the Mormon Claim
5 Years To Plan the Mormon Story
One of the Mormon "evidences" is to ask you to consider if Joseph Smith could have fabricated the
Book of Mormon. "Let's face it," they say, "Joseph Smith was an uneducated young man living in poverty with almost no access to books, and he dictated the entire text of the
Book of Mormon in 63 days. Let's see you do that and come up with any story that's even remotely plausible." There are two chief problems with this scenario, which I would like to look at in this posting.
The first concerns a book called "View of the Hebrews", which was published in Vermont in 1823, with a second edition coming out in 1825. It is known that the book was sold in Palmyra bookstores, and the author came through Palmyra twice on tours promoting the book. I will explain more in a minute, but suffice to say that between this book and the Bible, a creative person would have more than enough material to create the events "recorded" in the
Book of Mormon.
But first let me state that the Mormons are correct when they say that Smith dictated the
Book of Mormon in 63 days, without reading from drafts, the Bible, or anything else. Even scribes who later turned very hostile to Joseph Smith never denied that the
Book of Mormon was produced in such a manner. I will freely admit that, but there is a big asterisk that should be placed next to this admission. Joseph Smith first started telling people in his neighborhood about the supposed Moroni visits shortly before the death of his brother Alvin, who died Nov 23, 1823. But the 63 days of
Book of Mormon dictation did not begin until April 1829. This means that Joseph Smith had more than 5 years to outline a story in his head and flesh out the details, before dictating it to his scribes. If you give me 5 years to come up with a story and run in through my head over and over again, I would be able to come up with a pretty decent story. So the next time a Mormon challenges you to dictate a book like the
Book of Mormon, ask for a 5 year head-start and ask them how they think you'll do.
Back to the "View of the Hebrews". The idea was first floated in about 1902 that Joseph Smith had plagiarized or borrowed heavily from this book in creating the
Book of Mormon, but needless to say the Mormon Church discounted the idea. The premier Mormon apologist of the day, B.H. Roberts (who I mentioned in my
"Part 6a posting), wrote in 1909 that there was no similarity between it and the
Book of Mormon. Case closed, or so everyone thought. But in 1922, things changed drastically.
In 1979 and again in 1981 B.H. Roberts' adult grandchildren donated his papers to the University of Utah with the intent that they be published. Among the papers were two internal Mormon documents authored by Roberts, called "Book of Mormon Difficulties" and "Book of Mormon Study". Being internal studies, not for public consumption, they provide a behind-the-scenes look at Roberts' honesty in admitting to Church leaders that the
Book of Mormon had a number of very serious difficulties, and in the 400 page "Book of Mormon Study" Roberts concluded that Smith probably borrowed not only specific ideas but also the very framework of the
Book of Mormon from "View of the Hebrews." Some quotes from Roberts:
-- "…Moreover, on subjects widely discussed, and that deal in matters of widespread public interest, there is built up in the course of years, a community knowledge of such subjects, usually referred to as 'matters of common knowledge' to which non-readers of books or of periodicals…have access…..Such 'common knowledge' existed throughout New England and New York in relation to American Indian origins and cultures; and the prevailing ideas respecting the American Indians throughout the regions named were favorable to the notion that they were of Hebrew origin…..All these notions were interwoven in the 'common knowledge' of New England and New York, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, respecting the Indian race of America. And with the existence of such a body of knowledge, or that which was accepted as 'knowledge,' and a person of vivid and constructive imaginative power in contact with it, there is little room for doubt but that it might be possible for Joseph Smith to construct a theory of origin for his Book of Mormon in harmony with these prevailing notions, and more especially since this 'common knowledge' is set forth in almost handbook form in the little work of Ethan Smith View of the Hebrews, and published from eight to five years before the Book of Mormon was published. "The question to be considered here, then, is: did such 'common knowledge,' supplemented by Ethan Smith's book respecting theories of 'origin,' and of 'history' obtain in the vicinity where Joseph Smith spent his early youth and manhood, and was he a person of sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials? It will appear in what is to follow 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."
-- "Did Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or a half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith's story of the Book of Mormon's origin."
-- "In the light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, an imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are to be found in the 'common knowledge' of accepted American antiquities of the times, supplemented by such a work as Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is."
-- And in the same study, with regard to the internal problems within the
Book of Mormon: "I shall hold that what is here presented illustrates sufficiently the matter taken in hand by referring to them, namely that they are all of one breed and brand; so nearly alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and undeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence, I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator."
I have quoted extensively from B.H. Roberts rather than from a Mormon "critic" or summarize my own studies, mostly because he is a "hostile witness". He has no reason to exaggerate his descriptions of the problems. Roberts had other things that supported his overall faith, and it seems that he felt that someday his concerns would be solved, so he never left the Mormons. But his words nonetheless are absolutely stinging to Mormon ears. If you would like more information about this B.H. Roberts issue, you can track down and purchase "Studies of the Book of Mormon", published by Signature Books in 1992, for about $16. Or, you can write to me privately and I can download to you a 32-page Word document that I have prepared on the subject.
Let's not get caught up in one man and forget the bottom line. Remember the "challenge" at the start of this posting? Well, with the time and the books that Joseph Smith had available to him, I have no doubt that he could have come up with the reasonably plausible story that he did, replete with all sorts of factual and textual errors, and internal inconsistencies. The
Book of Mormon is an invention of Joseph Smith's imagination, not the actual story of ancient peoples living here in the New World.
Avon, Indiana, USA