Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church/Chapter 2

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 2: Race Relations in Colonial America"

Claim Evaluation
Losing a Lost Tribe
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Response to claims made in Losing a Lost Tribe, "Chapter 2: Race Relations in Colonial America"

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Response to claim: 22 - The Book of Mormon portrays the Lamanites as naked, head shaven, tent dwelling, arrow wielding and idle, similar to stereotypical perceptions of the Native Americans at the time

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon portrays the Lamanites as naked, head shaven, tent dwelling, arrow wielding and idle, similar to stereotypical perceptions of the Native Americans at the time.

(Author's sources: *No source given.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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

The Book of Mormon also portrays the Nephites as an advanced civilization, which is totally contrary to the perceptions of the Native Americans at the time.



Response to claim: 22 - Joseph Smith may have woven "frontier prejudices" into the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith may have woven "frontier prejudices" into the Book of Mormon.

(Author's sources: No source given.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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

The author is  Mind reading: author has no way of knowing this.. The author needs to present actual evidence. In fact, the Book of Mormon sees the Lamanites as the equals of others, descendants of Israel, and blessed by God. This is a far cry from the frontier prejudice, where often "the only good Indian was a dead Indian."



Response to claim: 27 - Joseph Smith "fell under the spell of the mounds and could not resist the lure of buried riches"

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith "fell under the spell of the mounds and could not resist the lure of buried riches."

(Author's sources:
  • Silverberg, The Mound Builders, 1968.
  • Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Book, 1986), no pages cited.
  • Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 1971.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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

The author is simply repeating Brodie's attempts to read Joseph Smith's mind.



Question: Did Joseph Smith believe that the Book of Mormon explained local legends associated with the "Mound Builders" of the Eastern United States?

When the Book of Mormon appeared, it was a natural assumption by many that the book was the story of the mysterious "Mound Builders"

Joseph Smith himself initially believed that the presence of the mounds supported the story related in the Book of Mormon. In fact, as Zion's Camp passed through southern Illinois, Heber C. Kimball and several other participants claimed that Joseph identified a set of bones discovered in one of these mounds as "Zelph", a "white Lamanite." In a letter that Joseph wrote to Emma the day after this discovery, he stated:

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[1]

Statements made by Joseph Smith clearly indicate that his thinking regarding the actual location of Book of Mormon events evolved over time

Joseph felt that the presence of the mounds in North America and ruined cities in Central America supported the Book of Mormon. Since information about the ruined cities in Central America came to light after the publication of the Book of Mormon, it actually strengthens the theories and evidences which place the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting--Joseph was willing to consider a setting of which he apparently had no previous knowledge. The description of the ancestors of the American Indians as a highly civilized culture capable of building great cities was not a concept which would have been deduced from the contemporary beliefs regarding the Mound Builders.

The presence of numerous burial mounds in the eastern United States was the source of great speculation to those that settled there. The construction of such mounds was not considered to be within the ability of the Native Americans, who were considered to be savages. It was assumed that such sophisticated constructions constituted evidence of a long lost, highly civilized society which had long since vanished. Some even postulated the existence of separate civilized and a savage societies, with the highly civilized group eventually being destroyed by the savage one. After years of research, however, it was concluded that the mounds had indeed been constructed by the ancestors of the Indians that continued to live in the area.

Joseph clearly believed not only the region of the mounds to be part of Book of Mormon lands, but the entire continent, including Central America. The Book of Mormon itself, however, makes no mention of mounds.

In 1841, the Times and Seasons, of which Joseph was the editor at the time, commented on a popular book by John Lloyd Stephens called Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. This book described amazing ruined cities that had been found in Central America.

Joseph Smith himself, as editor of the Times and Seasons wrote and signed (as "ED[itor]") the following on July 15, 1842. Notice that he mentions both the mounds and the ruins in Guatemala as supporting the Book of Mormon:

If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized-that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon} unfolds their history.-ED.[2]

A later Times and Seasons article, published on October 1, 1842 under Joseph's editorial supervision (though not signed by Joseph Smith as editor) stated:

It would not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: Light cleaves to light and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one....[3]

If someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, they would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology

One thing that critics do not consider is that if someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, he or she would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology. The mysterious "Mound Builders" were not considered to be the ancestors of the current "savage" race that were inhabiting the land at that time.

Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon realized that there were going to be problems with this assumption after the publication of the Book of Mormon. In a interview, David Whitmer said:

When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.[4]


Response to claim: 27 - Joseph Smith used a "seer stone" or "peep stone" to search for buried treasure

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith used a "seer stone" or "peep stone" to search for buried treasure.

(Author's sources: No source given.)

FairMormon Response

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





Question: Why would Joseph Smith use the same stone for translating the Book of Mormon that he used for "money digging"?

Would God approve the use of a "magic peep stone" in translating a sacred record?

Joseph was given a set of Nephite interpreters along with the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was produced. In addition, Joseph already possessed and utilized several seer stones. Although Joseph began translating the Book of Mormon using the Nephite interpreters, he later switched to using one of his seer stones to complete the translation. Critics (typically those who reject Mormonism but still believe in God) reject the idea that God would approve the use of an instrument for translation that had previously been used for "money digging."

Regardless of the perspective (believing or non-believing) from which we tell the story of the translation, the essential fact of the translation is unchanged

The conclusion that Joseph used a "magical" or "occult" stone to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon is entirely dependent upon one's own preconception that the use of such an instrument would not be acceptable by God. Believers, on the other hand, ought not to take issue with a distinction between one set of seer stones versus another. As Brant Gardner notes: "Regardless of the perspective from which we tell the story, the essential fact of the translation is unchanged. How was the Book of Mormon translated? As Joseph continually insisted, the only real answer, from any perspective, is that it was translated by the gift and power of God." [5]

  • The point is not necessarily that the stone had the same ability, but that it provided a means for Joseph to exercise his spiritual abilities.
  • If one stops assuming that Joseph was a liar and deceiver, we can consider the matter from Joseph's point of view:
    • He's being called upon to reveal things that are hidden, and to translate an ancient record.
    • Joseph is painfully aware that he cannot do these things.
    • How could Joseph know that he wasn't going crazy or being delusional? Tying his early prophetic work to something with which he had already had objective success (the use of the seer stone) allowed Joseph to trust both God and himself.
    • The Lord seems to have used Joseph's preexisting beliefs about how the world worked (including seer stones to reveal hidden things) to help Joseph gain confidence in his own abilities.
    • The Nephite interpreters had been blessed and dedicated for the purpose of translating the Book of Mormon—this would have increased Joseph's faith, and they did help him receive revelation more effectively, initially. This is what excited Joseph more than even the plates themselves—he was able to do more with the Nephite stones.
    • With time, Joseph was able to translate with his "original" stone—thus, his own ability had increased, because he no longer needed the "stronger" Nephite stones.
    • Eventually, he did not require the "prop" or "crutch" of the stone at all—his faith and experience had grown.
  • Critics of the Church often act as if the stone or Urim and Thummim were a type of "magic translator" that anyone could have looked through. They weren't. Joseph always insisted he was only able to do what he did "by the gift and power of God." It is probable that anyone else examining the stones would have found nothing unusual or different about them.
  • The power to translate or reveal hidden things came from God—as Joseph's experience and spiritual maturity increased, his reliance upon a physical instrument became less and less.


Response to claim: 27 - Joseph Smith was charged with being "disorderly" for his money digging activities in 1826

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith was charged with being "disorderly" for his money digging activities in 1826.

(Author's sources: No source given.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph was accused of being a "disorderly" person. He was released without punishment or fine.



Question: What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?

Joseph Smith appeared at a pre-trial court hearing in 1826 for "glasslooking"

In 1825 Josiah Stowel sought out the young Joseph Smith, who had a reputation for being able to use his seer stone to locate lost objects, to help him to locate an ancient silver mine. After a few weeks of work, Joseph persuaded Stowel to give up the effort. In 1826, some of Stowel's relatives brought Joseph to court and accused him of "glasslooking" and being a "disorderly person." Several witnesses testified at the hearing.

Joseph was released without being fined or otherwise punished - there was no verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" because this was only a hearing rather than a trial

Joseph was ultimately released without being fined and had no punishment imposed upon him. Years later, a bill from the judge was discovered which billed for court services.

Gordon Madsen summarized:

"The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted." [6]

A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

  1. The court hearing of 1826 was not a trial, it was an examination
  2. The hearing was likely initiated from religious concerns; i.e. people objected to Joseph's religious claims.
  3. There were seven witnesses.
  4. The witnesses' testimonies have not all been transmitted faithfully.
  5. Most witnesses testified that Joseph did possess a gift of sight

The court hearing was likely initiated by Stowel's relatives as a concern that he was having too much influence on Stowel

It was likely that the court hearing was initiated not so much from a concern about Joseph being a money digger, as concern that Joseph was having an influence on Josiah Stowel. Josiah Stowel was one of the first believers in Joseph Smith. His nephew was probably very concerned about that and was anxious to disrupt their relationship if possible. He did not succeed. The court hearing failed in its purpose, and was only resurrected decades later to accuse Joseph Smith of different crimes to a different people and culture.

Understanding the context of the case removes any threat it may have posed to Joseph's prophetic integrity.


Response to claim: 28 - Scholars have "concluded" that Joseph Smith was inspired by View of the Hebrews

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Scholars have "concluded" that Joseph Smith was inspired by View of the Hebrews.

(Author's sources: Persuitte, 2000.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Scholars have not "concluded" this.



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.[7]

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.][8]

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: 28 - The New World history in View of the Hebrews "shares close parallels with the plot of the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The New World history in View of the Hebrews "shares close parallels with the plot of the Book of Mormon."

(Author's sources: *Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, 1825.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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

 Quotes another author's opinion as if it were fact: the author cites only Ethan Smith's book, who says nothing about whether his book matches 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.[9]

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: 29 - Joseph Smith was inspired by the myths surrounding the Moundbuilders in writing the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith was inspired by the myths surrounding the Moundbuilders in writing the Book of Mormon.

(Author's sources: Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 1971.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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

The author is mind reading and simply repeating Fawn Brodie's unsupported assertion.



Question: Did Joseph Smith believe that the Book of Mormon explained local legends associated with the "Mound Builders" of the Eastern United States?

When the Book of Mormon appeared, it was a natural assumption by many that the book was the story of the mysterious "Mound Builders"

Joseph Smith himself initially believed that the presence of the mounds supported the story related in the Book of Mormon. In fact, as Zion's Camp passed through southern Illinois, Heber C. Kimball and several other participants claimed that Joseph identified a set of bones discovered in one of these mounds as "Zelph", a "white Lamanite." In a letter that Joseph wrote to Emma the day after this discovery, he stated:

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[10]

Statements made by Joseph Smith clearly indicate that his thinking regarding the actual location of Book of Mormon events evolved over time

Joseph felt that the presence of the mounds in North America and ruined cities in Central America supported the Book of Mormon. Since information about the ruined cities in Central America came to light after the publication of the Book of Mormon, it actually strengthens the theories and evidences which place the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting--Joseph was willing to consider a setting of which he apparently had no previous knowledge. The description of the ancestors of the American Indians as a highly civilized culture capable of building great cities was not a concept which would have been deduced from the contemporary beliefs regarding the Mound Builders.

The presence of numerous burial mounds in the eastern United States was the source of great speculation to those that settled there. The construction of such mounds was not considered to be within the ability of the Native Americans, who were considered to be savages. It was assumed that such sophisticated constructions constituted evidence of a long lost, highly civilized society which had long since vanished. Some even postulated the existence of separate civilized and a savage societies, with the highly civilized group eventually being destroyed by the savage one. After years of research, however, it was concluded that the mounds had indeed been constructed by the ancestors of the Indians that continued to live in the area.

Joseph clearly believed not only the region of the mounds to be part of Book of Mormon lands, but the entire continent, including Central America. The Book of Mormon itself, however, makes no mention of mounds.

In 1841, the Times and Seasons, of which Joseph was the editor at the time, commented on a popular book by John Lloyd Stephens called Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. This book described amazing ruined cities that had been found in Central America.

Joseph Smith himself, as editor of the Times and Seasons wrote and signed (as "ED[itor]") the following on July 15, 1842. Notice that he mentions both the mounds and the ruins in Guatemala as supporting the Book of Mormon:

If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized-that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon} unfolds their history.-ED.[11]

A later Times and Seasons article, published on October 1, 1842 under Joseph's editorial supervision (though not signed by Joseph Smith as editor) stated:

It would not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: Light cleaves to light and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one....[12]

If someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, they would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology

One thing that critics do not consider is that if someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, he or she would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology. The mysterious "Mound Builders" were not considered to be the ancestors of the current "savage" race that were inhabiting the land at that time.

Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon realized that there were going to be problems with this assumption after the publication of the Book of Mormon. In a interview, David Whitmer said:

When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.[13]


Response to claim: 30 - The author claims that Joseph "likely" added the story of the Jaredites to account for the speculation about the diversity of Indian cultures and languages

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Joseph "likely" added the story of the Jaredites to account for the speculation about the diversity of Indian cultures and languages.

(Author's sources: Ether 2:1-3)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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

The author is  Mind reading: author has no way of knowing this.. We are told earlier that Joseph mirrored frontier prejudices. Yet, Vogel's book demonstrates that early settlers had little appreciation of the diversity of Amerindian culture. They regarded Amerindians as a monolithic group. These two claims do not mesh.



Response to claim: 30 - Joseph "likely" added the story of the Jaredites to account for how animals arrived in the New World after the Flood

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Joseph "likely" added the story of the Jaredites to account for how animals arrived in the New World after the Flood.

(Author's sources: *Ether 2:1-3

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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

The author is  Mind reading: author has no way of knowing this.



Logical Fallacy: Composition—The author assumes that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.

The Church has no official position on the extent of Noah's Flood. Just because some members and leaders believe that the Flood was global in scope does not mean that everyone believes it.
The work repeats itself on p. 30, 42., and 203.

Question: Is it possible that Joseph Smith simply added the Book of Ether to the Book of Mormon as an "afterthought" in order to explain the variety of animals in the New World?

The story of the destroyed civilization to the north was an integral part of the Book of Mormon narrative from the beginning

It is claimed that the story of the Jaredites, as described in the Book of Ether, was added by Joseph Smith as an "afterthought" in order to account for the variety of animals present in the New World at the time of arrival of Lehi's group.

The story of the destroyed civilization to the north was an integral part of the Book of Mormon narrative, and can be seen to have been incorporated by Mormon into his abridgment from the beginning. It was Moroni who decided to transcribe and add a short abridgment of what was contained on the twenty-four plates in order to supplement the record that his father, Mormon, had already produced. The story of the Jaredites was clearly used in the Book of Mormon as an example for the Nephites of a people who were destroyed for their wickedness. The idea that Joseph Smith casually "dictated a terse history" during the "last weeks of writing" in order to tie up some loose ends involving animals is a gross oversimplification of the story of the Jaredites and its relation to the greater Book of Mormon narrative.

The critical claim

Critics suggest that the Book of Ether was simply an "afterthought" added by Joseph Smith to the Book of Mormon in order to explain the presence of a wide variety of animals in the New World at the time of the arrival of Lehi's party. The verses used by critics to support this assertion are Ether 2:1-3:

1 And it came to pass that Jared and his brother, and their families, and also the friends of Jared and his brother and their families, went down into the valley which was northward, (and the name of the valley was Nimrod, being called after the mighty hunter) with their flocks which they had gathered together, male and female, of every kind.

2 And they did also lay snares and catch fowls of the air; and they did also prepare a vessel, in which they did carry with them the fish of the waters.

3 And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind. (Ether 2:1-3)

Critic Fawn Brodie postulated in her biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, that "[t]his little detail regarding cargo, flung casually into the story, partly settled the question of how animals had come to America, a problem men had puzzled over for three centuries." [14]:71

The verses in Ether are sufficiently vague that it is really not possible to pin down exactly which animals the Jaredites brought with them to the New World

Hugh Nibley offered his opinion on Brodie's assertion:

Again, the barges of the Jaredites "contained everything which the settlers might need on the new continent," like any Chinese junk, Viking ship, or the Mayflower itself; in fact, ships have a way of carrying with them whatever the personnel will need. Brodie, however, knows that the whole thing is a dishonest adaptation of Noah's ark. [15]

The verses in Ether are sufficiently vague that it is really not possible to pin down exactly which animals the Jaredites brought with them to the New World. Brodie goes on to claim that "Joseph did not trouble to explain the presence of wild animals in America, and he was careless in his choice of domestic beasts. He had the Jaredites bring horses, swine, sheep, cattle, and asses..."[14]:72 Brodie is referring to the belief that the animals mentioned were not present in the pre-Columbian New World, which is addressed in a separate article: Book of Mormon anachronisms. The issue that we address here, however, is whether or not it is valid to claim that the story of the Jaredites was added simply to explain the presence of animals in the New World.

The Book of Mormon does not say that the Jaredites brought horses, swine, sheep, cattle and asses with them

In Ether 9:19 we find,

And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.Ether 9:19

Contrary to Brodie's claim, the Book of Mormon does not say that the Jaredites brought horses, swine, sheep, cattle and asses with them. Some of these domestic animals no doubt were brought with them, however the book only specifies that they brought "their flocks," without indentifying specifically what the "flocks" were comprised of. For example, it is not specified whether the Jaredites brought horses with them or whether the horses mentioned in Ether 9:19 were already present in the New World. More to the point, one would not reasonably expect the Jaredites to have brought elephants with them on their boats.

The Book of Ether is integrated with the complete Book of Mormon narrative

Brodie claims that at some point during the process of producing the Book of Mormon, that Joseph felt the need to add the story of the Jaredites in order to clean up some unanswered questions. The question is: Is this a reasonable assumption? This raises two questions:

  1. How intricately are elements from the Book of Ether woven into the rest of the Book of Mormon narrative?
  2. Does the order in which the books were translated have any bearing on this?

The first indication of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon occurs in Mosiah 8:8-9:

8 And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.

9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.

The Jaredites are again alluded to in Alma 37:21

And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters.

If the books in the Book of Mormon were translated in a linear fashion, as indicated by witnesses, then the claim that the Book of Ether was added as an afterthought becomes difficult to explain. The Book of Ether wasn't something that could simply be appended to the end of the record to tie up some loose ends. Even if one takes the position that the translation continued onward from the book of Mosiah after the loss of the 116 pages of manuscript and then finished with the books of Nephi through the Words of Mormon, the first reference to the Jaredites still occurs in the early part of the translation timeline.

There are other indications of integration between the two narratives as well. For example, the name "Moroni" appears to be related to the name of the Jaredite city "Moron." The name "Moroni" appears many time in the Book of Mormon, beginning in the book of Alma. The name "Moron" only appears in the Book of Ether. It is, of course, possible to assume that Joseph simply created a Jaredite city name based upon the name of one of his earlier characters, but this then assumes, if one take's Brodie's perspective, that Joseph was trying to use the Book of Ether to "explain" an item in Alma that didn't really require an explanation. It is more reasonable to assume that traces of Jaredite influence survived to be integrated into Nephite culture. If one subscribes to the theory that the Nephites and Lamanites are related to the Maya and Olmec, this fits well with the known influence of Olmec culture on that of the Maya.


Notes

  1. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 324.
  2. Joseph Smith (editor), "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (July 15, 1842), 860, (emphasis added). off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  3. [Editor], "ZARAHEMLA.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 23 (Oct. 1, 1842), 927. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  4. Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook; reprinted in Lyndon Cook (editor), David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Books, 1991), 76.
  5. Brant A. Gardner, Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, 2009 FAIR Conference presentation.
  6. Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.
  7. I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism (New York, 1902), 124–126.
  8. Joseph Smith, Jr., "From Priest's American Antiquities," (1 June 1842) Times and Seasons 3:813-815.
  9. 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.
  10. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 324.
  11. Joseph Smith (editor), "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (July 15, 1842), 860, (emphasis added). off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  12. [Editor], "ZARAHEMLA.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 23 (Oct. 1, 1842), 927. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  13. Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook; reprinted in Lyndon Cook (editor), David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Books, 1991), 76.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (New York: Knopf, 1971)
  15. Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),3–52. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link