear cut evidence is needed that stories from 2 Kings 4 became stories about Jesus? We shall see later that in the miracle of the calming of the sea, the disciples remembered to be afraid with great fear, because in Jonah people were afraid with great fear , while in Mark 5, the parents remembered to be amazed with great amazement, because in 2 Kings 4 people were amazed with all amazement. Possibly the witnesses of Jesus's miracles rushed to the nearest synagogue to look up in the Old Testament how they should react after each miracle.

Perhaps Mark was the first person to apply the Elisha story to Jesus. I very much doubt he was the first, but somebody at sometime thought that Jesus must have been able to do whatever Elisha, Elijah from the Old Testament could have done. This is how legends start. Perhaps the Gospel writers task was limited to taking the stories and bringing out and enhancing the similarities.

Who can say for certain, but we can say that the similarities between the stories are just as close as the similarities between the stories in the Book of Mormon and the Biblical stories that Christians insist Joseph Smith used.

Jesus greater than Jonah?

In Jonah the sailors and Jonah are in a boat during a dreadful storm just as in Mark 4 the disciples and Jesus are on a boat. The sailors look for Jonah and find him asleep. The disciples look for Jesus and find him asleep. This could be a coincidence except that this story is the one and only time Jesus is ever shown sleeping in the entire New Testament. Sleeping in a tiny boat on the point of sinking, during a storm of such severity that experienced sailors were unable to cope, is quite a feat.

The best selling commentary on Matthew in the UK is by J.C.Fenton, who was Principal of Lichfield Theological College. He says about Matthew 8:24 'but he was asleep recalls Jonah 1:5, Jonah ...was fast asleep.'

He says about Matthew 8:25:- 'they went and woke him, saying, Save (soson), Lord (kyrie), we are perishing. (apollymetha) Cf Jonah 1:6, So the captain came and said to him, What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your God (Kyrie)! Perhaps your God will give a thought to us. (Greek 'save us' diasose), that we do not perish (apollometha). He says about Matthew 8:27 'And the men (hoi de anthropoi)... Are they an echo of Jonah 1:16 -Then the men (hoi andres) feared the Lord exceedingly.?' When else does Matthew call the disciples 'the men'?

Mark also is quite aware that the story comes from Jonah, as he also draws heavily upon it.

In both Mark 4 and Jonah the witnesses after the sea-calming miracle are portrayed as afraid and awe-struck. In Mark 4 'feared with great fear (ephobethesan phobon megan)'. In Jonah (LXX) 'feared the men with great fear' (ephobethesan hoi andres phobon megan)

In this picture of Marks' Gospel, I have underlined the relevant words. Mark's Gospel

In this picture of the Septuagint translation of Jonah, I have underlined the words which Mark used. Jonah

Jesus, Elijah and Luke

Jesus in Luke 7 raises the son of a widow from the dead. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah raises the son of a widow from the dead. Both stories employ exactly the same words - and he gave him to his mother.The Greek is 'kai edoken auton te metri autou', copied word for word from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

An Illustrations page is available for readers to double check my claims

Did Luke use 1 Kings 17 as a basis for his story? Jesus met the widow at the gate of a city. Elijah met his widow in 1 Kings 17:10. It should come as no surprise that it was at the gate of a city. Luke 7 also copies other phrases from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

Luke copies 'kai egeneto' (and it came to pass). 'Kai egeneto' is used many, many times in the Greek Old Testament and Luke used this phrase from the Septuagint so much that it has become a cliche. When writing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith also used 'and it came to pass' a lot. Here he was copying from the King James Bible , but we can see that the writer of Luke's Gospel copied in a very similar manner to Joseph Smith.

Luke writes 'tay pulay tays poleos kai idoo' (to the gate of a city and behold), which is almost identical to the Old Testament Greek of 'tou pulona tays poleos kai idoo'.

Luke often used the Greek Old Testament for his stories. In Acts 10, Peter is told in a dream to eat unclean animals. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel 4 also has a story of somebody who is asked to eat unpalatable food.

According to Acts , Peter, an Aramaic-speaking Jew managed, in a moment of terror, to remember the exact phrase from the Greek translation of Ezekiel 4:14! Was it realistic for somebody described in Acts itself as ignorant (idiotes) and illiterate to bring to mind a Greek translation that he would not have known? I think not. I suspect Luke 'borrowed' words from the Greek translation of Ezekiel 4:14 to put into the mouth of Peter. It is not as though it is a common phrase which Peter might have hit on himself. 'Medamos, Kyrie' (By no means,Lord) is used only here and in Acts 11:8.

It is even more remarkable that Peter managed to reproduce the words of horror that Ezekiel said when he was also told to eat unclean foods, as Peter was supposed to have been present when Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7, long before Acts 10 ever took place.

Here is a picture of Acts 10:14 Acts

Here is a picture of Ezekiel 4:14 from the Septuagint (remember that this translation is largely rejected by Christians today) Ezekiel 4

Curiously, John 4 uses the elements of 1 Kings 17 that Luke does not. In John 4, Jesus, while in a foreign land, meets a woman who no longer has a husband, just as Elijah does. Both Elijah and Jesus are thirsty and have to ask the woman for a drink. In both stories, though, it is the woman and not the prophet who is in true need.

Both Elijah and Jesus promise her a never ending source. Both 1 Kings 17:24 and John 4:19 make the women certify the miracle worker as a true prophet. The miracle of Jesus knowing the details of the women's life without being told can also be traced to an Old Testament story.

Again, we can be certain that the author of John uses 1 Kings 17 when writing the miracle stories in his Gospel. In the miracle of turning water into wine, the words of the woman (Ti, emoi kai soi) from 1 Kings 17:18 reappear exactly as words of Jesus. Now we know why Jesus was brusque to his mother during the miracle - he felt the need to repeat the Greek words of a woman from an Old Testament miracle story.

Here is a picture of John 2 John 2:4

Here is a picture of 1 Kings 17:18 from the Septuagint (remember that this translation is largely rejected by Christians today) 1 Kings 17:18

Conclusion

Just as Joseph Smith did in the Book of Mormon, the early Christians drew upon the one source that they held to be infallible - the Old Testament. They felt quite justified in taking stories from the Old Testament and applying them to Jesus. After all, they knew that the Old Testament was full of coded 'prophecies' and that they could, if they examined them cleverly enough, work out what Jesus must have done.

They certainly never needed to ask eyewitnesses what happened. Why should they, when they had a written record, in the Old Testament, of Jesus's life? All they had to do was tidy up a few of the miracle stories, exaggerate the numbers and they had ready-made miracles for Jesus to have done.

Rewriting old books to create new books is a well-known Biblical technique. The books of Chronicles were pieced together from the books of Kings. It is no surprise that this process continued into New Testament times.

Malleable Miracles

It wasn't just Old Testament stories that were reworked. Of the 661 verses in Mark's Gospel, Matthew used 607 of them. It is interesting to look at the stories he dropped.

In Mark 8:23-25, Jesus cures blindness by spitting on eyes, although the cure does not work first time. Matthew and Luke drop this miracle ,as it was embarrasing. Matthew also drops the other account of Jesus spitting, in Mark 7:33-35. Matthew also drops a healing of a demoniac in Mark 1:25-27.

This left a problem for Matthew in that he was short of people healed as compared to Mark. So he simply doubled up the number of people healed in the healings he did take over from Mark. In Matthew 20:29-34 , he doubles the number of blind people healed, compared to Mark 10:46-52. This was almost certainly to make up for dropping Mark 8:23-25, as the word for eyes that Matthew uses in 20:34 (ommata) is only used here and in Mark 8:23, so this is Matthew's way of getting 'ommata' healed without having to say that Jesus spat on someone's face.

Because Matthew has left out one healing of a demoniac from Mark's Gospel, (Mark 1:24-29) , he doubles the numbers healed in Matthew 8:28-34 as compared with Mark 5:1-20 and imports the question from Mark 1:24 into Matthew 8:29, as he did not want to drop the story entirely.

It seems that the Gospellers believed that the miracle stories were malleable and could be edited and changed to suit their purposes. If they could do so, what credence can we put on their accounts?


Return to Main Christianity Page

Comments to Steven Carr

General messages (not for publication) can be sent to me using Not for Publication