“And it came to pass”: Post #1 January 15, 2015
Readers of the Book of Mormon will have noted, as did Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), how often the phrase “and it came to pass” occurs. Twain had a bit of fun at Joseph Smith’s expense when he said that if Joseph Smith had left that phrase out of the Book of Mormon, the book “would have been only a pamphlet”*.
Since I can be a literal-minded guy (when I choose) and I really like numbers, I decided to test Mr. Sam Clemens’ claim. By word search analysis, the phrase “And it came to pass” occurs 151 times in the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon, on average a bit less than one time for every three pages. There are another 18 occurrences of the phrase “came to pass”. In total, there are 1,418,073 characters (with spaces) in the text of the Book of Mormon. The phrase “And it came to pass” contains 19 characters including spaces, and the phrase “came to pass” contains 12 characters including spaces. If we multiply 151 x 19 and add it to 18 x 12 we get a total of 3,085 total characters (including spaces) used in the entire Book of Mormon to write these two phrases. This is 0.218% of the total characters in the book, or a bit more than 1 page out of the 531 pages in the book. If these two phrases that so amused Mr. Twain had been left out of the Book of Mormon, it certainly would not have “been only a pamphlet”. It would be about 1.2 pages shorter.
So there, Sam.
On a more serious level, the Book of Mormon claims to be written by people with their linguistic and cultural roots in Palestine, circa 600 years before Christ, during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. In other words, it has roots in Old Testament times, places and cultures. The Old Testament has over 500 instances where the phrase “came to pass” is used—the New Testament uses the phrase over 100 times.
My point is that this is how the Hebrew people told their stories. The phrase “it came to pass” is always used in the context of telling a story, both in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Fast forward to the New World, where the bulk of the Book of Mormon story (Mormons believe) took place. We don’t know exactly where the events recorded in the Book of Mormon happened, but a lot of evidence points toward Central America, in the Mayan heartland. In the written Mayan story of the creation and in the records of their dynasties (the reigns of their kings), as recorded on their stone stelae, a particular glyph is used very, very often. The glyph is translated (not by Mormons) as meaning “and then it happened”… which could certainly be rendered equally well as “and it came to pass”. (For an interesting account of how the Mayan language was deciphered, you can watch “Breaking the Maya Code” on Netflix. This particular glyph and its translation are discussed at around 1 hour and 27 minutes into the film. It is an enjoyable and interesting movie to watch.)
This may be just a coincidence, but it is interesting nonetheless, at least to me. Joseph could have left the phrase out, saved 1.2 pages of text, and perhaps have avoided some of Mr. Twain’s sarcasm. But if he really did translate the record of a people with Hebrew linguistic roots, the phrase should occur. It does indeed occur with considerable (even annoying?) frequency in the Book of Mormon…and in the Mayan records.
Oh that clever kid, Joseph Smith. He got that one right.
Well, I told you this post was going to be on the light side. The next post is going to be quite a bit heavier.
*See “Roughing It” Chapter 16, pages 107-115.