“Curious Workmanship” in the Book of Mormon

Many believe that the phrase “curious workmanship” found in 1 Nephi 16:10, 1 Nephi 18:1, Alma 37:39, and Ether 10:27 of the Book of Mormon is anachronistic. In other words, it is a phrase that is unique to 18th and 19th century English and should not appear in a translation of an ancient document like the Book of Mormon.

The exploringmormonism.com article “Possible sources of plagiarism for Joseph Smith,” makes the bold claim that ‘curious workmanship’ is a uniquely masonic phrase, and states that “curious workmanship is a masonic phrase and has no meaning outside of it, but it is solidly defined in Masonry. The Liahona in the Book of Mormon is described as being of ‘Curious Workmanship.‘”

The mormonstories.org article “Sources of Inspiration and Content” provides a graph that shows “curious workmanship” is a uniquely 18th-19th century phrase, and implies that because it is unique to this time period that it should not appear in an English translation of an ancient document like the Book of Mormon.

Jeff Lindsay discusses this issue in great detail (https://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/late-war.html) and points out that the phrase “curious workmanship” is used in “The Iliad,” which is an ancient document translated into English. This is the point that I would like to emphasize: the phrase “curious workmanship” is found in 18th and 19th century English translations of ancient documents. Therefore, it is not anachronistic that “curious workmanship” appears in the Book of Mormon. Critics who look for anachronistic language in the Book of Mormon to prove it is a work of fiction will compare the Book of Mormon to 19th century literature and note the similarities that are not found in the Bible. This is a flawed method for critiquing the Book of Mormon unless one also examines whether these phrases are found in other English translations of ancient documents.

Here are some more examples of “curious workmanship” appearing in English translations of ancient documents:

  1. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book VIII, 5:2 (written between 78 and 93 A.D., translated by William Whiston in 1737)
    • “Now the contexture of the curious workmanship of these stones was in three rows, but the fourth row would make one admire its sculptures, whereby were represented trees, and all sorts of plants”
  2. The History of Herodotus, Book III, p. 258 (written in 440 B.C., translated by Isaac Littlebury in 1709)
    • “The men, he said, are deceitful, and so is the clothing they wear. In the next place he questioned them concerning the necklace and bracelets, and when they had explained to him the curious workmanship of those things, the King laughed, and told them that chains of a far greater strength were to be found in Ethiopia”
  3. Plutarch’s Lives, Paulus Aemilius, Vol. 2, p. 67 (written in 2nd century A.D., translated by John and William Langhorne in 1770)
    • “The young men that led these victims were girded with belts of curious workmanship; and after them came the boys who carried the gold and silver vessels for the sacrifice”
  4. Euripides, Hippolytus, p. 226, line 487 (written in 428 B.C., translated by Robert Potter in 1781)
    • “It were too nice through all the parts of life to labour at exactness: on the roof, for shelter form’d, too curious workmanship were lost”
  5. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Book IV, p. 33, par. XVI, (written between 161 to 180 A.D., translated by Meric Casaubon in 1634)
    • “This I understand even of those things, that are commonly called fair and good, as those which are commended either for the matter itself, or for curious workmanships for that which is truly good, what can it stand in need of
      more than either justice or truth; or more than either kindness and modesty?”

The question of “curious workmanship” in the Book of Mormon is just one example where critics make the flawed argument that 18th-19th century phrases found in the Book of Mormon are anachronistic. Anyone who comes across similar arguments should immediately examine other English translations of ancient documents for the presence of these phrases.

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