Notes and Communications:
Alma's Use of State in the Book of Mormon:
Evidence of Multiple Authorship
Joseph Smith claimed the Book of Mormon was a product of multiple ancient authors. Recent studies of the words and phrases used by the book’s various writers have provided evidence of this claim.1 The following notes on how the word state2 is employed in the Book of Mormon suggest that Alma2 can be singled out as a distinct author within the record.
Eleven individuals in the Book of Mormon used the word state.3 Only Alma used the word to any degree of potential statistical significance.4 However, 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, there is no statistical way to compare the probability of the different authors’ use of state.5 Therefore, it is nearly impossible to prove objectively that an author’s word usage is statistically significant on the basis of word frequency alone.
Aside from the challenges of this statistical qualification, it is still possible to see Alma as a distinct author in the Book of Mormon. This can be done by examining his use of state in contrast with other writers on three fronts: unusual concentrations of the word, resumptive rewording with state, and shared topic comparison.
Unusual Concentrations of the Word State
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. For example, Lehi uses the word four times in three verses when describing Adam and Eve’s paradisiacal existence in 2 Nephi 2:21–23. A far more impressive concentration of state appears in Alma 40, where Alma is teaching Corianton about the postmortal existence.
Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and resurrection. . . .
. . . the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace. . . .
Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.
Now, there are some that have understood that this state of happiness and this state of misery of the soul, before the resurrection, was a first resurrection. (Alma 40:11–12, 14–15)
Here in just five verses Alma employs the word ten times. Even more remarkable is the concentration in chapter 41 where in just two verses Alma uses state six times.
And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature? (Alma 41:11–12)
In chapter 42 Alma clusters his use of state again where it occurs six times in verses 10–13. In a work which claims to be written by multiple authors it certainly is consistent to find one of these authors displaying an unusual usage of a particular word when the other writers do not.6
Resumptive7 Rewording with State
In several instances Alma displays a tendency to reword with state. For example, in discussing the preparatory nature of mortal existence after the fall, Alma writes, “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (Alma 42:4). Resuming this thought six verses later, Alma renames this as a probationary state—”it became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state” (Alma 42:10). Again three verses later he repeats this rewording with “Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in the probationary state, yea, this preparatory state” (Alma 42:13).
Another example of Alma’s tendency to reword with state is found approximately one hundred pages earlier. While visiting Gideon, Alma hoped to “find that ye were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla” (Alma 7:3). Three verses later Alma defines the dilemma when he resumes the thought with, “I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren” (Alma 7:6). After discoursing about the atonement he returns again to this topic and combines the two earlier phrases. “For as I said unto you from the beginning, that I had much desire that ye were not in the state of dilemma like your brethren, even so I have found that my desires have been gratified” (Alma 7:18).8 No other author in the Book of Mormon rewords with state—in this Alma stands completely unique.
When only one writer displays this kind of preference for a particular term when restating, especially a nonessential word like state, the reasonable reaction is to believe that this writer is distinct within the larger work authored by other individuals.
Shared Topic Comparison
As noted above, because of the varied topics that the different writers of the Book of Mormon address, it is difficult to make statistical comparisons of their use of any given word. On the other hand, a comparison is available between those passages where multiple writers address the same topic. One such topic is the concept of agency. It is here that Alma’s preference for state distinguishes him most clearly from the other writers of the Book of Mormon.
Because it is reasonable to expect that any given topic will generate some common language to describe it, it comes as no surprise that each of the four writers who addressed agency—Lehi, Jacob, Alma, and Samuel—all used some form of the words act and choose.9 Yet when each passage is further analyzed, Alma’s use of state again distinguishes him from other Book of Mormon writers.
Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures. . . .
. . . in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling. (Alma 12:31; 13:3)
It is significant to note that both Lehi and Jacob used state elsewhere in their writings, so their capacity to have done so in passages relating to agency is not in question.10 Further, the presence of state is not the only difference between Alma and the others. Lehi, Jacob, and Samuel each include references to the word free when discussing agency.11 Alma does not.
Of tangential interest, there is marked contrast between Alma and Joseph Smith when their writings about agency are compared.12 In Doctrine and Covenants 93:30–31, Joseph revealed that “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man.” In comparison with Alma’s passage in Alma 12:31, Joseph Smith writes about a sphere in which agency exists, while Alma writes of a state of agency; their meanings are the same, but the language is decidedly different. Further, Alma only describes the principle, while Joseph actually names it as agency. In fact, every major passage concerning the agency of man in the Doctrine and Covenants is marked with the words agency, agent, or agents.13 In direct distinction, the Book of Mormon does not have a single reference to these words. This suggests that the use of state in the Book of Mormon was a feature of the original text and not simply introduced by Joseph Smith.
Certainly Alma’s distinction from his Book of Mormon counterparts is clear in the context of agency. He not only displays his preference for state uniquely when addressing this topic, but he also elected not to use a key word that the other three authors employed.
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. Also, the differences between the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures produced by Joseph Smith in relation to the use of state are also what one would expect to find in the various publications of a prophet who both translated other’s writings and received his own prophetic material.
1. E.g., John W. Welch et al., “Words and Phrases,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 282–85; Roger R. Keller, “Mormon and Moroni as Authors and Abridgers,” in ibid., 269–71; John L. Hilton, “Wordprints and the Book of Mormon,” in ibid., 221–26; and John W. Welch, “Three Accounts of Alma’s Conversion,” in ibid., 150–53.
3. Abinadi, Alma2, Amulek, Benjamin, Jacob, Lehi, the Lord, Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, and an angelic visitor to Nephi all employed the word state; cf. Eldin Ricks, Eldin Ricks’s Thorough Concordance of the LDS Standard Works (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1995), 691–92.
4. An author must display at least one use of the word per one-thousand total words. Alma is the only author whose use of state qualifies in this preliminary way (Alma used state 35 times in 19,137 total words, which equals nearly two instances per 1,000 words). The idea for this comparative figure is drawn from Roger R. Keller’s article entitled “Law and Commandments in the Book of Mormon” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1991). The full methodology is spelled out in a forthcoming book by Keller entitled Author Uniqueness within the Book of Mormon: An Aid to Interpretation.
5. For instance, even though Alma used state an unusual number of times in Alma 40:12–15, he is addressing the topic of the postmortal spirit world, which is unique to him in the Book of Mormon. Hence, no statistical comparison can be made between Alma and the other writers in this case. I am indebted to Dr. John L. Hilton, BYU, for explaining these critical points on statistical significance.
6. Further evidence for this argument is found in the presence of another concentration of state approximately ninety pages earlier in Alma 12. Here again Alma clusters his use of the word nine times starting in verse 12. As John W. Welch has elsewhere noted, even though Alma’s words are found scattered among other’s writings over nearly one-fifth of the Book of Mormon, his words bear “the unmistakable imprints of a single distinctive person,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 153. For instance, both Ammon and Amulek’s words appear between Alma 12 and Alma 42—both employed state, but neither displays any concentration of the word; in fact, they only expressed their message with state on one occasion each; see Alma 26:17 and 34:35 respectively. It is also significant to note that in Alma’s initial conversion account in Mosiah 27 he used state twice (Mosiah 27:25).
7. This is not to be equated with epanaleptic repetition, which is specifically employed for digressions within a single sentence; see Larry G. Childs, “Epanalepsis in the Book of Mormon” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1986).
8. Another rewording with state (though not necessarily resumptive), occurs in Alma 41:11—Alma writes that all men “have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.”
12. Comparison between the four major works that Joseph Smith brought forth further suggest multiple authorship of the Book of Mormon. While the Book of Mormon contains the term seventy-seven times (Ricks, Thorough Concordance, 691–92), the books of Abraham and Moses, as well as the entire Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible lack even a single use of state. Of interest also, the Doctrine and Covenants contains the word only three times (71:1; 93:38; and 130:9) and the Joseph Smith History employs the word only once (Joseph Smith—History 1:29). In addition, Joseph Smith’s wording in Joseph Smith—History 1:29—in which he synonymously couples state with standing—is interesting because the word standing only appears twice in the Book of Mormon and neither time with state; see Mosiah 4:11 and Alma 13:5.