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The LDS Restorationist Movement, including the Mormon churches

Part 1: Who wrote the Book of
Mormon? Various viewpoints

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Who wrote the Book of Mormon?

Nobody knows for certain.

bulletThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other denominations and sects in the LDS Restoration movement, teach that Joseph Smith was led by an angel to uncover some buried golden plates. Later, Smith was able to translate the text on these plates with the help of magical stones. He arranged for them to be published as the Book of Mormon. 11 Smith believed them to be writings of ancient Hebrews who had migrated from Israel to the Americas.

bulletSkeptics and most archeologists believe that the Book of Mormon is a hoax, and that it was written in the early 19th century by Joseph Smith or some other individual(s).

There are no proofs, but there are some really strong indicators:

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An argument based on the location of the Hill Cumorah:

The Hill Cumorah Pageant is held yearly on Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, NY. According to the description on the "official Internet site" of the LDS Church:

"The pageant portrays the account of a group of people who left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and were guided to what is now the American continent. Live actors depict events that lead up to the climactic visit of Jesus Christ to the Americas."

"A history of this people, written on gold plates, was deposited in this hill approximately A.D. 420 by Moroni, the last survivor of a great civilization. In 1827, Moroni returned as an angel and delivered the gold plates to Joseph Smith, who translated them through the power of God. The translation of the gold plates is called the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ." 6

The Smith farm is located at what is now 843 Stafford Rd in Palmyra, NY. The distance between the farm and the Hill Cumorah is only 1.1 miles.

bulletA skeptic might ask what the chances are of Joseph Smith living within about a mile of where the golden plates were buried. After all, his family could have settled almost anywhere in what is now the United States -- a country of over 3.5 million square miles.

bulletA believer might argue that God influenced the Smith family to settle adjacent to the Hill Cumorah.

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An argument based on 19th century secular beliefs:

In the late 18th century and part of the 19th century, there were two widespread beliefs circulating concerning Native Americans:

  1. That they were descendents of Hebrew groups who emigrated from Israel and came to the Americas.
  2. That there were originally two groups of Hebrews in the Americas: the faithful group was exterminated by a second group who had abandoned their faith.

There was no hard evidence that either of these two beliefs were accurate. However, they were very useful during the genocide of Native Americas by European invaders. Building on a major theme in the Christian Bible -- that it is morally acceptable to punish innocent people for crimes committed by their ancestors -- the genocide was justified by the belief that Natives had been responsible for the earlier genocide of faithful Jews. Eventually, the beliefs about the origins of American Aboriginals were abandoned by all but the LDS Restorationists because of lack of evidence.

However, during this interval, the Book of Mormon was published and included these two themes.

bullet

A skeptic might point to the two themes circulating throughout the country as evidence that the Book of Mormon was written sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century.


bulletA believer might point out that the Book of Mormon was merely reflecting the reality of life in early America, and that eventually the Jewish immigration and genocide theories will be confirmed.

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Suggestions of plagiarism:

bulletAn American, James Adair, wrote a book A history of the American Indians in 1775. It attempted to prove that natives had descended from the ancient Israelites. This theme is also found in the Book of Mormon. On Pages 377 & 378 of Adair's book, there is a series of phrases describing Indian fortifications. These phrases are identical to the phrases which describe the construction of defensive forts in Chapters 48-50 and 53 of the Book of Alma. (The Book of Alma is one part of the Book of Mormon.) This would seem to indicate that someone, perhaps Joseph Smith, copied parts of Adair's book verbatim into the Book of Mormon.

bulletSome researchers believe that the Book of Mormon was partly based on an earlier book "View of the Hebrews or the tribes of Israel in America" by Ethan Smith (no relation). Its first edition was published in 1823 and was very popular in the area where Joseph Smith lived. A copy of the second edition of this book is available online 1 which you can compare to the original version of the Book of Mormon. 2

bulletWayne L. Cowdrey, et al., authors of "Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?: The Spalding Enigma" 3 concluded that:

"The Book of Mormon is really a clever adaptation of an obscure, unpublished historical novel written during the War of 1812 in Conneaut, OH and Pittsburgh, PA by a down-and-out ex-preacher named Solomon Spalding, a Revolutionary War veteran and bankrupt land speculator who died at Amity, Washington County, PA in 1816 and lies buried in the churchyard there. Prior to his death, Spalding had complained to friends and relatives that a draft of his novel, A Manuscript Found, had been stolen from the shelves of Pittsburgh publisher R.& J. Patterson, by one Sidney Rigdon. This same Rigdon later became one of the three principal founders of the Mormon religious movement along with co-conspirators Joseph Smith, Jr., and Smith’s cousin Oliver Cowdery, an itinerant book peddler and sometimes printer. According to Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?: The Spalding Enigma, it all began as an elaborate get-rich-quick scheme which Joseph Smith himself referred to as "the Gold-Bible business" in an 1829 letter.

At the time of the conspiracy, Smith and Cowdery lived in western New York. Rigdon resided in the Pittsburgh area until 1818, and then spent the next dozen years in various locations around western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. According to evidence presented by the authors, it was Oliver Cowdery, who eventually brought Rigdon and Smith together, and who later served as Smith’s personal scribe during the process of creating The Book of Mormon from Spalding’s manuscript. 7

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Listing of Joseph Smith as author on the first edition:

Smith's name is listed as "author and proprietor" of the first edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1830. Some skeptics have used this as proof that Smith was the actual author. However, copyright laws of the time required that his name be listed as author, even if he were only the translator. The preface of the first edition explains that he was the translator not the author of the book. 8

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Did a colleague or colleagues of Smith write the book?

An article in Wikipedia suggests:

"According to this theory, someone else (either Sidney Rigdon or some other close friend of Smith) wrote the book and allowed Smith to take credit for it. Some consider this theory more probable than the view that Smith wrote the book himself. Both Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery had more formal education and could have helped Smith author the book. According to one theory, after dictating the primary text, Smith and his scribes would spend the evenings poring over the text, editing and making adjustments. In this case, the Book of Mormon would be considered a collaboration between Smith and his scribes, primarily Oliver Cowdery. 8

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Material copied from the King James Version of the Bible:

According to Wikipedia:

"Segments of the Book of Mormon, namely 2 Nephi chapters 7, 8, and 12-24, matches nearly word-for-word the chapters 50, 51-52:1-2, and 2-14 (respectively) of the King James Translation (1611) of the Book of Isaiah. The book claims that Nephi quoted the prophet Isaiah from the "Brass Plates" which were brought with them out of Jerusalem. Additionally, the footnotes and chapter headings acknowledge this and encourage readers to compare Isaiah and 2 Nephi. Of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon; over half are not verbatim. These changes vary from a minor preposition change to significant changes in meaning."

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This topic continues...

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Ethan Smith, "View of the Hebrews," Mormons in Transition, at: http://www.irr.org/
  2. "View the 1830 Book of Mormon," Mormons in Transition, at: http://www.irr.org/
  3. Wayne Cowdrey et al., "Who Really Wrote The Book of Mormon? : The Spalding Enigma," Concordia Publishing House , at: http://www.cph.org
  4. D.I. Holmes, "A Multivariate Technique for Authorship Attribution and its Application to the Analysis of Mormon Scripture and Related Texts,"  Oxford University Press.
  5. "Salt Lake City Messenger," Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Issue 84, 1993-April, P. 9-10.
  6. "The Hill Cumorah Pageant: America's Witness for Christ," at: http://www.lds.org/
  7. Wayne Cowdrey et al., "Who Really Wrote The Book of Mormon? : The Spalding Enigma," Concordia Publishing House (2005). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  8. "Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith as Author," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. Mohamed Ghounem & Abdur Rahman, "Gospel of Mark?," at: http://www.geocities.com
  10. R.E. Brown, et al., "The New Jerome Biblical Commentary," Pearson PTP, (Reissued 1989). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  11. The text of the Book of Mormon is available online at: http://etext.virginia.edu/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-AUG-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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