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The question of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is the basis for any discussion on the truthfulness of the LDS church.
The Church maintains that the Book of Mormon is of divine origins, and that Joseph Smith, or any other person, was uncapable of inventing a document of such length and complexity.
Overview of LDS position
During his tenure at BYU, Hugh Nibley, a Mormon apologist, issued a challenge to see if any student could compose a history similar to the Book of Mormon (BOM) within the space of a semester, as Joseph Smith had completed the translation of the Book in less than three months. (No student ever succeeded in his challenge.) Not only that, but the history should never contradict itself, observe appropriate literary conventions, and be lavish with cultural and technical details. The LDS church asserts that for a poorly educated farm boy, this task would be entirely impossible without the power of God.
Overview of Critics' position
First, translation of the Book of Mormon did not take place in less than three months; it spanned a time period of over a year and Joseph may have been working on the text for years. Second, the "most correct of any book on earth" has undergone more than 3,000 textual and grammatical corrections. Some of these corrections included significant changes in doctrine. Third, a large portion of the Book of Mormon simply quotes the Bible, including translation errors unique to the King James Version. Fourth, stories in the Book of Mormon directly parallel stories from Joseph's life, such as his father's dream of the tree of life when Joseph was five years old. Fifth, the Book of Mormon is no more complicated than other works of fiction, such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and related works. Finally, the ideas in the Book of Mormon bear strong parallels to ideas popular in New England at the time and several other books. Sixth, Joseph may have had help.
For those members of the LDS Church that have more of an intellectual testimony of the Church, they often say that they believe in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and therefore the LDS Church, because of the assertion that Joseph Smith could not possibly have written the Book of Mormon. How could a young, farm boy with limited education like Joseph have written a fairly long, complex, flawless religious text like the Book of Mormon? If Joseph could not have written the book on his own, then therefore his story of the golden plates and the angel must be true.
Before trying to answer the question of whether or not Joseph could have written the Book of Mormon, let's examine whether anyone in the 19th century could have written such a book. Some LDS assert that no man or woman could have written the Book of Mormon without divine intervention.
The first edition of the Book of Mormon
When the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, it looked very different than today. The text was all in paragraph form. The original Book of Mormon had the appearance of an average 'non-religious' book. The modern Book of Mormon used in the Church looks much more 'biblical' as everything has been put into numbered chapters and verses, cross referenced with footnotes, etc.
The first edition of the Book of Mormon was riddled with grammatical errors. This alone questions whether the text was written by man or translated divinely. There were also several more significant errors in the early editions of the Book of Mormon such as changing the name of King Benjamin to King Mosiah (King Benjamin was already dead at this point) or changing that Mary was the 'mother of God' to the 'mother of the son of God'.
Overall there have been some 3,913 changes to the first edition of Book of Mormon. This is the book Joseph called 'the most correct book on earth'. For more detail on the changes go to: http://mormonthink.com/book-of-mormon-problems.htm#mostcorrectbook
So when determining whether or not Joseph could have written the Book of Mormon, we should actually be looking at the first edition of the Book of Mormon and not the current version we have today which has been altered by people other than Joseph Smith.
How does the Book of Mormon compare to other literary works?
Most non-LDS authors are not all that impressed with the Book of Mormon - certainly no non-LDS authors are so impressed as to even entertain the idea that the book could not have been written by a man without divine help.
Mark Twain thought the Book of Mormon was extremely boring and referred to it as 'chloroform in print'.
The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James's translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel -- half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern -- which was about every sentence or two -- he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as "exceeding sore," "and it came to pass," etc., and made things satisfactory again. "And it came to pass" was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet. Mark Twain, Roughing It.
For the complete review of the Book of Mormon by Mark Twain: http://www.salamandersociety.com/marktwain/
Even Assistant Church Historian and General Authority B.H. Roberts objectively stated:
Very few objective people would disagree that the Book of Mormon pales in comparison to such literary masterpieces as A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace or any the works of William Shakespeare. Many books are far more complex and difficult to write than the Book of Mormon. In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings fiction series, not only are multiple interacting civilizations created, but also their own languages. If William Shakespeare had said that an angel gave him a set of gold plates in which he translated the Book of Mormon, no one would have believed him because everyone knows that Mr. Shakespeare was certainly capable of writing a book like the Book of Mormon based on the other impressive works he wrote.
So we think it's pretty certain that the Book of Mormon is not so spectacular of a book that no one on the planet could have possibly written it without divine intervention. The next question is, could Joseph Smith have produced the book on his own? It's one thing to say whether or not a trained author could have written the Book of Mormon, and quite another to say Joseph Smith could have written it.
Also, it should be noted that when the Book of Mormon was first published, he tried to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon to a publishing company just like a regular book. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto for this purpose, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. (Comprehensive History of the Church Vol. 1 pp. 162-66). http://www.i4m.com/think/history/sell_BOM_copyright.htm
Also, the first edition of the Book of Mormon has on its title page the author listed as Joseph Smith although the "Preface" page in the first edition of the Book of Mormon states that Joseph translated it. Subsequent editions changed the term 'author and proprietor' to 'translator'. This was reportedly done to comply with copyright law. See photo of first edition here: http://www.inephi.com/1.htm
Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont to Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. He grew up on a series of farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. Although the LDS church has painted a picture of Joseph Smith as an uneducated farm boy, he was home schooled quite extensively in "reading, writing, and the ground rules of arithmetic," as his mother put it.
Even from an early age, it is apparent that Joseph was not a typical boy, but possessed some qualities and mannerisms that seemed beyond his years. Some Mormons know about Joseph's terrible operation on his leg at age seven. Infected bone was cut from his swollen and infected lower leg without any anesthesia. Joseph's mother reported the incident in her writings:
Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith The Prophet, Lucy Mack Smith, p. 64.
That manner of speech and control is certainly not typical for a seven-year-old child. Even at that tender age, it appears Joseph had the verbal skills and some influence over those much older than he. Although Joseph survived the operation quite well, he walked with a limp from that day forward. A few LDS depictions will show Joseph with a limp and occasionally using a cane.
It is very apparent in our studies of Joseph Smith, that he had academic strengths and weaknesses. We would describe Smith as very creative, articulate, and well read. By his early teens, he had quite a thorough knowledge of The Holy Bible and many other books. Although well-read beyond average, he appeared weak in areas such as writing and grammar and, of course, in formal education subjects such as the sciences and mathematics.
Joseph Smith had a limited formal education which is often used as "proof" that he could not have written the Book of Mormon. However, just because his formal schooling was limited, that does not mean he did not have the mental acumen to produce a work like the Book of Mormon.
Education was important to the Smith family, and although Joseph may have only had limited formal education in a typical classroom, his parents undoubtedly schooled him at home. Joseph's mother wrote that they did not neglect the education of their children. This was an educated family: Joseph's father, Joseph Smith, Sr., was a school teacher during the off season. Joseph's brother, Hyrum, worked as a school teacher during the off season also. His mother and maternal grandmother were school teachers. One of his sisters may have also been a teacher at some point in her life. Joseph attended school when he was about 20 years old in Harmony, PA with the Stowell children. According to his own words, Joseph read and pondered scriptures. He had access to books and newspapers. He even held a position as "exhorter" at a local church and participated in the debate group in Palmyra.
"Joseph Smith and Nauvoo's Youth," By William G. Hartley. September 1979 Ensign.
In the early 1800s few children were able to have a full education. Most children in rural America worked on farms and often had much of their education done at home. As Joseph Smith Sr. was an actual school teacher at various times in his life, he would be quite capable of teaching general education to his children, including Joseph. Joseph's mother, Lucy Smith, would undoubtedly help as well. Even Abraham Lincoln had a very limited formal education of only about one year, and Benjamin Franklin also had only one year of formal education. Look at the amazing things they wrote and accomplished.
Today, many people home-school their children. Would anyone say that these home-schooled children are uneducated? It's true that they do not have a "formal" education, but for the most part, home-schooled children have similar, and in some cases superior, education than traditionally-schooled children.
Young Joseph was able to read and ponder scriptures. Joseph also attended many protestant church services and studied the Bible in depth. According to Joseph Smith's mother he told her, back before the Book of Mormon came forth that,
Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), p. 90
Critic's comment: If Joseph studied the Bible so well, is it any wonder that the Book of Mormon is so similar to the Bible? The LDS Gospel doctrine teachers often say that the Book of Mormon was translated from its original language into 17th century English. The English used in the 1830s certainly doesn't match the Book of Mormon language. The 'thees' and 'thous' were obviously put in to make the book sound more like The Holy Bible. One has to wonder why a document translated in the 19th century uses 17th century English.
Michael Quinn has made the best case for Joseph Smith's information environment. Joseph knew the Bible, Camp meetings, American antiquities, strategies of the war of 1812 and earlier American/Indian wars, and the strong anti-Masonic sentiments between 1826-1830 in his environment (Hyrum Smith was a Mason in NY, and belonged to a lodge). In other words, the VERY things that Joseph was most "schooled" in, he had observed from his own backyard so to speak—the VERY things that we find discussed in the Book of Mormon.
The poor grammar in the 1830 Book of Mormon shows the lack of formal education that Joseph had. However, lack of education does not mean lack of intelligence or imagination. The original grammar and the errors in the Book of Mormon is what would be expected from someone with limited formal education.
An example of Joseph's writing from before he published the Book of Mormon is in the section below 'What about Emma Smith?'
William E. McLellin, a schoolteacher, said of Joseph as an adult learner:
"Inside the lost McLellin notebook," Michael De Groote, Deseret News, 28 January 2009.
Additional information and source material for some of the above points.
In his own handwriting, Joseph Smith claimed that by the age of twelve he spent time not just reading, but "searching the scriptures" and "applying [himself] to them." He knew them well enough that he could judge that the people he personally knew did not behave "agreeable to what I found contained in" the bible. "From the age of twelve years to fifteen," Joseph "pondered many things...of the world of mankind." But "by searching the scriptures [he] found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament."
Also, through "searching the scriptures," Joseph said he "felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world;" knew that "God was the same yesterday to day and forever" and that "he was no respecter to persons for he was God..."
Letterbook 1, The Joseph Smith Papers, p. 7. Spelling retained. Emphasis added.
Evelyn M. Wood Lovejoy, History of Royalton, Vermont, with family genealogies, 1769-1911, p. 646. (1911)
Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Early Preparation of the Prophet Joseph Smith," December 2005 Ensign.
From 1812-13, While living in Lebanon, Joseph Sr. and Lucy sent their children to school, until, apparently, the typhoid fever outbreak of 1813:
By Lucy Mack Smith, first draft as found in Lucy's Book, Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson. Signature Books, (2001).
Someone familiar with the Smith family when they lived in Palmyra recollected the following in 1851:
Personal recollection of O. Turner, author of History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, p. 214.
Herbert S. Salisbury, grandson of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s sister, Katherine Smith Salisbury, says the following about Joseph Smith:
H. S. Salisbury, "History of Education in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Journal of History, Vol. XV, No. 3 (July, 1922), pp. 257-58.
Besides his ability to read and think about the bible, Joseph could write. Although he felt a need to have a scribe to help with the Book of Mormon, Joseph had good penmanship. His spelling and punctuation may not have been the best, but he could compose and write, as the already quoted 1832 history attests. To see his penmanship, see his 1832 history and also his letter to his wife, Emma, June 6, 1832
These writings were a mere 3-4 years after the writing of the Book of Mormon. It could be that in those years Joseph had learned to write, but more likely than not he was already a capable writer when the Book of Mormon was penned.
Although apparently aided by an angelic being with the content (Moroni), Joseph was capable of telling stories as a 16 year old:
By Lucy Mack Smith, first draft as found in Lucy's Book, Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson. Signature Books, (2001).
It is not implausible for those with little to no formal education to be intelligent and creative individuals. The following are several examples of such people from approximately the same time period as Joseph Smith.
Kenneth J. Winkle, "Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made Man," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 21, Issue 2, Summer 2000.
"Horace Greeley," Wikipedia.
In later life Horace Greeley started the New-York Tribune (1841-1966) and was influential in journalism in general. He was a US Congressman and helped start the Republican Party.
Mark Twain's Biography, from The Official Web Site of Mark Twain.
See An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer, pp 42-44, for more information.
We've heard many times that it's impossible for a young boy to have written the Book of Mormon. Although the Church doesn't teach this, many members mistakenly confuse the age of Joseph when he translated the Book of Mormon with the age Joseph was when he had the First Vision at age 14 or 15. The first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 when Joseph was 24. So Joseph was in his early to mid twenties when the Book of Mormon was translated and not a teenager. Many authors have written very impressive works and were younger than when Joseph translated the Book of Mormon such as Ernest Hemingway. See below for examples of extraordinary accomplishments by people younger than Joseph was when he translated the Book of Mormon.
Critics often say that young Joseph was known for story-telling and often cite the following account from Joseph's mother:
During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.
Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith The Prophet, Lucy Mack Smith, p. 92.
However, as we're an organization that promotes total fairness, we must point out that although this is a true quote, it is not the complete quote. LDS apologists contend that the knowledge came from Joseph's encounters with Moroni and not from his imagination.
So we will show the entire account as provided by Assistant Church historian, LDS apologist and General Authority B.H. Roberts who suggests that Joseph could not have learned any of these things from Moroni:
B.H. Roberts Conclusion
In his book Studies of the Book of Mormon, Roberts answers the question as to whether or not Joseph Smith could have produced the Book of Mormon.
He concluded that Joseph Smith had sufficient imagination and was capable of producing the Book of Mormon even though he had little formal education. He was, however, prone to made silly mistakes. It is these telling inconsistencies and problems that Roberts lists: 1) evidence of an undeveloped mind, 2) repetition of the same themes, 3) repetition of the same villains, 4) repetition of same battles and wars, 5) conversions typical of 19th century conversions.
Lucy Mack Smith reported that her husband, Joseph Smith Sr., had the following dream when Joseph Smith Jr. was 5 years old:
Reference: Lucy's Book, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson, Chapter 2, pp. 297-98.
Critic's comment: This is the "Tree of Life" story as told in the Book of Mormon starting in 1 Nephi 11:25. If Lucy recalled Joseph Sr.'s dream with this much detail in 1844-45 (when she wrote the first draft of the above quote), one must assume that Joseph Sr. told it many times. Surely Joseph Jr. was well-acquainted with it when he wrote the Book of Mormon. Although faithful LDS try to explain this as evidence that Joseph's father was also inspired, there is another more plausible explanation: Joseph Jr. simply incorporated this dream experience, that had such an impact on his father, into the Book of Mormon.
Many parts of the Book of Mormon are identical to the Bible. Entire chapters of the Bible are contained within the Book of Mormon. Plagiarism is not difficult for anyone to do.
LDS faithful say that there are a couple of reasons for this. The first one is that the Book of Mormon peoples had the Old Testament writings, that they had taken with them from Jerusalem, so there isn't a problem in quoting Old Testament prophets like Isaiah as the Book of Mormon prophets had the Old Testament. Another reason is that these stories were on the plates because the same experiences that happened in the Americas also happened in Jerusalem. For example, since Christ taught the 'sermon on the mount' to the Jews, he would also teach that same exact message to the Nephites as it's the same gospel.
Problems with portions of the Bible in the Book of Mormon
The King James version of The Holy Bible has some translation problems with it as stated in the Articles of Faith. These translation errors occurred when the original Greek and Hebrew Bibles were translated into English. Obviously if the Book of Mormon used the Old Testament records that the Nephites brought with them from Jerusalem in 600 BC, then they would not have English translation errors made in the Middle Ages.
However the Book of Mormon has these same errors. The Bible has some rare errors such as plurals of certain words. The portions of the Book of Mormon that appear to quote the Bible have these same errors. Also the term 'Lucifer' was translated incorrectly in the Bible and was also used in the same incorrect manner as in the King James Bible.
Some LDS apologists admit that Joseph must have used the King James Bible when bringing forth the Book of Mormon. They explain that translating was hard on Joseph, and when he recognized that parts of the golden plates were identical to the Bible, he used the Bible instead so Joseph would not have to go through the more laborious method of translating the Book of Mormon using the seer stones. This apologetic answer really sounds like they are grasping for straws to provide some sort of answer to this problem.
More information on the King James Bible being used in the creation of the Book of Mormon can be found here:
Christ's Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon and the Bible are identical. Yet later on, in the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, Joseph corrected many of the parts of the Sermon on the Mount. So the question is, if the sermon on the mount was not translated correctly in the Bible, why then, is it the same incorrect translation in the Book of Mormon? Why is it not corrected like Joseph later did with his Bible translation?
Critics say the obvious answer is that originally Joseph just copied the sermon on the mount out of the Bible. It wasn't until later he came up with the idea to fix the Bible.
See also: The problems with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
View of the Hebrews was a very popular book published in New England in 1823 which said that the American Indians are really descended from Hebrews and that they came over here to America and separated into two factions, one civilized and one wild and bloodthirsty, and that there were lots of wars between them, and finally the wild faction wiped out the civilized faction. The book begins with the destruction of Jerusalem, quotes a lot from Isaiah and also mentions a prophet standing on a wall saying "wo" unto the people, and the people shoot arrows at him (pg 26).
Parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon
There are significant parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. B.H. Roberts (1857-1933), a prominent LDS scholar and apologist for the Book of Mormon, wrote Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study, later published as Studies of the Book of Mormon. In a letter to President Heber J. Grant and other church officials, Roberts urged "all the brethren herein addressed becoming familiar with these Book of Mormon problems, and finding the answer for them, as it is a matter that will concern the faith of the Youth of the Church now as also in the future, as well as such casual inquirers as may come to us from the outside world." Roberts discusses elements which he considers to be similar between the two books:
Origin of the inhabitants of the American continents
Roberts states that both View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon make the claim that the Hebrews "occupied the whole extent of the American continents." In addition, Roberts states that Mormon speakers and writers often ignorantly claim that the Book of Mormon was the first book to represent that the American Indians were descendents of Hebrews. He points out that Ethan Smith and many other writers made this claim earlier, and that this idea was "very generally obtained throughout New England." A number of parallels presented by Roberts require the belief, as Roberts himself believed, that the people described in the Book of Mormon arrived at and populated an empty North and South American continent, and that all people on those continents descended from these people.
Destruction of Jerusalem
Roberts notes that the entire first chapter of View of the Hebrews describes the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. He compares this to information given in first chapters of the Book of Mormon, in which Lehi prophesies of the destruction of Jerusalem prior to their leaving the area of the city around 600 B.C.E.
Stories of a "lost book"
An account is given in View of the Hebrews in which "an old Indian" stated that his ancestors "had a book which they had for a long time preserved," but that "having lost the knowledge of reading it.they buried it with an Indian chief." This is compared with Joseph Smith's story of the retrieval of the golden plates from a stone box in the hill Cumorah in New York.
The discovery of what is claimed to be a Jewish phylactery by a "Mr. Merrick" is described in View of the Hebrews. The item was dug out of the ground and "contained four folded leaves of old parchment." The leaves were described as being "dark yellow" and were said to contain Hebrew writing. Roberts speculates that the "dark yellow" might suggest "gold color" and adds a note: "Query: Could all this have supplied structural work for the Book of Mormon?"
Breastplate and the Urim and Thummim
Ethan Smith describes a breastplate "in resemblance of the Urim and Thummim" made of a white conch shell with two holes in it to which are fastened buckhorn white buttons "as if in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim." Roberts compares this to the Urim and Thummim which Joseph Smith said that he was given for the purpose of translating the plates.
Hieroglyphic paintings found in the area New Mexico are described in View of the Hebrews. Roberts writes "Was this sufficient to suggest the strange manner of writing the Book of Mormon in an altered Egyptian?"
Barbarous and civilized people
Ethan Smith was challenged regarding his postulation of a highly civilized society among ancient Americans, which was in contrast with the nomadic lifestyle of the American Indians of his day. Ethan Smith supposes that the Hebrews who arrived on the American continent split into two classes, and that "most of them fell into a wandering idle hunting life" but that "more sensible parts of this people associated together to improve their knowledge of the arts." Ethan Smith believed that the more civilized portion of this society separated from the more primitive group, who "lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family." As a result of their "tremendous wars," the civilized group "became extinct." This situation is compared to the story of the Nephites and Lamanites, who also split into two groups and had frequent wars, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of the more civilized Nephites. It is noted by LDS scholars that in the Book of Mormon, the two groups retained their knowledge of having descended from the same family up until the time that the Nephites were destroyed, contrary to Smith's supposition in View of the Hebrews that this knowledge was lost.
Isaiah and the scattering and gathering of Israel
Roberts points out that both View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon include extensive quotations from Isaiah regarding the scattering and future gathering of Israel. Roberts adds the note "Query: Did the Author of the Book of Mormon follow too closely the course of Ethan Smith in this use of Isaiah would be a legitimate query." It is noted by LDS scholars that View of the Hebrews includes many scriptural prophecies about the restoration of Israel, including Deuteronomy 30; Isaiah 11, 18, 60, 65; Jeremiah 16, 23, 30-31, 35-37; Zephaniah 3; Amos 9; Hosea and Joel. Of the scriptures cited, only Isaiah 11 appears in the Book of Mormon.
Ethan Smith discusses the legends of the "bearded white god" Quetzalcoatl and proposes that this "lawgiver" or "Mexican messiah" was actually Moses. Ethan Smith also suggests that this belief held by the people of Mexico at the time of Montezuma allowed the Spanish to easily conquer the country because "the Mexicans mistook the white bearded invaders from the east for the descendents of their long cherished culture-hero Quetzalcoatl." Roberts note states "The legitimate query: did this character spoken of in the ''View of the Hebrews,'' published five years before the Book of Mormon, furnish the suggestion of the ''Christ'' on the ''Western Continent?
Additional parallels include:
Joseph quotes View of the Hebrews in support of the Book of Mormon
There was a reference to View of the Hebrews within Joseph Smith's lifetime, but it came from the prophet himself. In an article published in the Times and Seasons on June 1, 1842, Joseph quoted View of the Hebrews in support of the Book of Mormon:
LDS historian Grant Palmer cites parallels between the Book of Mormon and a story called 'The Golden Pot'.
An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Palmer Ch 5.
See this very interesting Sunstone Symposium article discussing possible drug use by the early saints:
Restoration and the Sacred Mushroom: Did Joseph Smith use Psychedelic Substances to Facilitate Visionary Experiences? Presented at the Sunstone Symposium, August 2007 by Robert T. Beckstead. Revised.
Similar to the above article, the following article discusses the visions reported by many of the early saints and possible links to alcohol and hallucinogenic mushrooms: Mormon Visions and the Gift of the Holy Ghost
Early American influences in the Book of Mormon stand in direct contradiction to the testimonies of witnesses to Joseph Smith's translation process. "Translation" is a generous term considering the word-for-word dictation method as observed by those closest to Smith: scrying with his seer stone in his hat, delivering each word from the plates in order. This leaves little room for Smith to add to what he saw in his stone. (See the 2014 essay, "Book of Mormon Translation," published on the LDS.org website verifying his scrying method, as well as MormonThink's comprehensive response to that essay.) Yet, when compared to available contemporary writing, the Book of Mormon is shown repeatedly to borrow verbiage and phrases from its time (examples of contemporaneous texts below).
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery always gave as their response to the translation method that they used the Urim and Thummim, which they always identified as the "Nephite Interpreters" found with the golden plates, in direct contrast to the rock-in-the-hat method as verified in the 2013 LDS essay linked to above. It is readily apparent that the King James Bible was used to directly quote from, especially the Isaiah passages (see MormonThink's treatment of this issue). One must come to the conclusion that Joseph and Oliver were willing to, at the least, stretch the truth of the "translation" method. Since we know the KJV bible was copied from directly, couldn't they have easily copied from other sources as well?
Defenders of Smith counter that any duplication of phrases between his Book of Mormon and contemporary sources are merely accidental anomalies generated through the permutation of a finite number of words. If this be the case then the chiasmus and Hebraisms, often pointed to by many of Smith's defenders, must suffer the same fate. However, in the world of Book of Mormon apology, a faith-promoting parallel is taken as evidence of its divinity while more suspicious evidence of borrowing and plagiarism is considered insignificant.
Larry Morris of the pro-LDS group FARMS took the proper perspective in relation to this material when he said:
"The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep on Looking," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004), p. 370, fn. 29.
A two edged sword indeed it is. However, we believe there was enough material available in Joseph Smith's environment to show that at the least, Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon was simply a product of his time, nicely fitting in with the many other contemporaneous works that used scriptural language and covered many of the same themes as the Book of Mormon.
Contemporaneous texts to the Book of Mormon
This list is not exhaustive, but there is enough of a sample to show that the Book of Mormon is not unique to its time. It must be stressed that although there are often strong parallels in some cases, it is not necessarily every critic's belief that Joseph Smith directly plagiarized from any other source, but rather that he may have been influenced by these sources in some way. If nothing else, it demonstrates that it was possible to create a book like the Book of Mormon without any supernatural means. However, as noted above, it is not being completely ruled out that Joseph and Oliver may have had texts directly available in the place in which they penned the Book of Mormon.
The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain, by Gilbert Hunt (1816). An analysis of The Late War and Book of Mormon parallels was presented in January of 2014. There are some very interesting parallels that seem more than coincidental. See the results of the analysis.
The First Book of Napoleon, The Tyrant of the Earth, by Eliakim the Scribe (pseudonym of Michael Linning) (1809). The same people who analyzed The Late War also analyzed The First Book of Napoleon (much of this page actually has more information about The Late War, but some of it does cover The First Book of Napoleon).
Some writing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, like the Book of Mormon, were purported by their authors to be translations of ancient work, such as:
Chronicles of Eri; Being the History of the Gaal Sciot Iber: or, the Irish People; translated from the original manuscripts in the Phoenician dialect of the Scythian language, by Roger O'Connor (1822). Vol I and also Vol II
The Book of Jasher, by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus (pseudonym for Jacob Ilive) (November 1751).
The Chronicle of the Kings of England, Written in the Manner of the Ancient Jewish Historians, By Nathan Ben Saddi, A Priest of the Jews (pseudonym of Robert Dodsley) (1741).
Additional titles written in the scriptural style (links to the texts are available here) :
An insightful essay by Tom Donofrio on Early American Influences on the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith may simply have had help from someone else to write the Book of Mormon. Someone else may have written the Book of Mormon (or most of it) and Joseph was merely the one to deliver it to the world. There are many theories regarding this idea. They generally involve some combination of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon and perhaps an author by the name of Solomon Spalding.
The Spalding theory often does not get much attention because two of the biggest critics of the LDS Church dismissed it years ago - The Tanners and Fawn Brodie. LDS apologists dismiss it similarly saying that it was refuted long ago. Perhaps the Tanners and Fawn Brodie did a disservice to the theory as there is some significant information that supports the theory that is worthy of further study.
From Craig Criddle:
In a nutshell, the Spalding-Rigdon Theory proposes that The Book of Mormon is the product of a pious fraud orchestrated by Sidney Rigdon, a popular preacher in the 1820's Christian Restoration movement. More specifically, it proposes that Rigdon added Restoration doctrines and his own theology to the unpublished narratives of Spalding, then deceased, to create documents that were subsequently compiled and edited to produce the 1830 version of The Book of Mormon. In executing this plan, Rigdon understood that The Book of Mormon would only be accepted as divinely approved if it could be brought to light through means that would appear supernatural. He was also well known for the theology that he had added to The Book of Mormon, and thus needed a way to reveal the book without exposing his own role in its creation. The answer came in the person of Joseph Smith, Jr., a con man and master of the gold digging scam. Smith's charm and ability to induce belief made him an excellent Revelator. For Smith, the "gold bible business" was a way to make money and to help his family escape poverty. For Rigdon it was the springboard to leadership of a religious movement. In carrying out this plan, however, Rigdon and Smith were concerned that their lack of education and "weakness in writing" would prevent timely completion of the book and its public acceptance. So they secured the editorial assistance of Smith's distant cousin - Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher with editing experience.
Historical evidence connecting Rigdon to Spalding
Textual and theological evidence implicating Rigdon
Historical evidence connecting Rigdon to Smith before 1830
Historical evidence related to the long-term relationship between Rigdon and Smith
Further Insightful Reading on the Spalding Theory
Craig Criddle gave a presentation on the Spalding Theory at the Ex-Mormon conference in 2009 in SLC. It was an excellent presentation and attended by several MormonThink writers. It is available on youtube at: http://www.youtube.com/user/ExmormonFou…jnG7aidPxI
Essay by Craig Criddle: Sidney Rigdon: Creating the Book of Mormon
Statements of the witnesses: http://www.mormonstudies.com/witness.htm
Website detailing many facets of the Book of Mormon authorship: Book of Mormon Studies by Ted Chandler
1880 Article, "The Book of Mormon", Spalding manuscript explanation
More from Craig Criddle: Tracking Book of Mormon Authorship
Oxford Journal - Literary and Linguistic Computing
Youtube Video and updated take in the theory: http://mormonleaks.com/
I was born in Palmyra, N.Y., near where old Jo Smith settled, January 4, 1807. I attended school with Prophet Jo. His father taught me to mow. I worked with old and young Jo at farming. I have frequently seen old Jo drunk. Young Jo had a forked witch-hazel rod with which he claimed he could locate buried money or hidden things. Later he had a peep-stone which he put into his hat and looked into it. I have seen both. Joshua Stafford, a good citizen, told me that young Jo Smith and himself dug for money in his orchard and elsewhere nights. All the money digging was done nights. I saw the holes in the orchard which were four or five feet square and three or four feet deep. Jo and others dug much about Palmyra and Manchester. I have seen many of the holes. The first thing he claimed to find was gold plates of the "Book of Mormon," which he kept in a pillowcase and would let people lift, but not see. I came to Ohio in 1818, and became acquainted with Sydney Rigdon in 1820. He preached my brother's funeral sermon in Auburn, O., in May, 1822. I returned to Palmyra twice and resided there about two years each time. Many persons whom I knew in New York joined the Mormons and came to Kirtland. They told me they saw Sidney Rigdon much with Jo Smith before they became Mormons, but did not know who he was until they came to Kirtland.
Aside from those that claimed that Oliver Cowdery admitted that the Book of Mormon originated with Solomon Spalding's unpublished manuscript, there are also witnesses that testified that Sidney Rigdon personally told them the same thing. Here's one of them:
Reference: Statement of James Jeffrey
Dale Broadhurst has amassed a collection of various 1800s newspaper articles that report many accounts of those that support the Spalding Theory and witnesses that claimed Sidney Rigdon admitted his involvement in producing the Book of Mormon. http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/PA/penn1860.htm [archived backup here]
PALMYRA, Wayne Co., N.Y. May 2, 1879.
I, Able D. Chase, now living in Palmyra, Wayne Co., N.Y., make the following statement regarding my early acquaintence with Joseph Smith and the incidents about the production of the so-called Mormon Bible. I was well acquainted with the Smith family, frequently visiting the Smith boys and they me. I was a youth at the time from twelve to thirteen years old, having been born Jan. 19, 1814, at Palmyra, N. Y. During some of my visits at the Smiths, I saw a STRANGER there WHO THEY SAID WAS MR. RIGDON. He was at Smith's several times, and it was in the year of 1827 when I first saw him there, as near as I can recollect. Some time after that tales were circulated that young Joe had found or dug from the earth a BOOK OF PLATES which the Smiths called the GOLDEN BIBLE. I don't think Smith had any such plates. He was mysterious in his actions. The PEEPSTONE, in which he was accustomed to look, he got of my elder brother Willard while at work for us digging a well. It was a singular looking stone and young Joe pretended he could discover hidden things in it
My brother Willard Chase died at Palmyra, N. Y., March 10, 1871. His affidavit, published in Howe's "History of Mormonism," is genuine. Peter Ingersoll, whose affidavit was published in the same book, is also dead. He moved West years ago and died about two years ago. Ingersoll had the reputation of being a man of his word, and I have no doubt his sworn statement regarding the Smiths and the Mormon Bible is genuine. I was also well acquainted with Thomas P. Baldwin, a lawyer and Notary Public, and Frederick Smith, a lawyer and magistrate, before whom Chase's and Ingersoll's depositions were made, and who were residents of this village at the time and for several years after.
ABEL D. CHASE.
Reference: Joseph Smith, His Family and Friends
Able D. Chase signed the above statement in our presence, and he is known to us and the entire community here as a man whose word is always the exact truth and above any possible suspicion.
PLINY T. SEXTON,
J. H. GILBERT. *
The statement of Abel D. Chase is corroborated by a letter from J. H. Gilbert, addressed to Mr. Cobb, dated Palmyra, October 14, 1879. Mr. Gilbert says:
A lost Spalding manuscript was found in Hawaii and LDS believers have said that puts the nail in the Spalding Theory coffin. The manuscript that was discovered was Manuscript Story, not Manuscript Found, even though it was given that name later on, perhaps as wishful thinking so the Spalding theory would die. Yet discussions have included both names over the years. So then if there was only one manuscript, then it was/is Manuscript Story, and Manuscript Found doesn't exist, unless it is indeed the second manuscript, the one which Solomon Spalding did indeed submit to a print shop in Pittsburgh. The point of contention then becomes whether that manuscript later became the basis for the Book of Mormon.
A recent book has come forth entitled Who really Wrote the Book of Mormon - The Spalding Enigma. This volume examines the origins of the Book of Mormon based upon a hypothesis of the Spalding Enigma. The Pro-Mormon challenge of "supplying a more plausible account" is hereby met. The organization Spalding Research Associates continues to research this theory.
Editor Comments: We don't necessarily support the Spalding theory; however there is more evidence to support the theory than we initially thought. If this theory is true then it neatly answers many of the concerns that faithful members have who question the church based on other problematic issues such as the temple ceremony and Book of Abraham translation issues but still don't think that Joseph could have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own. Many people currently support the theory. It may or may not be true, but it's certainly worthy of further study. More ongoing work is currently being performed in order to try to find a link between Rigdon and Smith before the Book of Mormon was published.
The following quotes from "Manuscript Found" make you wonder. This was written by Solomon Spalding who died in 1816 and who appears to have had ties to Joseph Smith's associates:
This sounds familar.
As more and more early 1800s books are digitized and made available to everyone, very large computer databases are being developed with thousands of books. This can lead to all sorts of computer-aided studies to look for commonalities and word phrase matches only feasible utilizing computers analyzing very large databases. All books are basically partially based off of books that proceeded them which is why there are similarities and word phrases common between almost all contemporary books.
Chris Johnson, a former Latter-say Saint has developed computer algorithms to analyze a database of over 100,000 books that were written
Chris Johnson's Research website: http://askreality.com/hidden-in-plain-sight/
Chris Johnson's Presentation at the 2013 Ex-Mormon Conference: How the Book of Mormon Destroyed Mormonism
To read "The late war, between the United States and Great Britain, from June 1812, to February 1815 : written in the ancient historical style" (1816) by Gilbert J. Hunt: https://archive.org/details/latewarbetween_00hunt
We looked forward to continued research in this area.
True-believing LDS often say that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon in only about 90 days or so. If this is true, then this would lend credibility to the Book of Mormon as it would have been very difficult for Joseph or perhaps anyone else to come up with the whole Book of Mormon in such a relatively short period of time.
From Apostle Neal A. Maxwell in 1997:
The writing of the first one hundred and sixteen pages was "painfully slow…for Joseph had yet to learn how to write," a long and difficult process at best. Yet less than a year later we find him tossing off a 275,000 word manuscript in three months. [This three month's translation feat is something Nibley and other apologists frequently flaunt as 'proof' of the Book of Mormon's authenticity. I heard Nibley claim on another occasion that it took only 60 days to write the entire Book of Mormon. The methodology used in computing the time is seriously flawed. The lost 116 pages according to the text of the Book of Mormon itself is essentially duplicated in the subsequent version which we now have as first and second Nephi. That takes up a significant amount of the 275,000 words. The first 116 pages took months to create alone. During the interim period, after the manuscript was lost, of about a year (which Nibley and others don't include in the calculation) Joseph wasn't doing much of anything. He didn't have a job. He could have easily been coming up with text for the book. Joseph Smith's mother stated that Joseph was telling stories about the Indians from the time he was young. The plot and narrative could have been worked on for two or three years or more. Nibley's assertion that it was done in only two or three months is pure speculation at best. Considering that the content of the Book of Mormon is largely borrowed and adapted from the KJV of the Bible, the time involved to 'translate' need not be significant anyway.]
Per LDS Historian Grant Palmer
The following is a plausible scenario for how the Book of Mormon came to be. After Joseph's marriage to Emma Hale in January 1827, he promised his father-in-law that he would give up treasure hunting. Influenced by the revival fervor and by his mother's piety, his mind began to fill with impressions that blended his familiarity with Indian lore and his conviction of biblical promises. Perhaps the outline of a book began to form sometime before Martin Harris became his scribe in April 1828. He had already experimented with seer stones, and perhaps he thought that through greater faith and concentrations, God would open to his mind a vision of the secrets of the artifacts being discovered in upstate New York. The dictation proceeded, and after Martin lost the first 116 pages of transcription in mid-1828, this may have been fortuitous. An apprenticeship had been served, and the vision that was unfolding in Joseph's mind may have become more clear. The dictation probably progressed haltingly at first, perhaps as a kind of stream-of-consciousness narrative. Before Oliver Cowdery became his new scribe in April 1829, the prophet had had nine months to ponder the details of the plots and subplots and to flesh out the timeline. Given his familiarity with the Bible and with American antiquities, it would have become progressively easier for him to put form to vision. He dictated the final manuscript in about ninety days. Over the next eight months, before the book was published in March 1830, he had the opportunity to make textual refinements. He thus had three years to develop, write, and refine the book-six years from the time he told his family about the project.
An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer, pp 66-67.
It should also take into consideration the fact that Joseph Smith had years to come up with text and plot. There are tons of books, far superior in writing style and story line, that didn't take nearly as long as the Book of Mormon did to complete. It may have been dictated in 90 days but he had been working on it, if only in his head, for years. Of course if the Spalding theory has any validity to it, the translating speed is not an issue at all as he would have basically been dictating a book already written.
When answering critics about if Joseph could have written the Book of Mormon, Joseph's wife Emma has stated that he was incapable of writing anything like the Book of Mormon. Two issues are often brought up by supporters of Joseph regarding Emma:
Emma gives an example that in the process of translating, Joseph Smith was surprised to see a reference to Jerusalem surrounded by walls as he didn't seem to know that Jerusalem had walls around it. Emma had to inform him of that. This experience helped Joseph seem more credible as a prophet in Emma's eyes.
Critic's Comment: If Joseph was indeed committing a fraud, but wanted to convince his wife that he was really translating an ancient document, then that is exactly the kind of thing that Joseph would do. He simply acted like he didn't know that Jerusalem had walls so she would think he was translating from another document and not merely making it up. OR if the Book of Mormon came from another source such as Sidney Rigdon, then he may have been genuinely surprised to read that and simply stated as such.
It is well known that Joseph read and studied the Bible. There are numerous Bible verses that mention Jerusalem's walls:
Emma claimed that Joseph could begin dictation right where he left off on a previous day:
"By the Gift and Power of God," Apostle Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, January 1997, p. 36.
Critic's Comment: According to Oliver Cowdery, Oliver scribed the entire Book of Mormon 'save a few pages'. Emma may have only done a few pages here and there. Joseph likely memorized the pages well enough to continue where he left off or he may very well have peaked at the last page before he started again - it's not like Emma kept the pages. Joseph would have kept the pages already done, and he simply looked at them before he gave them to Emma to begin translating again. It's not that remarkable when you think about it. And if there was a curtain between them, as was commonly taught when we were growing up in the Church, then Joseph could have obviously had notes or any material he wanted to look at.
Patience Worth dictated her masterpieces also, so the method Joseph used was not unique. Also the Tanners have demonstrated how Joseph could have looked through slits in a hat to read from pre-prepared notes.
Joseph had been thinking about the book for years and it is entirely within the bounds of possibility that Joseph dictated the whole thing from his head much like Mozart had his finished compositions in his head and referred to his actual writing (pen to paper) of them as "copying."
The passages in the Book of Mormon that are similar to the KJV Bible are not impossible to have been in Joseph's memory. In the first place, many of them are not 100% verbatim. They are too close to not be referenced the KJV but not exact copies--sort of like how one might remember them after having read them many times.
Small children, for instance, will very often correct a parent reading a cherished bedtime story if a word is misread or out of place. And the one book we know Joseph buried his nose in a lot was the KJV of the Bible. Martin Harris remarks that upon his return from the Anthon visit, Joseph opened the Old Testament to the passage where the 'learned cannot read a sealed book' and convinces Harris then and there that it referred precisely to him. Now that's knowing the material!
Growing up in the church we were clearly taught that there was a curtain between Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, the principle scribe for the Book of Mormon. This was done presumably so that the scribe could not see the plates. If that's the case, then the dictation isn't even an issue as Joseph could have simply read from notes or even whole papers that were already developed by him or someone else.
However, LDS historians support the idea that there was often not a curtain between Joseph and the scribe. If a curtain was used at all, it was to separate Joseph and Oliver from others in the house. Although still unknown to the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, knowledgeable LDS historians endorse the idea that Joseph put his face in a hat with a seer stone and dictated the Book of Mormon to a scribe when the plates were either covered or not even in the room. See Translation of the Book of Mormon
When LDS faithful quote the above two questions and answers by Emma they never quote the rest of the interview by Emma. That's because Emma blatantly lies in the following questions seriously damaging her credibility. Here are other questions and her answers from that same letter:
Critic's Comment: Emma's answers are blatant lies, as the historical record shows. Her intentions are fairly clear - she is lying in order to protect Joseph Smith's legacy. What she said in the same letter about Smith's involvement in creating the Book of Mormon is equally suspect.
Emma said this to her (and Joseph's) son, Joseph Smith III, who was president of the Reorganized Church. She had ample motive to defend the Book of Mormon to her own son who was president of a Church that she was a member of, and which also considered the Book of Mormon to be scripture.
Her memory of Joseph's literacy 50 years earlier may have been massaged by time and the story, which had been often told, that Joseph was too illiterate to write such a book. However the best evidence on Joseph's literacy are the letters he wrote.
On Oct 22, 1829 he wrote the following to Oliver Cowdery:
The readers can judge for themselves if Joseph "could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter" in the time before the publication of the Book of Mormon.
The lack of punctuation in this letter parallels the lack of punctuation in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon that was given to the printer, E. B. Grandin, for the typesetting of the first edition. Grandin's typesetter, twenty-seven year old John H. Gilbert, had to supply all the punctuation himself. He was the first non-Mormon to read the entire Book of Mormon and he did it from the "printer's manuscript."
Notice the rustic construction "he is a going to try" in the letter. Interestingly the first edition (1830) of the Book of Mormon contains the phrase "as I was a going thither" (p 249) and "with the Lamanitish servants, a going forth with their flocks." (p. 271).
In addition it also has the following similar constructions:
Add to this fact that JS had a former schoolteacher as a scribe (Oliver Cowdery) and JS's supposedly limited literacy is no longer a problem. In fact it appears that Joseph Smith had exactly the right amount of "illiteracy" to write the Book of Mormon.
Besides, the Book of Mormon is not composing a letter (which, judging from the above letter to OC, Joseph could do just fine) it is about story telling. And we have his mother's testimony that:
"Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them."
Note that Joseph Smith did this with "much ease." This is exactly what was done in dictating the Book of Mormon. Also, Joseph Smith's history written in 1832, not long after the Book of Mormon "translation" includes long passages in JS's handwriting which show equivalent (if not superior) literacy.
Although Emma likely believed Joseph, even if she didn't, she would still have supported her husband. If she suspected that Joseph was indeed making this stuff up and she stated that to the public, Joseph's enemies surely would have taken it out on him. Emma obviously wouldn't want any harm to come to her husband, and the father of her children, regardless of the reason.
Also Emma lied when she felt it was necessary. In addition to her false claim that Smith couldn't "write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter", she also lied to her son about polygamy. She lied repeatedly to her children when asked if their father practiced polygamy. She denied it so strongly so her children would not have a tainted view of their father. Emma's lies are one of the reasons that the RLDS (Community of Christ) church was formed.
In view of the documentary record, together with the fact that Emma also testified that Joseph had no wife but her, it can be surmised that her "memory" was probably more concerned with how she wanted things to be remembered more than how they had actually happened. And of course she didn't want to be portrayed as the woman whose husband made a fool of by claiming divine right to have relations with dozens of other women while he was married to Emma.
B.H. Roberts is quoted several times above so it's worthwhile to learn a little more about him. Why are his comments so significant? Since B.H. Roberts was such an advocate of the LDS Church all his life, even being denied a seat in Congress after being elected due to his practice of polygamy, it's amazing just how damaging some of the things he wrote about the Church could be. Roberts's writings would be comparable to having Hugh Nibley or LDS apologist Daniel Peterson of FARMS start suggesting that Joseph could have written the Book of Mormon and came up with numerous problems associated with the Book of Mormon.
B.H. Roberts was president of the First Council of Seventy, a prolific writer and author of some notable historical, biographical and theological works. He was an intellectual and the 'Hugh Nibley' of his day. He wrote A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' which was printed as a series in Americana (a monthly periodical published by the "American Historical Society" of New York) from June 1909 to July 1915 and updated to 1930 when it was published.
Ironically, while he was indeed a defender of the faith and expressed a strong testimony of The Book of Mormon throughout his life, he also authored a manuscript entitled Studies of the Book of Mormon (which remained unpublished until after his death), which critically examined the book's claims and origins. He identified many problems with the Book of Mormon such as things mentioned that did not exist in the Americas in Book of Mormon times. In the manuscript, he examines some of the claims of The Book of Mormon regarding the native inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, compares the content of the book with an earlier book entitled View of the Hebrews and comments on the likelihood that Joseph Smith could have been the author of The Book of Mormon without divine assistance. Whether the manuscript reflects his true doubts or was a case of Roberts playing the devil's advocate is a subject of much debate among Mormon historians and scholars. Significantly, upon presenting Studies of the Book of Mormon to Church leaders, he emphasized that "I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it" (see B.H Roberts' Purpose in Performing the Study)
From Roberts' own writings in his landmark work, Studies of the Book of Mormon, Brother Roberts shows his sincere frustration that the Quorum of the 12 would not address the issues he raised concerning the Book of Mormon.
From 'Studies of the Book of Mormon, B. H. Roberts, ed. by Brigham D. Madsen, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1992; pp. 22-24 (emphasis added):
"But not quite two months before his death, Roberts did discuss the episode of his meeting with the Church authorities as recorded in the Personal Journal of Wesley P. Lloyd, former dean of the Graduate School at Brigham Young University and a missionary under Roberts in the Eastern States Mission. Lloyd wrote on August 7, 1933, that he had spent three and a half hours with his former mission president and that "the conversation then drifted to the Book of Mormon and this surprising story he related to me." Lloyd then recounted Roberts's explanation of the background of Riter's request for answers to the Book of Mormon problems and how Roberts had been assigned the task of answering the questions (emphasis added):
For more on B. H. Roberts doubts about the Book of Mormon: http://www.cephas-library.com/mormon/mormon_b.h.roberts_disappointments.html
FAIR Rebuttal: Fair's defense of B.H. Robert's writings.
One reason stated by many Latter-day Saints to support their belief in the Book of Mormon is their assertion that Joseph Smith didn't have the education and knowledge to produce such a work. They cite that no one else of Joseph's Smith comparable background ever produced anything well-beyond their apparent capabilities as Joseph did. If there are others that produced works that far exceeded their capabilities, then this would show that Joseph's experience was not unique and perhaps there are more earthly explanations for the Book of Mormon's origins.
The strange case of Patience Worth
St Louis, Missouri, May 1913. Mrs. Pearl Curran, while using a Ouija board, received the first of many messages from a mysterious entity, who called herself, at first 'Pat C'. On June 22nd, Pat returned and spelt out 'Oh, why let sorrow steel thy heart?' It was only two months after the first visit, on July 8th, that the entity finally revealed herself as 'Patience Worth'.
The spirit Worth, it soon transpired, was born in Dorset, England, in the seventeenth century. While still a young girl, the Worth family emigrated to America, where the young Patience met an untimely death at the hands of a tribe of native Indians.
From 1913 to Curran's death in 1938, Patience dictated an incredible amount of material through Mrs. Curran. Some of the material was in her quaint seventeenth century dialect, and some in a more modern English style. Her speed was tremendous - in one night, she dictated 22 poems. In one five-year stretch, she wrote 1,600,000 words. (About six times the length of the Book of Mormon)
Worth's writings were of a wide variety and quality. One of her full-length novels, Hope Trueblood, earned the following review from the editors of the Sheffield Independent (who were unaware of the circumstances surrounding the origin of the Book):
'Patience Worth must command a wide field of readers by the sheer excellence of Hope Trueblood, which contains sufficient high-grade characters, splendidly fashioned, to stock half a dozen novels.'
Telka, a poem of 60,000 words, made astonishingly accurate use of middle English phraseology. The sorry Tale, a 325,000 word book (50,000 words longer than the Book of Mormon) of the life of a 'parallel Christ' was written in 108 days, a rate of 3,000 words per evening. (By this stage, Patience had dispensed with the Ouija board, and transmitted her thoughts directly to Mrs. Curran's pen). The details of social, domestic and political life in ancient Palestine and Rome, and the language and customs of Greeks, Arabians, Romans and several sects of the Jews were rich and convincing.
(Compare this with the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith dictated about 275,000 words in about ninety days, beginning on April 7, 1829. The rate of output was about 3,050 words per day. If we count the fact that Joseph and Oliver worked together for only seventy-five of those ninety days, the output rate was about 3,700 words per day, including about 27,000 words quoted from the King James Bible.
On the other hand, the picture that the Book of Mormon paints of the ancient Americans is very difficult to validate. Not only does the Book fail to ascribe the correct attributes to the primal inhabitants, it also claims that they made use of artifacts, animals and plants that modern archaeology has so far been unable to find any trace of.)
Curran's knowledge of the Bible lands was limited to what she learned in Sunday School. She was not fond of reading, left school at the age of fifteen, and had hardly ever traveled out of St Louis. Her only occupation was as a housewife. There were no books in her house that could have been used for reference.
When tested, Curran revealed a distinct lack of knowledge of literature. She thought that Tennyson's famous poem was called the Lady of Charlotte. When asked to write as Curran herself, her work was slow, and no better than might be expected from a housewife with an average education.
During one 'dictation', Mrs. Curran expressed puzzlement over a reference that Patience made to a 'Bernadette' and 'the Maid'. She later discovered that Bernadette Soubirous was the Maid of Lourdes. In a similar manner, Joseph Smith once stopped the dictation of the Book of Mormon to enquire if Jerusalem actually had walls, as the text suggested.
An analysis of Worth's language, by qualified researchers, shows a substantially correct use of idiom and spelling for seventeenth century England. The style of the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, can best be described as 'fractured'. It attempts to emulate the cadence and flow of the King James Version, and falls far short of this goal.
This is one of Patience Worth's poems, in modern English:
The life of Pearl Curran, a woman living in St. Louis during the first part of the 20th century who channeled, originally through a Ouija board, the spirit of a 17th century woman named Patience Worth. The story of Pearl Curran and Patience Worth is an enigma, not easily explainable without an acceptance of spiritism or reincarnation.
This remarkable little book has probably been missed by many readers interested in the Book of Mormon. Irving Litvag says nothing about the Book of Mormon, but in detailing Mrs. Pearl Curran's authorship (under the spell of a spirit named Patience Worth) of thousands of pages of fiction, one can see how anyone under the right conditions could write a novel.
Between 1913 and 1937, Curran, a relatively uneducated St. Louis housewife, began dictating seven full-length novels, thousands of poems, innumerable epigrams and aphorisms, and thousands of pages of other material (some four million words in all).
Curran, as the spirit of a seventeenth century English woman, wrote in "a strange yet beautiful language strewn with obsolete and archaic words." Her works drew the attention of literary critics and historians. One critic said her story about Jesus was "the greatest story of the life and times of Christ penned since the Gospels were finished."
Litvag's book illustrates how a relatively uneducated person with a mission and a scribe could grind out historical fiction, such as Joseph Smith may have done with the Book of Mormon.
Editor Comments: After studying a bit about this fascinating story of Patience Worth, most of us get the distinct impression that Pearl Curran was sincere and she was not intentionally deceiving people when she produced those amazing works. However, none of us think that a dead poet was really communicating through Mrs. Curran.
Mohammed and the Quran
Born in the Arabian desert, in the sixth century AD, Mohammed was poor material for a prophet. He was uneducated and illiterate, making a living as a caravan driver, until he married a rich widow. And yet, he brought forth a message that ignited a flame in Arabia, which today we know as Islam, a religion that is a way of life for nearly a billion people.
The central scripture of Islam is the Quran (which is Arabic for 'recitation'). One of the first things that strikes the reader is the extraordinary power and beauty of the language. The Quran is often called the King James Version of the Arabic Language. It is difficult to imagine how a work of such high literary quality could have emanated from an illiterate desert-dweller.
"The central miracle of Islam was, and remains the Quranic revelation. To this day no one has put forward a defensible explanation of how an unlettered caravan merchant of the early seventh century might have been able, by his own devices, to produce a text of such inimitable beauty, of such capacity to stir emotion, and which contained knowledge and wisdom which stood so far above ideas current among mankind at that time. The studies carried out in the West which try to determine the 'sources used by Muhammad', or to bring to light the psychological phenomenon which enabled him to draw inspiration from his 'subconcious', have demonstrated only one thing; the anti- Muslim prejudice of their authors." (Roger du Pasquier, Unveiling Islam, pg 53)
In size, the Quran is a little shorter than the New Testament, at about 165,000 words (in English). The book was revealed over a period of about 23 years, beginning in 610 AD, and ending shortly before the prophet's death in 632 AD. According to Mohammed himself, the words of the Quran were spoken to him by the angel Gabriel.
The Quran contains within itself its own 'falsification tests', which Islamic apologists make much use of. Two of these are the discrepancy test, and the uniqueness test.
The Discrepancy test is based on Sura 4:82:
"Do they not then meditate on the Quran? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy."
In fact, the Quran does contain a number of contradictions, lists of which are freely available. Like their Fundamentalist Christian counterparts, however, Islamic apologists have evolved a number of techniques for dealing with these discrepancies. The first is to simply postulate a speculative scenario that dissolves the contradiction. This same technique is eagerly embraced by believers in Biblical inerrancy, apparently unaware that the method can be used to make any text 'inerrant'.
The second is the rather curious tenet of 'abrogation', which teaches, in effect, that Allah reserves the right to reveal verses which clarify or reverse earlier teachings. (Similar to the Jehovah's Witnesses claim that 'New Light' often replaces the Old).
It is easy to see how the application of these two techniques (among others) allow the Islamic scholar to claim that the Quran is without discrepancy or contradiction.
The second 'falsification test' contained in the Quran is the uniqueness test, based on two verses.
Mormon apologists will immediately recognize this as the counterpart to the so-called 'Book of Mormon Challenge'. In essence, the challenge states that the critic should produce a text of like character to the Book of Mormon, before he assumes that Smith could have been the sole author. One could resort to facetiousness at this point, and point the Islamic apologists to the LDS scholars, and vice-versa. The outcome of such a collision might be entertaining.
Both Mohammed and Pearl Curran were of like mental ability to Joseph Smith. Mrs. Curran had a slightly better education than Smith, although it was still not outstanding by any means. Mohammed's formal education, on the other hand, was virtually nil. He was illiterate, unlike Smith, who could read and write. (It should be noted that the claim that Mohammed was unlettered has been disputed by a number of professional historians, including some Muslim scholars).
Their lack of ability, in each case, did not seem to deter them from producing works which equal, or easily surpass, the Book of Mormon in literary style and quality. We find then that the LDS claim that Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon is without foundation. Not only has a similar feat been performed before, it has been performed better.
If the Book of Mormon is held up as proof of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling on the basis that he could not have written it, then we must grant the same status to Pearl Curran and Mohammed, on the same grounds. Anything less would amount to intellectual dishonesty.
A righteous man who was deluded could have written the Book of Mormon, not aware that he was lying. There are hundreds of examples of well-meaning (righteous) people who have produced "scriptures" which we (as LDS members) would not accept such as Mohammed, Zoroaster, Lao Tze, to mention only a few. Even well-meaning believers in Joseph Smith have produced nice-sounding scriptures. Here are a few examples:
A former security guard wrote (translated) what he claims is the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. Check out the enormous amount of material he claims to have translated, aptly titled, The Sealed Portion. (More information is found here: http://marvelousworkandawonder.com/tsp/whatistsp.htm. You can read The Sealed Portion online by clicking on the "Read Now" links from that page.) He has produced 100 chapters of the sealed Book of Mormon as well as the entire lost 116 pages. He also includes an impressive description of how this came to be. All in all, he produced some 668 pages of manuscript. It's truly unbelievable. The scriptures all read just like the Book of Mormon does. By reading parts of his biography, he seems very sincere in that he believes that he actually translated these lost scriptures using the Urim and Thummim. It initially seemed far too much work to be merely a hoax. Many suspect he is deluded and really thinks he translated this work. He even sent it to the LDS Church as actual revealed scripture.
Here's a small sample of his immense work:
This goes on for some 600 pages.
The sealed portion is apparently finding a following of converts for this new movement/religion. Please read a little of the sealed portion to see just how much this man has written and how similar it is to the Book of Mormon. After reading a portion of this, it seems obvious that the Book of Mormon is certainly not impossible to replicate as some members claim.
LDS apologists respond to Nemelka
Also, Nemelka's work is gaining enough notice that FAIR (LDS apologetic group) has actually analyzed his 'scripture' in order to discredit it. They cite some issues that they consider important enough to state the following:
The "Book of Lehi" is a clumsy forgery that fails even a cursory analysis.
It's interesting to note that most of their issues are relatively minor but FAIR dismisses all of Nemelka's work because of these minor issues such as the Book of Mormon states that the Lord shows Nephi in revelation how to build a ship but in Nemelka's Book of Lehi it says Nephi built the ship "according to the promptings of the spirit." This sounds like semantics to us. Now we don't believe that Nemelka's Lost Pages are scripture either but if FAIR applied the same logic and scrutiny to the Book of Mormon as they do to the Lost 116 Pages by Nemelka, they may have to declare the Book of Mormon a "clumsy forgery that fails even a cursory analysis" also.
Update: A video has now surfaced that shows Nemelka admitting that he wrote, not translated the sealed pages as a way to show how erroneous it is to believe in the Book of Mormon just because someone, apparently incapable of producing such a document, was responsible for bringing it to the world.
Chris Nemelka has made the point that ancient-sounding scriptures can be duplicated and believed by others as authentic. And despite the video's release, Nemelka still has a following of devout believers just as Warren Jeffs does after being sent to prison.
Former LDS Church leader Jesse Strang made many impressive 'ancient-sounding' scriptures such as translations from the Brass Plates of Laban. Also his revelations, including the "Voree Plates", have the Book of Mormon feel to them. His book called The Book of the Law of the Lord is even riddled with the chiasmus style of writing (often used by defenders of Mormonism to 'prove' that the Book of Mormon is ancient scripture}.
Claims to have translated the sealed portion of the Book of Jared.
Works from Morrisites, George Williams, Leland Jensen (Bahai overtones): http://www.entrybytroops.org/new-jerusalem.html
Josh Anderson, a mildly educated Blockbuster clerk, wrote The Book of Zelph, a quite funny and salient parody of the Book of Mormon. It is an example that without inserting copious amounts of the King James Bible, someone could write a form of scripture that sounds and smells like (humorous) scripture while obviously being fiction.
Critic's Comment: What one man can do, another can also.
Automatic writing (also called spirit writing) is a phenomenon where people claim they're getting communications from the spirits or from some other dimension or from some beings or entities, and they're passing these messages on to us. There have been accounts for hundreds of years where people enter a trance and write things as if possessed by a 'spirit' or other unseen force.
If anyone has read "Conversations with God", the author in his first chapter describes that this book was written by his hand just moving on its own. Other authors have said the same thing. These people seem to write things in a trance-like state that they would not be able to do when they are not in a trance. In the movie 'A Beautiful Mind', which is based on a true story of a brilliant mathematician who had some sort of brain disorder, John Nash wrote formulas in a trance-like frenzy.
Some people believe that Joseph Smith's hand was moving by some strange force like the channelers do. Now the channeling hypotheses cannot be dismissed out of hand. Joseph was trained by his father in the hermitic arts. His use of the seer stone is consistent with a long tradition stretching back to Europe.
See The Course on Miracles which is a very popular book which has sold over 1.5M copies which the author (Helen Schucman) claims to have dictated the book based on an inner voice which she believes is Jesus Christ. The Book of Urantia also has claimed divine origins via a sleeping subject.
Editor Comment: We don't give credence to any particular theory of channeling, but just state that those who "believe" (or who say that they do) are capable of complex and lengthy documents that seem to greatly exceed the normal capabilities demonstrated by the 'mediums' when not in a trance.
Sidney Rigdon: Channeling the Dead
"Automatic writing" or "spirit writing" is the ability that a person has to write or dictate complex and often lengthy pieces of writing while in a kind of trance. In many cases, the "author" claims to be in communication with a "person" who has died, a "familiar spirit" or an angel.
Parley Pratt, a follower of Rigdon, on the channeling of dead spirits
Parley P Pratt was a follower of Rigdon before his sudden conversion to Mormonism (described in contradictory accounts).
In the time period when Rigdon was allegedly channeling the dead to create the Book of Mormon (1825-26), Pratt was a peddlar of tin working in the same area of Ohio as Sidney Rigdon.
True believers often ask critics how Joseph Smith could have written the Book of Mormon at such a young age without divine assistance? There have been many, many people that have demonstrated unusual talents that seem to defy rational explanation. Here is a small sample of real people with extraordinary, unusual abilities who were younger than Joseph was when he finished the Book of Mormon at age 24:
Other remarkable individuals of all ages
There are even more remarkable people older than 23. A few are:
Critic's Comment: What makes these people different than Joseph Smith was that they didn't claim divine origins for their abilities. What would have happened if any of these people had said that God gave them their abilities as proof of divine intervention, and that they were to be prophets speaking for God?
Many people believe Joseph must be telling the truth about the restoration as they cannot fathom why someone would do that. 'If I was going to tell people that I talked to God, I would probably tell them something they would want to hear, not something they would persecute me for'.
There's no shortage of theories as to why Joseph would tell a false story. People do it all the time. A few of the more popular theories:
Joseph preferred not to work as a traditional farmer or laborer and sought easier, unconventional methods to earn a living. Joseph earned a living as a young man by acting as a seer and instructing others where to dig for lost, buried treasure. Although he never found any treasure, this did not stop him from taking the money from the people that hired him for his alleged ability to see treasure underground. Read more about Joseph Smith's treasure seeking
The Book of Mormon was sold for money when it was first published. It wasn't free like it is today. Originally Joseph tried to sell the copyright for the Book of Mormon. Joseph convinced Martin Harris to mortgage his farm to pay for the publishing of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon may have originally been designed as a moneymaking scheme, but turned more religious as the book did not sell well.
Both Martin Harris's wife and sister-in-law are quoted as saying that Martin said, "What if it is a lie; if you will let me alone I will make money out of it!"
Perhaps Joseph was a well-intentioned "pious deceiver" or, perhaps otherwise worded, a "sincere fraud," someone who prevaricated for "good" reasons. Admittedly, the terms are not entirely satisfying. Nevertheless, "pious" connotes genuine religious conviction, while "fraud" or "deceiver" only describes some of Smith's activities. Perhaps Joseph believed he was called of God, yet occasionally engaged in fraudulent activities in order to preach God's word as effectively as possible. Robert N. Hullinger, a Lutheran minister, argued similarly in his 1980 book, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon. Hullinger plumbed Smith's motives for writing the Book of Mormon by examining its rhetoric and concluded: "Joseph Smith... regarded himself as a defender of God." "Even if one believes that Joseph Smith was at best a scoundrel," he observed, "one still must account for the Book of Mormon." Indeed, the book's religious appeal-its defense of God, Jesus, spiritual gifts, call to repentance-argues against presuming that Smith's motives were wholly self-serving.
Several books have been written with this theme. One of the more recent ones is:
Joseph Smith, The Making of a Prophet by Dan Vogel
Joseph may have had a brain disorder such as multiple personalities where he only thought he was having visions and communicating with God. Perhaps when Joseph heard voices in his head, he thought they were coming from God. Mental problems were not researched and identified in the early 1800s as they are now, so people would not know about such medical conditions as schizophrenia. Also Joseph's youngest son was committed to a mental institution when he was 32, so perhaps it was hereditary.
We watched the movie 'A Beautiful Mind' in which a brilliant mathematician would see people and have detailed conversations with them, but they were totally imaginary. This went on for years until someone discovered this and tried to convince him that the people that he was having interaction with were not real. It was very difficult for him to accept this. This movie is based on a true story. A friend of mine's father was delusional at times and would see people that were not real. He would actually call the police on them. Is it possible that a similar kind of experience happened to Joseph Smith?
Some people that believe Joseph was essentially a good man, but do not believe in the divinity of the LDS Church, think that Joseph may have had some similar experiences, as did the delusional mathematician in the movie 'A Beautiful Mind'. Perhaps whenever a strange thought entered Joseph's mind, he thought it came from God and acted upon it accordingly. He may have thought he was trying to do the right thing by getting people motivated by a new religion, and whenever people needed more convincing, he developed things on his own such as a prop covered in a cloth that he said contained gold plates - all to the end goal of following the guidance of the thoughts in his head.
We regret that we could not find this issue discussed in sufficient detail in any church publication or web site. However we did find various LDS apologetic responses.
LDS historian and apologist Hugh Nibley, in an effort to show how impossible it would be for someone to write the Book of Mormon, issued the following challenge:
If one scoffs at the missionary's explanation of the Book of Mormon, he is in so many words claiming it to be false: That it is a deceiving fraud formulated through the efforts and talents of a common man. What is produced by one man can always be duplicated by another. The challenge that the Book of Mormon makes to the world is that of duplication. Because the book complies with every one of the following conditions, in order to produce a similar record, one must comply with the same conditions.
Here is the challenge: Can you accept it?
There is only one answer: The Book of Mormon is a divine record. If not, its origin must be stated and its claims must be explained by the critic. It isn't enough to merely discard it as false and forget about it!
The first thing to do in examining any ancient text is to consider it in the light of the origin and background; there is no need to look farther, since historical forgery is virtually impossible.
Nibley's challenge is moot, because there is no physical evidence to show that the Book of Mormon is an authentic history. In fact, the Book of Mormon's story is utterly demolished by what scholarly research tells us about ancient America. Thus, the question of whether Joseph Smith, either by himself or with co-authors, could have produced the Book of Mormon without divine aid is answered by the fact that the book is a demonstrable fiction.
If the book was authentic, it wouldn't be chock-full of historical, anthropological, and archaeological inconsistencies and anomalies. The fact that we don't know exactly who wrote which parts, or that there are some unanswered questions about its production, doesn't force us to conclude that the book is authentic. That kind of thinking is "Mormonlogic," which Nibley used on a regular basis.
Ex-Mormon LDS critic Randy Jordan
Point by point refutation of Nibley's Book of Mormon challenge
There are 3 very good refutations of the Nibley Book of Mormon Challenge by critics of the church.
Also, Episode 237 of Mormon Expression did an excellent critique of the Nibley Book of Mormon challenge. It can be found at Episode 237: Nibley's Book of Mormon Challenge
Also, a funny semi-parody of the Book of Mormon challenge can be found here: http://www.macgregorministries.org/mormons/bom_challenge.html
The Book of Mormon challenge was popularized by Hugh Nibley, and often presented to his students in a course on the Book of Mormon. Basically, the idea is that the detractors of the Book are invited to try their hand at writing a similar epic, the point presumably being that it is so difficult that it could only have come about with divine help.
It should be noted at the outset that there are several problems with the whole concept. The first is the very obvious point that this test is by no means unique. The Koran, for example, contains a very similar test within its pages.
One wonders if the Mormons have ever handed the Muslims the Book of Mormon as fulfillment of this challenge, and vice-versa.
A second problem centers around the concept of the onus of proof. Since the Mormons have claimed that the Book of Mormon has a divine origin, it is up to them to provide satisfactory evidence of this claim, something which has not been performed to date. The Challenge is actually a subtle attempt to shift the burden of proof onto the detractor, and as such should be disregarded.
By far the major problem with the Book of Mormon Challenge, however, is the simple fact that the Book itself does not meet the requirements outlined in the challenge! It will be evident that the Mormon apologist has made grandiose claims for the Book, claims which far outstrip the meager evidence. This article will demonstrate that the Challenge is only valid if one first assumes the historical validity of the Book of Mormon, which thus results in a circular argument.
Here then are the main points of the Challenge, with comments added.
As we have seen, a number of these points are completely irrelevant to the historicity of the Book of Mormon, others are easily duplicated by other works of fiction, and still other points do not apply to the Book of Mormon, such as archeological accuracy. We therefore find no compelling reason to suspect that the Book of Mormon has to have a supernatural origin; instead we find that it fits very well with the more mundane theory - that the Book originated solely in the mind of Joseph Smith - or perhaps even a collaberation with Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery as other critics have theorized above.
The only reason why more critics haven't bothered to take up the "challenge" is that it has already been done. Thousands, nay millions of times. Every day. All the time. It's called "writing fiction".
The Real Story Behind The Book Of Mormon
So what actually is the Book of Mormon, and how did it come about? Researchers have come to the conclusion that it is the product of Joseph Smith's vivid imagination and his free usage of other source materials at hand which Smith easily had access to. The subject of several popular literary works that were widely available in American in the early 1800's were all concerned with exploring a common misconception held by many in that day. And what was that misconception? It was a belief which asserted that the native American tribes were actually the lost tribes of Israel; and from one of these books, entitled View Of The Hebrews, by Ethan Smith (an unrelated Vermont pastor and contemporary of Joseph Smith's family) were found many parallels of identical thought with passages and concepts found in the Book of Mormon.
These were found and compiled by no less than the renowned Mormon historian B.H. Roberts. He was forced to concede to the facts when he stated "that such 'common knowledge' did exist in New England; that Joseph Smith was in contact with it; that one book, at least, with which he was most likely acquainted, could well have furnished structural outlines for the Book of Mormon; and that Joseph Smith was possessed of such creative imaginative powers as would make it quite within the lines of possibility that the Book of Mormon could have been produced in that way." (13) He also went on to state the following: "A superabundance of evidence of Joseph Smith's power of imagination exists outside of the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon be regarded as of merely human origin, then, of course, to those so regarding it, the rest of Joseph Smith's work falls to the same plane (emphasis ours)."
A haphazard and massive plagiarization of the King James Version of the Bible supplied much of the body of the text in the Book of Mormon, primarily from the book of Isaiah, with terminology and concepts borrowed freely from various portions of the New Testament. The book uses the term "the Lord Jesus Christ" repeatedly, despite the fact that the name is actually of New Testament Greek origin. And as we have already seen, the tale of the Book of Mormon was liberally embellished with religious activities - such as missions work and baptism of new converts - that simply could not have happened in that time before even the birth of Christ. B.H. Roberts expresses the view that these details of the Book of Mormon were impressions received during his Smith's earlier days:
It is clearly established now that .. scenes of religious frenzy, were common in the vicinage where Joseph Smith resided in his youth and early manhood....(He) came in contact with these emotional phenomena in his own experience after their rebirth in the early decades of the 19th century. There can be no doubt but what the style of preaching, exhortation, warning, praying, admonition together with the things emphasized and the ends aimed at in such work of the Christian ministry as came to the attention of Joseph Smith, was all largely and deeply influenced by those first and greatest evangelical popular preachers of Protestant Christianity, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards ...
So, based upon all of these established facts, what can we conclude from a consideration of the real background of the Book of Mormon?
The book is clearly of purely human origin, penned by an author with a vivid imagination who attempted to combine contradictory elements and details gleaned from the Bible and popular literature into an ancient spiritual epic that set forth a shockingly contemporary Christian worldview. The same cunning and avarice that led Smith to dabble with "peepstones" to divine the location of hidden treasures was pressed into service as he developed a crude scheme to make a living off of book sales to the local churches and public. Knowing well the naive piety he could exploit, Smith clearly appeared to be banking upon it to gain their attentions. Sadly, he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination, even if his status as "prophet" was largely unrecognized for several years after the book's publication, except by the true believers who flocked to his fledgling church. This is largely because the evidence shows that Smith never initially intended to start a new religious movement. But events and local zeal by readers quickly convinced him that there was a future to the myth he created, a golden opportunity to make a name. Events ran away with him, and soon Smith found himself at the center of the attentions of both the devout and the skeptical. The marketing of the book to ministers also seem to indicate this: it attracted the fanatical Campbellite minister Sydney Rigdon whose restorational elitism profoundly shaped Smith's evolving religious vision. Together with the duplicity of Smith's associates Cowdery, Harris and Whitmer, their affirmation of the Book of Mormon as a part of "God's restoration of the true Church" helped attract the hundreds, than thousands who would travel with them across the Midwest to create their own religious utopia, Zion, which would evolve into the LDS Church of today.
No one is claiming that the average farmer of 1830 with limited education could be expected to produce something like the Book of Mormon. But the Book of Mormon did happen once. So to explain it we have only to ask is it possible that ONE of the millions of farmers with limited formal education could produce such a volume.
It's just not a remarkable book. Mormons are brainwashed (in Emperor's New Clothes fashion) to think that it is. But it isn't. And really, a religious education to go along with his vivid imagination is all Smith needed to produce the Book of Mormon--that's where all of the book's impressiveness lies: in the sermons and the long doctrinal asides. Whereas the 'historical' side of the book is, well, far-fetched and ignorantly composed.
At any rate, no matter how you look at it, Mohammed was as uneducated as Joseph Smith--yet he produced the Quran, which is, suffice it to say, considered by the majority of philosophers to be superior to the Book of Mormon.
He didn't write it, he told the story and others wrote it down. Since he was so secretive, we don't know for sure how he did it, but there are lots of possibilities. He could have told an original story while borrowing heavily from other sources. He could have plagiarized directly from Spalding's manuscript. Or he could have done a combination of the two, or perhaps it was completely original and he somehow coincidentally used exact verses from the Bible and borrowed identical ideas from View of the Hebrews.
Any of these possibilities is infinitely more likely than a ghost led him to a set of buried plates with strange engravings which he translated into English using a magic rock, and the plates miraculously disappeared before any third party could examine them.
The only thing remarkable about the Book of Mormon is how remarkably bad it is. How much genius does it take to write about god telling Nephi to hack off Laban's head and then put on Laban's clothing to fool Laban's servants into thinking that Nephi was Laban? (A slightly intelligent writer would almost instantly see that there was a problem with this scenario, unless Laban was in the habit of coming home with blood-drenched clothing and dripping blood and gore all over the place.)
To play devil's advocate (pun intended) let's assume Smith was, in fact, solely responsible for the Book of Mormon. So what? Just because he had some remarkable talent is no proof - or even indication - that God had anything to do with it. The Book of Mormon is still a work of forgettable fiction regardless of how Smith came by it. Smith may have been some sort of twisted prodigy but he was no prophet of God.
Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:
This essay doesn't prove that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon, but it also doesn't prove that Joseph or someone else didn't write the Book of Mormon either. There seems to be ample evidence that shows that Joseph or someone like him could have written the Book of Mormon, and it didn't have to come from a divine source. It may have happened just as Joseph claimed but that cannot be determined by assuming Joseph could not have written it. The evidence seems to show it was at least possible that Joseph, with or without help, could have produced a book like the Book of Mormon.
LDS historian Grant Palmer asserts that 80% of the Book of Mormon can be explained by such sources available to Joseph Smith as The Holy Bible, View of the Hebrews, Joseph's family and surroundings, local protestant revival meetings, etc. The other 20% may have merely come from Joseph or someone else's imagination.
To not have a definitive answer as to how exactly the remaining unexplained portion of the Book of Mormon was derived doesn't make it so perplexing of a mystery as to assume divine intervention must have taken place. Joseph may have received help, but Joseph's "angels" perhaps were no more supernatural than David Copperfield's assistants.
There are so many more amazing mysteries that we don't know the answers to, but we don't immediately say that it must have some supernatural explanation, such as; how did Beethoven write entire symphonies when he was totally deaf, how were the pyramids of Egypt built, how did Einstein come up with the theory of relativity, how did Mozart compose music as a child, etc. We're more amazed at how Daniel Tammet memorized and recited pi to 22,514 digits than how Joseph maybe wrote a book.
We don't know exactly how illusionist David Copperfield can make the Statue of Liberty seem to disappear or how magician Chris Angel can 'float' between buildings but us not knowing exactly how these gifted magicians perform their illusions doesn't change the fact that they are merely tricks and nothing supernatural. Similarly, we don't know exactly how Joseph Smith came up with the Book of Mormon but to merely assume it must have been by using seer stones and gold plates is a bit premature.
Many people believe that Joseph could have written the Book of Mormon by using a combination of several factors such as his story telling gift, his Bible study and other religious and secular training, remarkable innate abilities, assistance from others such as Cowdery and Rigdon, etc.
The premier LDS apologist of the early 20th century, B.H,. Roberts, postulated that it was certainly possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own. If a member of the Quorum of the Seventy and one of the most knowledgeable members of the LDS Church in the 20th century could admit this, then we don't know why the average member cannot at least accept this possibility.
Whether or not B.H. Roberts really lost his testimony or was merely playing devil's advocate, when he wrote those very damaging things about Joseph and the Book of Mormon, doesn't really matter as it's only one person's testimony. However we greatly admire Brother Robert's objective way he looked at the issues. He didn't sugarcoat anything. He recognized problems to a degree that no LDS apologists had ever done before or has ever been done since. We wish that the LDS apologists living today would be as honest as Brother Roberts in recognizing the credibility of problems associated with the Book of Mormon and not just dismissing them all as if the problems were nothing.
"frankly state events as they occurred, in full consideration of all related circumstances, [and] allow the line of condemnation or justification to fall where it may... " B.H. Roberts from the epilogue in The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past
The library is full of books
There are untold millions of books in libraries all over the world written by millions of people. Professional authors of course write whole series of books, but many books are written by average people that just wrote one book that they had some knowledge or interest in writing. Some of us can't fathom how extremely complex stories like Lord of the Rings, War and Peace or even Star Wars were written by one person yet no one questions that a single, modern author wrote each of those works.
No one outside the LDS community thinks that the Book of Mormon is the work of a "genius" (such as Shakespeare, or the person/s who wrote Proverbs, etc.). Mark Twain's comment about it being "chloroform in print" seems about right to many of the non-Mormons who have ever read it.
If you look at the first edition of the Book of Mormon written in paragraph form without the biblical-looking chapters, verse numbering and complete with the thousands of grammatical errors, it appears no different than any other work of fiction. If Joseph had just said he wrote the book, would anyone have said "Impossible! An angel must have given it to you"?
Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay for Rocky, which won three Oscars in 1976 (including best picture), in just three days, (20 straight hours). Sylvester Stallone's original screenplay for Rocky was selected for the Writers Guild of America Award as the 78th best screenplay of all time. If Sylvester Stallone, which most people do not think is some genius, could write the entire screenplay to a very successful film like Rocky in a mere three days, a screenplay which earned him a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay that year, then what's so unbelievable about Joseph Smith writing the Book of Mormon over months or even years? Although the screenplay for Rocky is much shorter than the Book of Mormon, it was written in only 20 hours by Stallone. Rocky was ranked #4 on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time (2006). Using Stallone's writing pace of one Rocky script in 3 days, he could have written the equivalent of over half a dozen Book of Mormons in the three months that Joseph Smith was alleged to have translated the Book of Mormon. Of course, as mentioned above, Joseph could have been working on it for years as the book was finished 6 years after he first told his family about the book.
References: The Rocky Story by Sly Stallone on YouTube
Maybe someone else wrote the Book of Mormon
To those people that believe that Joseph couldn't have written the Book of Mormon on his own, he could have had help - namely Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery. We'll never really know if Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon himself, used the writings of others or actually translated the Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates as he claimed.
The Spalding theory should not be so readily dismissed, even though such critics as Fawn Brodie and the Tanners have done so. We don't necessarily support the Spalding theory; however we don't dismiss it either. There is more evidence to support the theory than we initially thought. If this theory is true, then it neatly answers many of the questions that troubled members have. Many people currently support the theory. It may or may not be true, but it's certainly worthy of further study. Ongoing work is currently being performed in order to try to find a link between Rigdon and Smith before the Book of Mormon was published.
And what about the Doctrine and Covenants?
People also forget that Joseph dictated maybe 90% of the Doctrine & Covenants. While it is not a story like the Book of Mormon, the style of language, complexity of language, etc...is very similar to the Book of Mormon. So if he could have written the D&C, why not the Book of Mormon?
If you read some of Joseph's sermons, you definitely don't get the impression that he was an uneducated, backwoods hick. For example: Joseph Smith's King Follet Sermon
Christopher Marc Nemelka
Many times we've heard the tale that people have tried to replicate the Book of Mormon writings and always fail miserably. Not so, we are still amazed at what Christopher Marc Nemelka has accomplished. He claims to have translated the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon as well as the Lost 116 Pages from the Book of Lehi using the Urim and Thummim. His 'scriptures' are unbelievably impressive. This 668 page masterpiece reads just the way the Book of Mormon does. It is truly a wonder. It seems far too much work to be a simple hoax. We believe the man to be deluded, yet he appears to be gathering followers to his new movement/religion. Don't ever say that it's impossible to replicate the Book of Mormon without reading the The Sealed Portion. (More information is found here: http://marvelousworkandawonder.com/tsp/whatistsp.htm. You can read The Sealed Portion online by clicking on the "Read Now" links from that page.)
Update: A video has now surfaced that shows Nemelka admitting that he wrote, not translated the sealed pages as a way to show how erroneous it is to believe in the Book of Mormon just because someone, apparently incapable of producing such a document, was responsible for bringing it to the world.
Chris Nemelka has made the point that ancient-sounding scriptures can be duplicated and believed by others as authentic. And despite the video's release, Nemelka still has a following of devout believers just as Warren Jeffs does after being sent to prison.
What parts of the Book of Mormon couldn't have been written by Joseph Smith?
If you dissect the Book of Mormon, try to find one sentence or paragraph that could not have been written by Joseph Smith. Is there any phrase so profound that someone who studied the Bible, attended many religious services, was an exhorter at his local church and had an incredible imagination could not have written or plagiarized from another source?
How did the Nephites originally write the Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon is claimed to have been originally written by the ancestors of the American Indian between about 2200 BC and 400 AD. Is it not ridiculous to assert that Joseph Smith was somehow less educated and less capable of writing the book than the ancient Native Americans who originally wrote it thousands of years ago? The Nephites lived on a continent where they had very poor education, poor writing skills, and where ancient Egyptian or Hebrew texts have never been found? How many literary masterpieces have been discovered to have been written by the ancient Cherokee Indians?
The Nephites and Lamanites were primitive peoples. Joseph Smith would have been considered a scholar compared to any Indians that lived 2,000 years ago. Yet we don't question that the ancient Indians wrote the original Book of Mormon, but we totally reject the idea that a 19th century man couldn't have done the same thing. That makes reason stare.
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