John Milton, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon | BYU Studies

John Milton, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon

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John Milton, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon

Author Robert A. Rees

This comparison of Joseph Smith and John Milton focuses on their literary output and especially the preparation each had for dictating a long religious work, in Milton's case Paradise Lost and in Smith's the Book of Mormon. Most notable authors, including Milton, had a long apprenticeship that involved writing several "try works," practice works that served as tutorials and stepping stones preparing their authors for their magnum opus. Joseph Smith had no such trial period for learning how to weave together intricate subplots, multitudes of characters, and historical background detail. Milton, in particular, had all the advantages of a first-rate English education. Smith, by contrast, had the most meager of educational opportunities. According to his wife, at the time he dictated the Book of Mormon, he "could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter." In spite of these disadvantages, Smith dictated most of the Book of Mormon over a period of less than three months, whereas Milton's dictation of Paradise Lost took place over more than a decade. While it has been popular since 1830 for critics to debunk or diminish the Book of Mormon, it has stood the test of time in more ways than one.