Criticism of Mormonism/Books/An Insider's View of Mormon Origins/Chapter 2

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 2: Authorship of the Book of Mormon"

A FairMormon Analysis of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, a work by author: Grant Palmer
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Response to claims made in An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, "Chapter 2: Authorship of the Book of Mormon"

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Response to claim: 39 - the church has encouraged a 'thorough and impartial examination' of the Book of Mormon, including questions regarding its authorship

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "...the church has encouraged a 'thorough and impartial examination' of the Book of Mormon, including questions regarding its authorship."

Author's sources:
  • Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 273.
  • Widtsoe, In Search of Truth: Comments on the Gospel and Modern Thought, 80.
  • Quinn, J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years, 24.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This is an absurd claim. The Church does not encourage members to question the authorship of the Book of Mormon.


Response to claim: 40 - B.H. Roberts stated that Joseph Smith was intellectually capable of writing the Book of Mormon himself

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

B.H. Roberts stated that Joseph Smith was intellectually capable of writing the Book of Mormon himself.

Author's sources:
  1. B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 10, 243, 247, 262-263 ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts was deliberately stating the position that critics would take - this did not represent his personal belief.


Question: Did B.H. Roberts state that it was possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own?

B.H. Roberts was a believer in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, and talked of young Joseph Smith as he sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel

B.H. Roberts retained his belief that the Book of Mormon was of divine origin up until the end of his life. Yet, according to one critical website, B.H. Roberts "postulated that it was certainly possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own." [1] Roberts, however, believed that Joseph had conversations with the Angel Moroni.

B.H. Roberts, in his critical study of the Book of Mormon, pointed out how future critics might make use of this.

The face of it is first established by the testimony of the mother who bore him, Lucy Smith. Speaking of the days immediately following the revelation making known the existence of the Book of Mormon to her son...Lucy Smith in her History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, recounts how in the evening of that day, the young prophet sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel;[2]


Response to claim: 40 - B.H. Roberts is claimed to have wondered if the Book of Mormon stories were just inspirational tales

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

B.H. Roberts is claimed to have wondered if the Book of Mormon stories were just inspirational tales, and questioned whether it was history or the product of a "pious but immature" mind.

Author's sources:
  1. B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 272-273 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts was deliberately stating the position that critics would take - this did not represent his personal belief.


Question: Did B.H. Roberts lose his faith in the Church and the Book of Mormon?

An excellent argument against the claim that B.H. Roberts abandoned the Book of Mormon can be found in his last book, which he considered his masterwork

Critics charge that the 'problems' with the Book of Mormon made Brigham H. Roberts (an early LDS apologist and member of the First Quorum of Seventy) lose his faith in the its historicity. The primary source upon which this criticism is based originates with Roberts' manuscripts detailing his critical study of the Book of Mormon, which was published under the title Studies of the Book of Mormon years after his death.

An excellent argument against the claim that B.H. Roberts abandoned the Book of Mormon can be found in his last book, which he considered his masterwork. [B. H. Roberts, The Truth, the Way, the Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Studies, 1994).] Given Roberts' clear respect for the Book of Mormon in this volume, there can be little doubt that he continued to believe in and treasure it.

Ironically for the critics, many of the issues which drew Elder Roberts' attention have now been solved as more information about the ancient world has become available. He expressed faith that this would be the case, and has been vindicated:

We who accept [the Book of Mormon] as a revelation from God have every reason to believe that it will endure every test; and the more thoroughly it is investigated, the greater shall be its ultimate triumph.[3]

Roberts was an able scholar, and he was not afraid to play 'devil's advocate' to strengthen the Church's defenses against its enemies

In a presentation on some potential Book of Mormon 'problems' prepared for the General Authorities, Roberts wrote a caution that subsequent critics have seen fit to ignore:

Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. This report [is] ... for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro and con, as well that which has been produced against it as that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakeable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it.[4]

Roberts felt that faith in the Book of Mormon was a given, and so did not consider any 'negative' points to be of ultimate concern

Roberts felt that faith in the Book of Mormon was a given, and so did not consider any 'negative' points to be of ultimate concern, though he did seek for better answers than he then had. The critics have often published his list of of "parallels" between the Book of Mormon and Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, without informing modern readers that Roberts did not consider the problems insoluable, or a true threat to faith in the Book of Mormon. They also do not generally cite the numerous other statements in which, to the end of his life, he declared the Book of Mormon to be a divine record.

Roberts' studies also made him willing to modify previous conceptions, such as when he concluded that the Book of Mormon was not a history of the only immigrants to the New World.

In 1930, he enthused about the Book of Mormon a century after the Church's organization:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God hath spoken. ... The Record of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim, the Book of Mormon, has been revealed and translated by the power of God, and supplies the world with a new witness for the Christ, and the truth and the fulness of the Gospel.[5]

Other witnesses by B.H. Roberts of truth of the Church and the Gospel

The book Discourses of B.H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, compiled by Ben R. Roberts (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company 1948) contains the last seven discourses delivered by Elder Roberts: four in Salt Lake City, one in San Francisco (on the radio), and the last two at the World Fellowship of Faith in Chicago, in August-September 1933. He died three weeks after the last discourse. Roberts had returned from a lengthy illness, which made him realize how precious life is. He determined to leave his testimony, especially for the youth of the church.

From the first of these addresses:[6]

It has always been a matter of pride with me, in my more than fifty years of ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that it was no trivial thing which called this Church of the New Dispensation into existence. It was not founded upon the idea that men differed in relation to how baptism should be administered, whether by sprinkling or pouring, or immersion; or whether it was for the remission of sins, or because sins had been forgiven. I always rejoice that it had a broader foundation than whether the form of church government and administration should be Episcopal or Congregational, or the Presbyterian form of government; or any other minor [23] difference of theologians. It went to the heart of things, and astonished the world, and at the same time, of course, aroused its opposition.

When the Prophet of the New Dispensation asked God for wisdom, and which of the many churches about him he should join, he was told to join none of them, for they were all wrong; their creeds were false; they drew near to the Lord with their lips, but their hearts were far removed from him; they had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof; that the Christian world, especially, had, in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and had broken the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 44), of which the blood of the Christ was the blood of that everlasting covenant. He promised the incoming of a New Dispensation of the Gospel of Christ, which would link together and unite all former dispensations, from Adam down to the present time, the great stream of events speeding on towards an immense ocean of truth in which it would be united with all truth. It was a world movement. To lay the foundations of a greater faith, it brought forth the American volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. In time the authority of God, the holy priesthood was restored, the minor phase of it, through John the Baptist; and later Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the kingdom of heaven, bestowed upon them by the Christ, appeared to the Prophet Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, and the divine and supreme authority from God was conferred upon them. By this authority and under the power of it they organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, outlined its doctrines, and established it firmly in the earth.

That is how the New Dispensation began—not whether baptism should be by immersion, or for the forgiveness of sins. The rubbish of accumulated ages was swept aside, the rocks made bare, and the foundations relaid” (22-23).

Roberts then refers to a statement in David Whitmer, To All Believers in Christ, about the translation of the Book of Mormon being interrupted due to some problems between Joseph and Emma:

He [Joseph] took up the divine instrument, the Urim and Thummim, tried to translated but utterly failed. Things remained dark to his vision. David Whitmer tells how Joseph left the translating room and [26] went to the woodslot on the Whitmer farm, and there corrected himself, brought himself into a state of humiliation and of exaltation at the same time. He went back to the house, became reconciled to Emma, his wife, came up to the translating room, and again the visions were given and the translation went on. But he could translate only as he was in a state of exaltation of mind and in accord with the Spirit of God, which leads to the source of hidden treasures of knowledge” (25-6).

Roberts then refers to the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, which was revealed shortly after the Church was organized, in June 1830:

It goes further than we have come, this knowledge by faith. After the Prophet had translated the Book of Mormon he began to receive the revelations which today make up the Book of Moses, the translation of [27] which began to be published about six months after the Book of Mormon had been translated” (26-7).

I admire the achievements of the men of science and hold them in honor…. But what am I to think of the Prophet of God, who speaking a hundred years before him, and speaking by the knowledge that comes by faith, revealed the same truth—viz., that as one earth shall pass away, so shall another come, and there is no end to God’s work? This gives to the Church of the New Dispensation the right to voice her protest against a dying universe—its death blows to the immortality of man.

Oh, ye Elders of Israel, this is our mission, to withstand this theory of a dying universe and this destruction of the idea of the immortality and eternal life of man. We have this knowledge revealed of God, and it is for us to maintain the perpetuity of the universe and the immortal life of man. Such was the mission of the Christ, such is ours” (29).

I am one of the special witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made so by the office I hold, and I want to begin a return to my ministry in this pulpit by exercising my duty as a special witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Here it is: Jesus Christ is the very Son of God, the incarnation of all that is divine, the revelation of God to man, the Redeemer of the world; for as in Adam all die, so shall they in Christ be brought forth alive. Also Jesus is the Savior of individual man, through him and him alone comes repentance and [30] forgiveness of sins, through which the possibility of unity with God comes. As his witness I stand before you on this occasion to proclaim these truths concerning the Christ, not from scientific knowledge or book learning, but from the knowledge that comes by faith” (29-30)

It is difficult to see these as the words of one who has lost his faith in the Church, the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith.


Response to claim: 41-42 - Joseph claimed that a skeleton found was that of a "white Lamanite" named Zelph

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph claimed that a skeleton found was that of a "white Lamanite" named Zelph

Author's sources:
  • History of the Church, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2:79-80.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.


Question: What is the story of Zelph?

Joseph Smith reportedly found the bones of an individual named "Zelph," during the Zion's camp march

The most common version of this story is found in the History of the Church.[7] It should be noted, however, that the History of the Church version was created by amalgamating the journal entries of several people:

  • Wilford Woodruff (WW),
  • Heber C. Kimball (HCK),
  • George A. Smith (GAS),
  • Levi Hancock (LH),
  • Moses Martin (MM),
  • Reuben McBride (RM).[8]

All of the accounts were published after the death of Joseph Smith

The text has a convoluted history:

In 1842 Willard Richards, then church historian, was assigned the task of compiling a large number of documents and producing a history of the church from them. He worked on this material between 21 December 1842 and 27 March 1843. Richards, who had not joined the church until 1836, relied on the writings or recollections of Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and perhaps others for his information regarding the discovery of Zelph. Blending the sources available to him, and perhaps using oral accounts from some of the members of Zion's Camp, but writing as if he were Joseph Smith, historian Richards drafted the story of Zelph as it appears in the "Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1." With respect to points relative to Book of Mormon geography, Richards wrote that "Zelph was a white Lamanite, a man of God who was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus who was known from the [hill Cumorah is crossed out in the manuscript] eastern Sea, to the Rocky Mountains. He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during a [last crossed out] great struggle with the Lamanites" [and Nephites crossed out].

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons published serially the "History of Joseph Smith." When the story of finding Zelph appeared in the 1 January 1846 issue, most of the words crossed out in the Richards manuscript were, for some unknown reason, included, along with the point that the prophet's name was Omandagus. The reference to the hill Cumorah from the unemended Wilford Woodruff journal was still included in the narrative, as was the phrase "during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites."

The 1904 first edition of the seven-volume History of the Church, edited by B. H. Roberts, repeats the manuscript version of Richards's account. However, in 1948, after Joseph Fielding Smith had become church historian, explicit references to the hill Cumorah and the Nephites were reintroduced. That phrasing has continued to the present in all reprintings.[9]

A comparison of the various accounts is instructive:[10]

Aspect WW HCK GAS LH MM RM
Date May-June 1834 JS on 3 June 1834 Group on 2 June 1834 -- -- JS on 3 June 1834
Place Illinois River Illinois River -- Illinois River Pike County --
Description -300 ft above river
-Flung up by ancients
-Several 100 feet above
-3 altars on mound
300 ft above river Big mound -many mounds
-fortifications
--
Artifacts Body, arrow Human bones, a skeleton, arrow Human bones Human bones, arrow Human bones, arrow Skeleton of man, arrow
Person? Zalph, large thick-set man,
warrior, killed in battle
Zalph, warrior, killed in battle -- Zalph, warrior, white Lamanite Mighty prophet, killed in battle Zalph, warrior, white Lamanite,
man of God, killed in battle
Nephite/
Lamanite?
Nephite and Lamanite Lamanite -- Lamanite -- Lamanite
JS Vision? Vision: Onandangus, great prophet
Known Atlantic to Rockies
-- -- Onandangus -- Onandangus,
Known Atlantic to Rockies

William Hamblin described some of the difficulties in identifying the roots of this story:

many significant qualifiers were left out of the printed version [of this account]. Thus, whereas Wilford Woodruff's journal account mentions that the ruins and bones were "probably [related to] the Nephites and Lamanites," the printed version left out the "probably," and implied that it was a certainty. [There are] several similar shifts in meaning from the original manuscripts to the printed version. "The mere 'arrow' of the three earliest accounts became an 'Indian Arrow' (as in Kimball), and finally a 'Lamanitish Arrow.' The phrase 'known from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountain,' as in the McBride diary, became 'known from the Hill Cumorah' (stricken out) or 'eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains.' " The point here is that there are many difficulties that make it nearly impossible for us to know exactly what Joseph Smith said in 1834 as he reflected on the ruins his group encountered in Illinois.[11]


Question: How reliable are the accounts of the discovery of Zelph?

LDS scholars have differed about the reliability of the accounts

LDS scholars have differed about the reliability of the accounts, and their relevance for Book of Mormon geography.[12] As Kenneth Godfrey observed:

If the history of the church were to be revised today using modern historical standards, readers would be informed that Joseph Smith wrote nothing about the discovery of Zelph, and that the account of uncovering the skeleton in Pike County is based on the diaries of seven members of Zion's Camp, some of which were written long after the event took place. We would be assured that the members of Zion's Camp dug up a skeleton near the Illinois River in early June 1834. Equally sure is that Joseph Smith made statements about the deceased person and his historical setting. We would learn that it is unclear which statements attributed to him derived from his vision, as opposed to being implied or surmised either by him or by others. Nothing in the diaries suggests that the mound itself was discovered by revelation.

Furthermore, readers would be told that most sources agree that Zelph was a white Lamanite who fought under a leader named Onandagus (variously spelled). Beyond that, what Joseph said to his men is not entirely clear, judging by the variations in the available sources. The date of the man Zelph, too, remains unclear. Expressions such as "great struggles among the Lamanites," if accurately reported, could refer to a period long after the close of the Book of Mormon narrative, as well as to the fourth century AD. None of the sources before the Willard Richards composition, however, actually say that Zelph died in battle with the Nephites, only that he died "in battle" when the otherwise unidentified people of Onandagus were engaged in great wars "among the Lamanites."

Zelph was identified as a "Lamanite," a label agreed on by all the accounts. This term might refer to the ethnic and cultural category spoken of in the Book of Mormon as actors in the destruction of the Nephites, or it might refer more generally to a descendant of the earlier Lamanites and could have been considered in 1834 as the equivalent of "Indian" (see, for example, D&C 3:18, 20; 10:48; 28:8; 32:2). Nothing in the accounts can settle the question of Zelph's specific ethnic identity.[13]

Since the accounts are second hand and differ from one another, it is unclear exactly what Joseph said

Thus, it is unclear exactly what Joseph said. Many of the accounts date from many years after the event, and may have been shaded by later ideas in the writers. Joseph never had a chance to correct that which was published about the event, since he was killed before it was made public. The "Lamanites" may refer to native Amerindians generally, or Book of Mormon peoples specifically. If the latter are referred to, the events may well apply to post-Book of Mormon events, in which case it can tell us little about the geographic scope of the Book of Mormon text. It is at least clear enough that Joseph Smith called the peoples of the area "Nephite" in the statement that he made in the letter to his wife, but those titles of political factions again don't do much for determining ethnicity.

As always, the Book of Mormon text itself must remain our primary guide for what it says. Joseph Smith does not seem to have later regarded his knowledge about Zelph as excluding other peoples or locations as being related to the Book of Mormon, or to have discouraged other Church leaders from similar theories.


Response to claim: 42 - Joseph reported that the Kinderhook Plates contained a genealogy back to Ham

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph reported that the Kinderhook Plates contained a genealogy back to Ham.

Author's sources:
  1. B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 243-50 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct, although this information did not come by revelation. Joseph deduced this from a single character that has a corresponding explanation in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. Joseph did not realize that the Kinderhook Plates were forged.


Question: Did Joseph Smith attempt to translate the Kinderhook Plates?

Joseph Smith attempted to translate a character on the Kinderhood Plates by matching it to his "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL)"

Don Bradley presented compelling evidence during his 2011 FAIR Conference presentation that Joseph Smith did indeed attempt to translate a character on the Kinderhook Plates. [14] Bradley noted that William Clayton's account is likely representing personal and specific knowledge acquired from Joseph Smith, since evidence indicates that he made his journal entries that day while he was at the Prophet's home. Clayton's account states that

Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharoah king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.

Bradley noted that one of the most prominent characters on the Kinderhook Plates (a symbol shaped like a boat), when broken down into its individual elements matched a symbol found on page 4 (the second page of characters) of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), often referred to as the "Egyptian Alphabet. The GAEL provides meanings for the individual symbols, and the meaning assigned to the particular symbol found on the plates supports the translation reported to have been provided by Joseph.

The conclusion is that Clayton's account appears to be accurate, that Joseph did attempt to translate "a portion" of them by non-revelatory means, and the translation provided matches a corresponding symbol and explanation in the GAEL.

  • As William Clayton noted in his journal, Joseph "translated a portion" of the Kinderhook plates. Joseph attempted to translate one of the characters on the plates by matching it to a similar character on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), a document that was produced in the same timeframe as the Book of Abraham. It is from the GAEL that he derived the "descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh" meaning.
  • This data was introduced by Don Bradley at the 2011 FAIR Conference. For a detailed explanation, see Don Bradley "‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Solving the Mystery of the Kinderhook Plates," 2011 FAIR Conference.
Kinderhook.plates.don.bradley.description.jpg


Response to claim: 42 - Joseph gave many descriptions of heroes and their treasures hidden in the New York hills

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph gave many descriptions of heroes and their treasures hidden in the New York hills.

Author's sources:
  1. B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 243-50 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts is talking about the stories Joseph was reported to have told by his mother after his interviews with the angel Moroni. He is presenting the critical perspective that Joseph had sufficient imagination to produce the Book of Mormon. Again, this was not Roberts' own belief, but his description of the arguments that future critics would try to use.


Question: Was the young Joseph Smith a teller of "tall tales"?

The Prophet's mother's account of her son telling "amusing recitals" about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent occurred during the years that Joseph was being prepared to receive the plates

Lucy's 1853 autobiography, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for many Generations was considered inaccurate by Brigham Young and was ordered to be rewritten. The reasons for this had nothing to do with Lucy's account of her son Joseph's "amusing recitals." The 1853 autobiography and the 1845 manuscript upon which it was based still exist, and both confirm that the "amusing recitals" mentioned by Lucy were done during the period during which Joseph was being instructed by the angel as he waited to retrieve the gold plates. Lucy Mack Smith said the following in her 1853 autobiography:

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.[15]

The quote from Lucy Mack Smith is used by critics of the Church to show how Joseph Smith told "yarns" about Native Americans "long before any golden plates had been found." The chronology found in Lucy Mack Smith's history, however, tells just the opposite story, and puts this quotation in its proper context. Lucy says that the angel Moroni told her son (during his first appearance) about the existence of the plates and informed him where they were buried (see Lavina F. Anderson, ed., Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001], 335-36). Lucy then states that Joseph (the evening after he had seen the Nephite record in their place of deposit) told his family all about "the plates" (ibid., 343).

Lucy Mack Smith: "From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children"

Lucy Mack Smith's account of her son telling "amusing recitals" about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent occurred during the years that Joseph was being prepared to receive the plates. The stories that he was telling related to information that he was receiving from the angel Moroni: These were not "tall tales" that he fabricated for his family's amusement.

From Lucy's 1845 manuscript, we read:

Now said he[,] Father and Mother the angel of the Lord says that we must be careful not to proclaim these things or to mention them abroad For we do not any of us know the wickedness of the world which is so sinful that when we get the plates they will want to kill us for the sake of the gold if they know we had <have> them...by sunset [we] were ready to be seated and give our atten undivided attention to Josephs recitals...From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children togather [together]...In the course of our evening conversations Joseph would give us some of the most ammusing [amusing] recitals which could be immagined [imagined]. he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent their dress their man[n]er of traveling the animals which they rode The cities that were built by them the structure of their buildings with every particular of their mode of warfare their religious worship as particularly as though he had spent his life with them...The angel informed him at one time that he might make an effort to obtain the plates <on> the <22nd of the> ensueing september....[16]

Clearly, Joseph Smith told his stories after he learned about, and saw, the golden plates. Indeed, it is known that Moroni showed Joseph visions and gave him information regarding the people whose stories were found on the Nephite record (see Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 9, 1 March 1842, 707-708), so the young man undoubtedly had quite a few stories to tell. Lucy Mack Smith simply said in her autobiography that her son told the family about information connected with the angel and the Book of Mormon plates.[17] Lucy told the same information to Wandle Mace about seven years prior to producing her 1845 autobiography and clarified that this information was connected with the Book of Mormon "Nephites" and was shown to her son by vision.

In Joseph Smith's own official history he confirmed that he learned this information through the power of visions[18] and Oliver Cowdery made note of the same thing.[19] Thus, the origin of the stories mentioned by Joseph's mother in her autobiography was a heavenly one—she was not even remotely implying that her son was a teller of tall tales.


Response to claim: 42 - B.H. Roberts concluded that Joseph Smith was capable of writing the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

B.H. Roberts concluded that Joseph Smith was capable of writing the Book of Mormon.

Author's sources:
  1. B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 243-50 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts concluded that the critics would conclude that Joseph Smith was capable of writing the Book of Mormon. This did not represent Roberts' own belief.


Question: Did B.H. Roberts state that it was possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own?

B.H. Roberts was a believer in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, and talked of young Joseph Smith as he sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel

B.H. Roberts retained his belief that the Book of Mormon was of divine origin up until the end of his life. Yet, according to one critical website, B.H. Roberts "postulated that it was certainly possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own." [20] Roberts, however, believed that Joseph had conversations with the Angel Moroni.

B.H. Roberts, in his critical study of the Book of Mormon, pointed out how future critics might make use of this.

The face of it is first established by the testimony of the mother who bore him, Lucy Smith. Speaking of the days immediately following the revelation making known the existence of the Book of Mormon to her son...Lucy Smith in her History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, recounts how in the evening of that day, the young prophet sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel;[21]


Response to claim: 48 - The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the source of Alma 19

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the source of Alma 19.

Author's sources:
  1. None cited, however, this section almost precisely matches the analysis shown in Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 117.( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Assertion is not an argument. The author needs evidence.


Question: Does the Book of Mormon plagiarize the King James Bible?

The Book of Mormon emulates the language and style of the King James Bible because that is the scriptural style Joseph Smith, translator of the Book of Mormon, was familiar with

Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that major portions of it are copied, without attribution, from the Bible. They present this as evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon by plagiarizing the Authorized ("King James") Version of the Bible.

Quotations from the Bible in the Book of Mormon are sometimes uncited quotes from Old Testament prophets on the brass plates, similar to the many unattributed Old Testament quotes in the New Testament; others are simply similar phrasing emulated by Joseph Smith during his translation.

Critics also fail to mention that even if all the Biblical passages were removed from the Book of Mormon, there would be a great deal of text remaining. Joseph Smith was able to produce long, intricate religious texts without using the Bible; if he was trying to deceive people, why did he "plagiarize" from the one book—the Bible—which his readership was sure to recognize?


Response to claim: 49 - "The evidence indicates that the Book of Mormon is in fact an amalgamation of ideas that were inspired by Joseph's own environment"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Joseph said the Book of Mormon was translated "by the gift and power of God," coming "forth out of the treasure of the heart ... thus bringing forth out of the heart, things new and old." The evidence indicates that the Book of Mormon is in fact an amalgamation of ideas that were inspired by Joseph's own environment (new) and themes from the Bible (old).

Author's sources:
  1. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 2, No. 3, p. 229.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author misrepresents the source that he cites. He neglects to note Joseph's inclusion of covenants and the Bible in his statement in order to strengthen his own conclusion that the Book of Mormon came from Joseph's own heart. It is a stretch to interpret this phrase as some sort of admission by the Prophet that he actually created the Book of Mormon from his own mind and experience.
  • From the cited source Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 2, No. 3, p. 229:

For the work of this example, see the book of Mormon, coming forth out of the treasure of the heart; also the covenants given to the Latter Day Saints: also the translation of the bible: thus bringing forth out of the heart, things new and old: thus answering to three measures of meal, undergoing the purifying touch by a revelation of Jesus Christ, and the ministering of angels... (emphasis added)


Response to claim: 55 - The decapitation of Laban parallels the story of Judith in the Apocrypha

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The decapitation of Laban parallels the story of Judith in the Apocrypha.

Author's sources:
No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There is no evidence that Joseph utilized the story of Judith as inspiration for the decapitation of Laban.


Question: Did Joseph Smith create the story of Nephi and Laban by plagiarizing concepts and phrases from the story of Judith and Holofernes in the Apocrypha?

Oliver Cowdery purchased a Bible containing the Apocrypha in October 1829, after the Book of Mormon was already at press

In order to support these claims, it would have been necessary for Joseph to have obtained a Bible containing the Apocrypha during the period of translation. It is known that Oliver Cowdery purchased a Bible in October 1829, however, the Book of Mormon was already at press by this time, with the copyright being registered on 11 June 1829.[22] We do know that Joseph had a Bible containing the Apocrypha in 1833 during the time he produced the "Joseph Smith Translation." Doctrine and Covenants Section 91 was given to Joseph specifically in response to his question as to whether or not he ought to revise the Apocrypha.

The story of Judith and Holofernes and the story of Nephi and Laban actually have more dissimilarities than parallels

The two stories actually have more dissimilarities than parallels, with the similarities being very superficial.[23]

The story of Nephi and Laban The story of Judith and Holofernes
Laban resides in Jerusalem and has possession of the brass plates. Holofernes is sent by King Nebuchadnezzar to conquer the rebellious Jews. The city of Bethulia is under siege by the Assyrians.
Nephi tells his father that he will return to Jerusalem to obtain the Brass plates of Laban. Judith, a Jewish resident of the city of Bethulia, tells the people that she will deliver them from their oppressors.
Nephi enters Jerusalem under cover of darkness. He does not intend to kill Laban. Judith enters the camp of the Assyrians with the intent to kill Holofernes.
Nephi finds Laban drunk and lying in the street. Nephi resists the idea of killing Laban even after he is told to do so. Judith impresses Holofernes with her charms and gets him drunk. He passes out on his bed.
Nephi holds up Laban’s head by the hair and cuts if off with his own sword. Judith holds up Holofernes’ head by the hair and cuts it off with his own sword.
Nephi leaves Laban lying in the street, but takes and puts on his armor and sword. Judith takes Holofernes’ head with her back to the city to prove what she has done.
Nephi obtains the records from Laban’s house and leaves the city. The Jews, upon learning of the death of Holofernes, leave the city and plunder the Assyrians camp.

The relationship between the story of Laban and the story of Judith is superficial at best. It has even been pointed out by LDS scholars that if one were to look for potential parallels with the story of Nephi and Laban, that the story of David and Goliath would be a much better fit than the story of Judith.[24]


Response to claim: 57 - The author claims that the LDS position is that the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the LDS position is that the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.

Author's sources:
  1. Book of Mormon, xii, "A Brief Explanation about the Book of Mormon."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The introduction to the Book of Mormon, which was not part of the original Book of Mormon text, asserted this. It has since been changed from "are the principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors."


Gospel Topics: "The Book of Mormon...does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied"

"Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The Book of Mormon provides little direct information about cultural contact between the peoples it describes and others who may have lived nearby. Consequently, most early Latter-day Saints assumed that Near Easterners or West Asians like Jared, Lehi, Mulek, and their companions were the first or the largest or even the only groups to settle the Americas. Building upon this assumption, critics insist that the Book of Mormon does not allow for the presence of other large populations in the Americas and that, therefore, Near Eastern DNA should be easily identifiable among modern native groups.

The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups.6 At the April 1929 general conference, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency cautioned: “We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon … does not tell us that there was no one here before them [the peoples it describes]. It does not tell us that people did not come after.[25]


Question: Why did the Church modify the introduction to the Book of Mormon from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors?"

The Church changed the wording to remove the assumption (inserted into the Book of Mormon in the 1920's) that all of the inhabitants of the Americas were exclusive descendants of Lehi

The Church made the change in wording to the introduction to the Book of Mormon to remove the assumption, which inserted into the Book of Mormon introduction in the 1920's and not part of the original text, that all of the inhabitants of the Americas were exclusive descendants of Lehi. This had been the generally held belief from the time that the Church was restored.

This change makes the Book of Mormon introduction compatible with current DNA evidence and acknowledges the fact that Lehi's group likely intermingled with the native inhabitants of the American continents based upon current knowledge of the DNA composition of the inhabitants of the New World. There is substantial scientific evidence of habitation in the Americas for thousands of years prior to Lehi's arrival.

If Lehi had any descendants among Amerindians, then after 2600 years all Amerindians would share Lehi as an ancestor. Even if (as is probable) the Lehite group was a small drop in a larger population 'ocean' of pre-Columbian inhabitants, Lehi would have been an ancestor of virtually all the modern-day Amerindians if any of his descendants married into the existing New World population.


Response to claim: 57, n38 - No Hebrew or Egyptian writing or language has been discovered in the New World

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

No Hebrew or Egyptian writing or language has been discovered in the New World. The Book of Mormon provides too short a time for the disappearance of the Nephite/Lamanite language.

Author's sources:
  • Thomas Stuart Ferguson, "Written Symposium on the Book of Mormon Geography: Response of Thomas S. Ferguson to the Norman and Sorenson Papers," 12 Mar. 1975, printed and updated in Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson's Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon, 175-268
  • B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 91-94 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Why would 1000 years be "too short a time" for evidence of Hebrew or Egyptian to disappear?


Question: Is finding links between Hebrew and ancient American languages realistic?

The Lehite’s mother tongue all-but-disappeared shortly after their arrival in the New World

It is important to note that we may never find traces of Hebrew language among American languages for the simple fact that the Lehite’s mother tongue all-but-disappeared shortly after their arrival in the New World. When Moroni writes about reformed Egyptian, he also explains that the “Hebrew hath been altered by us also” (Mormon 9:33).

Like other ancient civilizations (such as Egypt) most New World inhabitants would not have been literate. While ancient Americans had a sophisticated writing system, it is likely that knowledge of this system was limited to the civic officials or the priestly class. In the Book of Mormon we infer that training and devotion were necessary to competently master their difficult writing system. King Benjamin, for example, “caused that [his princely sons] should be taught all the languages of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding” (Mosiah 1:3). Moroni, who had mastered the art himself, lamented that the Lord had not made the Nephites “mighty in writing” (Ether 12:23).

The most likely scenario is that the Lehites—who were a small incursion into a larger existing native populace—embraced the habits, culture, and language of their neighbors within a very short period after their arrival in the New World

The most likely scenario is that the Lehites—who were a small incursion into a larger existing native populace—embraced the habits, culture, and language of their neighbors within a very short period after their arrival in the New World. This is what we generally find when a small group melds with a larger group. The smaller group usually takes on the traits of the larger (or, at least, the more powerful) group—not the other way around. It is not unusual, however, for at least some of the characteristics of the smaller group to show up in the larger group’s culture. Typically, however, the smaller group becomes part of the larger group with which they merge. Thus, the Lehites would have become Mesoamericans. We see, therefore, the necessity to teach the Old World language to a few elite in order to preserve, not only the traditions, but also to maintain a continuation of scribes who could read the writings of past generations.

Even with such instruction, however, the script was most likely an altered form of Egyptian—perhaps adapted to Mesoamerican scripts—and altered according to their language. This suggests that ideas and motifs that originated in the Old World were adapted to a script that could be conveyed with New World motifs, or at least New World glyphs. Under such conditions, would there be any reason to expect that we’d find “Hebrew” among the Native Americans?


Question: Have any relationships been found between New World languages and Hebrew?

Recent scholarly research suggests a possible link between Uto-Aztecan (a family of about 30 Native American languages) and Hebrew

The Book of Mormon text suggests that Lehite language had a relatively minor impact on the speech of the Americas. It may be that Old World languages formed a type of "elite" language, used only by a few for religious purposes.

If, however, one is persuaded that the Book of Mormon text implies that some Hebrew links should still exist, preliminary linguistic data suggest that there are some intriguing links.

For example, Dr. Brian Stubbs argues for numerous parallels between Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan. As a professional linguist, Dr. Stubbs avoids the pitfalls of amateurs who simply point at similar words between two different languages. As he points out,

Any two languages can have a few similar words by pure chance. What is called the comparative method is the linguist's tool for eliminating chance similarities and determining with confidence whether two languages are historically—that is, genetically—related. This method consists of testing for three criteria. First, consistent sound correspondences must be established, for linguists have found that sounds change in consistent patterns in related languages; for example, German tag and English day are cognates (related words), as well as German tür and English door. So one rule about sound change in this case is that German initial t corresponds to English initial d. Some general rules of sound change that occur in family after family help the linguist feel more confident about reconstructing original forms from the descendant words or cognates, although a certain amount of guesswork is always involved.

Second, related languages show parallels in specific structures of grammar and morphology, that is, in rules that govern sentence and word formation.

Third, a sizable lexicon (vocabulary list) should demonstrate these sound correspondences and grammatical parallels.

When consistent parallels of these sorts are extensively demonstrated, we can be confident that there was a sister-sister connection between the two tongues at some earlier time.[26]

A few of Stubbs' many examples are:

Hebrew/Semitic Uto-Aztecan
kilyah/kolyah 'kidney' kali 'kidney'
baraq 'lightning' berok (derived from *pïrok) 'lightning'
sekem/sikm- 'shoulder' sikum/sïka 'shoulder'
mayim/meem 'water' meme-t 'ocean'

Rhodes Scholar Dr. Roger Westcott, non-LDS Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Linguistics at Drew University, has made positive comments about Dr. Stubbs' research:

Perhaps the most surprising of all Eurasian-American linguistic connections, at least in geographic terms, is that proposed by Brian Stubbs: a strong link between the Uto-Aztecan and Afro-Asiatic (or Hamito-Semitic) languages. The Uto-Aztecan languages are, or have been, spoken in western North America from Idaho to El Salvador. One would expect that, if Semites or their linguistic kinsmen from northern Africa were to reach the New World by water, their route would be trans-Atlantic. Indeed, what graphonomic evidence there is indicates exactly that: Canaanite inscriptions are found in Georgia and Tennessee as well as in Brazil; and Mediterranean coins, some Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic, are found in Kentucky as well as Venezuela [citing Cyrus Gordon].

But we must follow the evidence wherever it leads. And lexically, at least, it points to the Pacific rather than the Atlantic coast. Stubbs finds Semitic and (more rarely) Egyptian vocabulary in about 20 of 25 extant Uto-Aztecan languages. Of the word-bases in these vernaculars, he finds about 40 percent to be derivable from nearly 500 triliteral Semitic stems. Despite this striking proportion, however, he does not regard Uto-Aztecan as a branch of Semitic or Afro-Asiatic. Indeed, he treats Uto-Aztecan Semitisms as borrowings. But, because these borrowings are at once so numerous and so well "nativized," he prefers to regard them as an example of linguistic creolization - that is, of massive lexical adaptation of one language group to another. (By way of analogy, . . . historical linguists regard the heavy importation of French vocabulary into Middle English as a process of creolization.)....

Lest skeptics should attribute these correspondences to coincidence, however, Stubbs takes care to note that there are systematic sound-shifts, analogous to those covered in Indo-European by Grimm's Law, which recur consistently in loans from Afro-Asiatic to Uto-Aztecan. One of these is the unvoicing of voiced stops in the more southerly receiving languages. Another is the velarization of voiced labial stops and glides in the same languages.[27]

While the conclusions remain tentative, some of the details of this on-going research look promising. Certainly, nothing in the linguistic evidence provides plausible arguments against the Book of Mormon narrative.

Question: Have any relationships been found between New World languages and Hebrew?

Recent scholarly research suggests a possible link between Uto-Aztecan (a family of about 30 Native American languages) and Hebrew

The Book of Mormon text suggests that Lehite language had a relatively minor impact on the speech of the Americas. It may be that Old World languages formed a type of "elite" language, used only by a few for religious purposes.

If, however, one is persuaded that the Book of Mormon text implies that some Hebrew links should still exist, preliminary linguistic data suggest that there are some intriguing links.

For example, Dr. Brian Stubbs argues for numerous parallels between Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan. As a professional linguist, Dr. Stubbs avoids the pitfalls of amateurs who simply point at similar words between two different languages. As he points out,

Any two languages can have a few similar words by pure chance. What is called the comparative method is the linguist's tool for eliminating chance similarities and determining with confidence whether two languages are historically—that is, genetically—related. This method consists of testing for three criteria. First, consistent sound correspondences must be established, for linguists have found that sounds change in consistent patterns in related languages; for example, German tag and English day are cognates (related words), as well as German tür and English door. So one rule about sound change in this case is that German initial t corresponds to English initial d. Some general rules of sound change that occur in family after family help the linguist feel more confident about reconstructing original forms from the descendant words or cognates, although a certain amount of guesswork is always involved.

Second, related languages show parallels in specific structures of grammar and morphology, that is, in rules that govern sentence and word formation.

Third, a sizable lexicon (vocabulary list) should demonstrate these sound correspondences and grammatical parallels.

When consistent parallels of these sorts are extensively demonstrated, we can be confident that there was a sister-sister connection between the two tongues at some earlier time.[28]

A few of Stubbs' many examples are:

Hebrew/Semitic Uto-Aztecan
kilyah/kolyah 'kidney' kali 'kidney'
baraq 'lightning' berok (derived from *pïrok) 'lightning'
sekem/sikm- 'shoulder' sikum/sïka 'shoulder'
mayim/meem 'water' meme-t 'ocean'

Rhodes Scholar Dr. Roger Westcott, non-LDS Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Linguistics at Drew University, has made positive comments about Dr. Stubbs' research:

Perhaps the most surprising of all Eurasian-American linguistic connections, at least in geographic terms, is that proposed by Brian Stubbs: a strong link between the Uto-Aztecan and Afro-Asiatic (or Hamito-Semitic) languages. The Uto-Aztecan languages are, or have been, spoken in western North America from Idaho to El Salvador. One would expect that, if Semites or their linguistic kinsmen from northern Africa were to reach the New World by water, their route would be trans-Atlantic. Indeed, what graphonomic evidence there is indicates exactly that: Canaanite inscriptions are found in Georgia and Tennessee as well as in Brazil; and Mediterranean coins, some Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic, are found in Kentucky as well as Venezuela [citing Cyrus Gordon].

But we must follow the evidence wherever it leads. And lexically, at least, it points to the Pacific rather than the Atlantic coast. Stubbs finds Semitic and (more rarely) Egyptian vocabulary in about 20 of 25 extant Uto-Aztecan languages. Of the word-bases in these vernaculars, he finds about 40 percent to be derivable from nearly 500 triliteral Semitic stems. Despite this striking proportion, however, he does not regard Uto-Aztecan as a branch of Semitic or Afro-Asiatic. Indeed, he treats Uto-Aztecan Semitisms as borrowings. But, because these borrowings are at once so numerous and so well "nativized," he prefers to regard them as an example of linguistic creolization - that is, of massive lexical adaptation of one language group to another. (By way of analogy, . . . historical linguists regard the heavy importation of French vocabulary into Middle English as a process of creolization.)....

Lest skeptics should attribute these correspondences to coincidence, however, Stubbs takes care to note that there are systematic sound-shifts, analogous to those covered in Indo-European by Grimm's Law, which recur consistently in loans from Afro-Asiatic to Uto-Aztecan. One of these is the unvoicing of voiced stops in the more southerly receiving languages. Another is the velarization of voiced labial stops and glides in the same languages.[29]

While the conclusions remain tentative, some of the details of this on-going research look promising. Certainly, nothing in the linguistic evidence provides plausible arguments against the Book of Mormon narrative.


Response to claim: 58, n40 - B.H. Roberts thought that View of the Hebrews could be a basis for the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

B.H. Roberts thought that View of the Hebrews could be a basis for the Book of Mormon. Roberts concluded that there was a great probability that the Smith family read View of the Hebrews.

Author's sources:
  1. B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 28-29, 151-54 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts was providing arguments from the perspective of a critic in order to inform Church leaders of possible attacks on the Book of Mormon. Roberts stated that this did not represent his own beliefs.


Question: What did B.H. Roberts say about View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon?

B.H. Roberts was playing "devil's advocate" when he examined View of the Hebrews, and showing what a critic might do

The View of the Hebrews theory was examined in detail by B. H. Roberts in 1921 and 1922. Roberts took the position of examining the Book of Mormon from a critical perspective in order to alert the General Authorities to possible future avenues of attack by critics. The resulting manuscripts were titled Book of Mormon Difficulties and A Parallel. Roberts, who believed in a hemispheric geography for the Book of Mormon, highlighted a number of parallels between View of the Hebrews and The Book of Mormon. Roberts stated,

[C]ould the people of Mulek and of Lehi...part of the time numbering and occupying the land at least from Yucatan to Cumorah...live and move and have their being in the land of America and not come in contact with other races and tribes of men, if such existed in the New World within Book of Mormon times? To make this seem possible the area occupied by the Nephites and Lamanites would have to be extremely limited, much more limited, I fear, than the Book of Mormon would admit our assuming.[30]

Roberts concluded that, if one assumed that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself, that View of the Hebrews could have provided him with a foundation for creating the book. In fact, many of the issues highlighted by Roberts vanish when a limited geography theory is considered. The acceptance of the View of the Hebrews theory is therefore contingent upon the acceptance of a hemispheric geography model for the Book of Mormon. In order to promote View of the Hebrews as a source, critics necessarily reject any limited geography theory proposal for the Book of Mormon.

Roberts rejected the idea that the Book of Mormon was not divine

In 1985, Roberts' manuscripts were published under the title Studies of the Book of Mormon. This book is used by critics to support their claim that B. H. Roberts lost his testimony after performing the study. Roberts, however, clearly continued to publicly support the Book of Mormon until his death, and reaffirmed his testimony both publicly and in print.


Response to claim: 60 - Roberts concluded that a copy of View of the Hebrews could have been supplied by Oliver Cowdery

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Roberts concluded that a copy of View of the Hebrews could have been supplied by Oliver Cowdery.

Author's sources:
  • Studies, 27, 151-61.
  • "Poultney Church Records," bk. 3, Poultney Vermont, 1793-1828, Poultney Historical Society.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts was providing arguments from the perspective of a critic in order to inform Church leaders of possible attacks on the Book of Mormon. Roberts stated that this did not represent his own beliefs.


Question: Was the View of the Hebrews theory of Book of Mormon origin advanced during the lifetime of Joseph Smith?

The theory the Joseph Smith plagiarized View of the Hebrews was never advanced during Joseph Smith's lifetime

The theory the Joseph Smith plagiarized View of the Hebrews was never advanced during his lifetime. The prevailing theory of the day was the Spalding Theory, which quickly lost credibility upon the discovery of an actual Spalding manuscript in 1884 which bore no resemblance to the Book of Mormon. There are no records which indicate that Joseph Smith came into contact with the View of the Hebrews during the period of time that he was translating the Book of Mormon. The View of the Hebrews theory was in fact first proposed by I. Woodbridge Riley in 1902, 58 years after the death of the prophet.[31]

Joseph Smith quoted View of the Hebrews as supporting the Book of Mormon

There was, however, 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:

If such may have been the fact, that a part of the Ten Tribes came over to America, in the way we have supposed, leaving the cold regions of Assareth behind them in quest of a milder climate, it would be natural to look for tokens of the presence of Jews of some sort, along countries adjacent to the Atlantic. In order to this, we shall here make an extract from an able work: written exclusively on the subject of the Ten Tribes having come from Asia by the way of Bherings Strait, by the Rev. Ethan Smith, Pultney, Vt., who relates as follows: "Joseph Merrick, Esq., a highly respectable character in the church at Pittsfield, gave the following account: That in 1815, he was leveling some ground under and near an old wood shed, standing on a place of his, situated on (Indian Hill)... [Joseph then discusses the supposed phylacteries found among Amerindians, citing View of the Hebrews p. 220, 223.][32]

It strains credulity to claim that Joseph drew attention to the work from which he derived most of his ideas. Why would he call attention to the source of his forgery?


Response to claim: 60-64 - B.H. Roberts' parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

B.H. Roberts' parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon.

Author's sources:
  1. B.H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen (ed.), Studies of the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1992), 240-242 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts was providing arguments from the perspective of a critic in order to inform Church leaders of possible attacks on the Book of Mormon. Roberts stated that this did not represent his own beliefs. Roberts' parallels also only had validity if one assumed a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon.


Question: Could Joseph Smith have used Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews as a guideline for creating the Book of Mormon?

Criticisms related to View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

  • It is claimed that a 19th century work by Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, provided source material for Joseph Smith's construction of the Book of Mormon.
  • Some also postulate a link between Ethan Smith and Oliver Cowdery, since both men lived in Poultney, Vermont while Smith served as the pastor of the church that Oliver Cowdery's family attended at the time that View of the Hebrews was being written.

Many of the criticisms proposed are based upon B. H. Roberts' list of parallels, which only had validity if one applied a hemispheric geography model to the Book of Mormon

The View of the Hebrews theory is yet another attempt to fit a secular origin to the Book of Mormon. Many of the criticisms proposed are based upon B. H. Roberts' list of parallels, which only had validity if one applied a hemispheric geography model to the Book of Mormon. There are a significant number of differences between the two books, which are easily discovered upon reading Ethan Smith's work. Many points that Ethan Smith thought were important are not mentioned at all in the Book of Mormon, and many of the "parallels" are no longer valid based upon current scholarship.[33]

Advocates of the Ethan Smith theory must also explain why Joseph, the ostensible forger, had the chutzpah to point out the source of his forgery. They must also explain why, if Joseph found this evidence so compelling, he did not exploit it for use in the Book of Mormon text itself, since the Book of Mormon contains no reference to the many "unparallels" that Ethan assured his readers virtually guaranteed a Hebrew connection to the Amerindians.


Response to claim: 65-66 - Joseph Smith received a revelation to send people to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith received a revelation to send people to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright for $8000. After expenses, the money was to go to the Smith family.

Author's sources:
  • Hiram Page to William E. McLellin, 2 Feb. 1848, in RLDS Library Archives.
  • Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 30-31.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct. The text of the actual revelation has recently been found among the Joseph Smith Papers.


Question: Are there any eyewitness accounts of the events that resulted in the trip to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright?

Joseph Smith decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith had been told there were people in Canada willing to buy the copyrights to useful books. Due to the dire financial position of the Church, he decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon. Four men went to Canada.

Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success

Before leaving, Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success.

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea even in securing the Copyright & they shall do it with an eye single to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten} Behold I am God I have spoken it & it is expedient in me Wherefor I say unto you that ye shall go to Kingston seeking me continually through mine only Be{t\gotten} & if ye do this ye shall have my spirit to go with you & ye shall have an addition of all things which is expedient in me. amen & I grant unto my servent a privelige that he may sell a copyright through you speaking after the manner of men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it lieth in themselves to their condemnation &{\or} th{er\eir} salvation.

Revelation book 1 p. 15 1.jpg

The text of the actual revelation was recently discovered and published in The Joseph Smith Papers

The text of the revelation was published in the The Joseph Smith Papers: The Revelations and Translations Series. According to Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder,

Another interesting development from work on the Revelations and Translations Series has been the identification of a previously unpublished revelation on securing a copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada. David Whitmer, after he left the Church, recalled that the revelation promised success in selling the copyright, but upon return of the men charged with the duty, Joseph Smith and others were disappointed by what seemed like failure. Historians have relied upon statements of David Whitmer, Hiram Page, and William McLellin for decades but have not had the actual text of the revelation. Revelation Book 1 will provide that.

Although we still do not know the whole story, particularly Joseph Smith’s own view of the situation, we do know that calling the divine communication a “failed revelation” is not warranted. The Lord’s directive clearly conditions the successful sale of the copyright on the worthiness of those seeking to make the sale as well as on the spiritual receptivity of the potential purchasers. [34]

Hiram Page, one of the participants, stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit

Hiram Page, who was one of the individuals sent to Canada, laid out the event in a letter in 1848.[35] Page wrote that the revelation Joseph Smith received conditioned success upon whether those individuals in Canada capable of buying the Book of Mormon copyright would have their hearts softened. When unable to sell the copyright, the four men returned to Palmyra. Hiram Page stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit—in fact, Hiram Page believed that the revelation was actually fulfilled.


Response to claim: 66 - The writing of the 116 pages served as an "apprenticeship" to learning to write the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The writing of the 116 pages served as an "apprenticeship" to learning to write the Book of Mormon.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply the author's opinion, without evidence to support it.


Question: Was Joseph Smith afraid to reproduce the text of the lost 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript because he could not do so?

It is inconsistent for the critics to believe that Joseph was capable of dictating in the manner that he did, and yet could not have easily dictated an alternate text to replace that which was lost

Upon completing the translation of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, known as the Book of Lehi, Martin Harris, who had acted as scribe during this period of time, asked the Prophet if he could show the manuscript to his wife Lucy. After repeated inquiries of the Lord, Joseph reluctantly agreed to let Martin take the manuscript home. The manuscript disappeared after Martin showed it not only to his wife, but to a number of other people as well.[36] Rather than re-translate the original portion of the record, the Lord instructed Joseph to translate an additional set of plates that had been provided, the record of Nephi, as described in DC 3: and DC 10:.

Critics have attempted to come up with a secular explanation of why Joseph Smith would create an entirely different text rather than simply reproducing the text of the 116 lost pages. One argument used by critics is that Joseph was afraid to reproduce the text of the 116 pages because he could not do so, and that he therefore chose to avoid the issue by creating an entirely different text.

Given the descriptions of the translation process by various witnesses, it is apparent that the translation proceeded in a very linear fashion. Each day Joseph would pick up the translation where he had left off the day before, without any recital of the previously written text. It is inconsistent for the critics to believe that Joseph was capable of dictating in this manner, and yet could not have easily dictated an alternate text to replace that which was lost. For the believer, it is much easier to accept that the Lord, in His wisdom, knew of the problem that would occur and provided an alternate text.

The loss of the 116 pages did not stop the Book of Mormon from coming forth. If the Book of Lehi (Mormon’s abridgment of what is currently found in the first books in the Book of Mormon today) had been preserved, we would not have had the “more spiritual” first person narrative of Nephi and Jacob. The incident provided a very valuable lesson about the importance of not opposing the Lord’s will. This incident affected the Prophet very deeply, and he was more determined than ever to regain the ability to translate. The lessons taught by this incident are meaningful and are taught even today to members of the Church.

The Lord taught Joseph an important lesson with the loss of the manuscript

The Lord taught Joseph an important lesson with the loss of the manuscript, and He provided an alternate text to compensate. It wasn't necessary to obtain the original pages, therefore there was no reason for Joseph to attempt to locate it using a seer stone. The Lord did not command him to do so. In fact, the Lord commanded Joseph not to retranslate the pages, therefore this is really an issue of whether or not one believes that Joseph was actually a prophet. Had the pages not been lost, we would not have the following:

And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men. For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words— Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble. Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall. But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work.

A looser translation model might cause other problems

Another possibility is raised by Brant Gardner. Gardner argues that the Book of Mormon translation was not a word-for-word process, and that Joseph had considerable freedom in how he rendered the text. This means that even a divinely-inspired translation would not be the same (and certainly not word-for-word the same) if done twice. Given the expectations in Joseph's environment (which saw scripture as inerrant and divinely inspired word-for-word), this might have caused problems for Joseph's contemporaries. They expected, even demanded that scripture be inerrant and revealed word-for-word. David Whitmer, for example, would later complain that Joseph ought not to edit the revelations he received--David was still stuck with the view of revelation shared by most nineteenth century believers.


Notes

  1. "Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?", MormonThink.com
  2. B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City, UT; Signature Books, 1992) 243. Some online ministries quote Roberts' use of Lucy's quote as "evidence" that Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. They completely ignore Roberts's statements on the same page that Joseph was describing the "wonderful conversations he had with the angel."
  3. B. H. Roberts, "The Translation of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era no. 9 (April 1906), 435–436.
  4. B. H. Roberts to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, March 1923. (See Studies of the Book of Mormon (1992), p. 58. On page 33, note 65, the editor of this work states that the date on this letter should be 1922 rather than 1923.)
  5. Brigham H. Roberts, Conference Report (April 1930), 47.
  6. B. H. Roberts, “Protest Against the Science-Thought of a ‘Dying Universe’ and no Immortality for Man: The Mission of the Church of the New Dispensation,” delivered SLC Tabernacle, Sunday, 23 January 1932; reproduced in Discourses of B.H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, compiled by Ben E. Roberts (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company 1948), 11–30.
  7. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:79–80. Volume 2 linkGL direct link
  8. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "The Zelph Story," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 2 (1989), 31–56.
  9. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki
  10. Data as summarized by Donald Q. Cannon, "Zelph Revisited," in Regional Studies in the Latter-day Saint Church History: Illinois, edited by H. Dean Garret (Provo, Utah: Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1995), 57–109. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) Note that some things that seem similar (e.g., "arrow" had substantial differences in the account, as discussed by Hamblin, below).
  11. William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link
  12. Kenneth Godfrey's articles have cast doubt on the reliability of many key elements of the story as we have them. Donald Q. Cannon has argued for the basic reliability of the accounts. See the articles by each author for both perspectives.
  13. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki
  14. Don Bradley, "President Joseph Has Translated a Portion': Solving the Mystery of the Kinderhook Plates," 2011 FAIR Conference, August 5, 2011. off-site
  15. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:296. citing Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 36-173.
  16. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:294–296. citing the 1845 manuscript of Lucy Mack Smith's autobiography.
  17. Lucy Smith, Lucy's Book: Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson and Irene M. Bates, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2001), 346. ISBN 1560851376.
  18. Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  19. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 7 (April 1835), 112.
  20. "Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?", MormonThink.com
  21. B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City, UT; Signature Books, 1992) 243. Some online ministries quote Roberts' use of Lucy's quote as "evidence" that Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. They completely ignore Roberts's statements on the same page that Joseph was describing the "wonderful conversations he had with the angel."
  22. John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 326–372. off-site
  23. James B. Allen, "Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant Palmer (Review of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 235–286. off-site
  24. John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 326–372. off-site
  25. "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (31 January 2014)
  26. Brian D. Stubbs, "Looking Over vs. Overlooking: Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 1–49. wiki
  27. Roger Williams Westcott, "Early Eurasian Linguistic Links with North America," in Across Before Columbus?, edited. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy (Laconia, New Hampshire: New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA), 1998),193–197; cited by Jeff Lindsay, "Nugget #8: Uto-Aztecan and the Book of Mormon: Linguists Provide Possible Evidence Consistent with Book of Mormon Claims," jefflindsay.com (accessed 16 September 2007) off-site
  28. Brian D. Stubbs, "Looking Over vs. Overlooking: Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 1–49. wiki
  29. Roger Williams Westcott, "Early Eurasian Linguistic Links with North America," in Across Before Columbus?, edited. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy (Laconia, New Hampshire: New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA), 1998),193–197; cited by Jeff Lindsay, "Nugget #8: Uto-Aztecan and the Book of Mormon: Linguists Provide Possible Evidence Consistent with Book of Mormon Claims," jefflindsay.com (accessed 16 September 2007) off-site
  30. Brigham H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen, ed., Studies of the Book of Mormon, (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1985) ISBN 0252010434 .
  31. I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism (New York, 1902), 124–126.
  32. Joseph Smith, Jr., "From Priest's American Antiquities," (1 June 1842) Times and Seasons 3:813-815.
  33. John W. Welch, "View of the Hebrews: 'An Unparallel'," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 83–87.
  34. Marlin K. Jensen, “The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books,” Ensign (July 2009) off-site
  35. Letter to William McLellin, February 2, 1848, as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 257-9.
  36. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 67.