The statistical study of Book of Mormon texts is a well-traveled road in Book of Mormon scholarship. However, in Book of Mormon Authors, Roger Keller shows that there is still valuable work to be done.
Keller acknowledges a great debt to previous statistical studies. The most famous of these is Wayne A. Larsen and Alvin C. Rencher’s “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” published in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982). In this ground-breaking study, Larsen and Rencher use “wordprints,” patterns of language using numerous “function words,” to establish the authenticity of various authors. Larsen and Rencher argue that because wordprints are primarily set through function words, it would be very difficult for one author to imitate or emulate another author’s wordprint. Thus, a wordprint becomes a kind of linguistic “fingerprint.”
Keller builds his analysis on the wordprint studies of the Book of Mormon and takes as a given the division of authors established by Larsen and Rencher and others. Keller’s work then extends previous statistical studies of the Book of Mormon by moving from description to interpretation. Instead of focusing on function words, Keller catalogues patterns of content words in the Book of Mormon to identify major themes.
Although Keller is not trained as a statistician, he is very careful about his methodology and works closely with other scholars who have conducted statistical textual studies. Keller uses a kind of “cluster analysis,” in which he identifies certain key terms related to major themes and then identifies which authors use which terms. He then interprets the differences in terminology among Book of Mormon authors. Each chapter of his book includes a section entitled “Theological Implications,” in which Keller connects his interpretation of Book of Mormon terms to LDS theology.
After discussing the general differences among Book of Mormon authors, Keller delineates five major themes or clusters of terms that appear in the Book of Mormon: laws and commandments, church and churches, earth, Israel, land and lands. Within each section, he provides a helpful table that lists the terms he identified as part of the cluster and the incidence of this term for each Book of Mormon author. Readers who are not as interested in the details of Keller’s methodology may want to skim through this section of each chapter and move directly to the interpretation and theological implications, Keller’s most useful contribution to Book of Mormon studies.
Because of his theological training, Keller has a real ability to distinguish shades of meaning in Book of Mormon terms. His analysis introduces a number of new and provocative interpretations of Book of Mormon authors and presents important theological principles. Keller unabashedly uses his study of the Book of Mormon to build faith in his predominately LDS audience, but he is also careful to explain that his testimony of the Book of Mormon does not come from scientific studies.
Previous statistical studies of the Book of Mormon may have been too technical for many lay readers, but Roger Keller’s Book of Mormon Authors has greater appeal and should inform and inspire both casual and serious scholars. Keller admits that his work is not finished, and he encourages others to undertake similar studies, particularly studies of how Book of Mormon authors use synonyms for the terms he identifies. Such a study of synonyms would lead readers into even more nuances of meaning in their reading of this ancient text.