Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize John Dee’s The Secret Book of Madoc for his creation of the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize John Dee’s The Secret Book of Madoc for his creation of the Book of Mormon?

Introduction to Criticism

In a Google Group message board on 8 September 2003, former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and current member of the Bahá'í Faith) Darrick T. Evenson stated the following about the Book of Mormon:

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi writes:

"I Nephi, being born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father;...there I make a record of the proceeding of my days". (1 Nephi 1:1)

In the Book of Madog, by John Dee:

"I, Madog, born of goodly parents, was taught somewhat in the learning of my father, nevertheless having seen many afflictions, therefore I make a record in my day as a vagabond upon the face of the earth." (Madog 3:1)

Madog was a Welsh prince who purportedly sailed to America in the 12th century. They had wars with the Indians. The son of Madog was Mor Awnyry (pronounced "More-On-ih-rih").[1]

Evenson repeated this argument in separate posts in the same forum on 30 October 2006, 19 December 2007, and 5 May 2008. He also has posted it on his website Order of Enoch.[2] Ex-Mormons occupying the r/exmormon subreddit picked up on the argument and posted about it on 31 August 2015.

Evenson tells us that the source of his claim is a “self-published” book that he found in the Salt Lake City Public Library but that he couldn’t remember the name of.

After further research of this criticism, the source may have been Kerry Ross Boren and Lisa Lee Boren, Following the Ark of the Covenant: The Treasure of God (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort Publishing, 2000). The author has a copy in his possession. The book was not self-published by appears to be of that quality.

This article will seek to respond to the various theories that have been brought up with the appearance of Evenson’s claims by Evenson and those occupying the Ex-Mormon subreddit.

Response to Claim

Secret Book of Madog does not seem to Exist

It appears that there is no Secret Book of Madoc from which the language of the first verse of the Book of Mormon was derived. Neither the Ex-Mormons nor Evenson seemed to have found the exact source for this claim.

Another Ex-Mormon, drawing on the Borens, claimed that Dee transcribed the Secret Book of Madog from “gold plates.” Since the book from which this assertion was supposedly drawn doesn’t exist, we have to ask what the Borens were doing with their work. The assertion nonetheless remains without substantiation.

So also there is no substantiation for the name “Mor Awnyry” in any book authored by Dee.

John Dee as Scryer

One parallel between Joseph Smith and John Dee cited by the Ex-Mormons was that John Dee was a scryer. This appears to be true but suggests nothing more than coincidence.[3] A more likely thing to occur is Joseph Smith picking up on scrying as a means of making money to provide for his father during financial crisis.[4]

John Dee as Polygamist

One Ex-Mormon asserts that John Dee followed around an Edward Kelley that introduced plural marriage as commanded by the angels. The author can find substantiation for the assertion that Dee followed Kelly and that they practiced scrying, but not that Kelley introduced plural marriage. A more likely source for Joseph Smith’s inspiration for the introduction of plural marriage would be the Old Testament since he sought to give an inspired translation of it early in his prophetic career.

John Dee with a Counsel of Twelve

One Ex-Mormon asserts that John Dee had a counsel of twelve. The author can find no source to substantiate that assertion. A more likely source for Joseph’s inspiration to have a counsel of Twelve would be the New Testament.

John Dee with Connections to the Rosicrucian Order and Melchizedek

Evenson asserts that Dee had connections to The Rosicrucian Order and that they held the Melchizedek Priesthood. The author cannot find sources to substantiate this claim. A more likely source for Joseph’s inspiration about the priesthood would be the Book of Mormon and the Bible.[5]

Conclusion

These esoteric claims about the Book of Mormon do not withstand even cursory scrutiny.

Further Reading

For further reading about how the first verse of the Book of Mormon actually fits better into the ancient world, see the following KnoWhys from Book of Mormon Central.

Notes

  1. Darrick T. Evenson, “Who REALLY TRULY Wrote the Book of Mormon???..,...," alt.religion.mormon Google Discussion Group, 8 September 2003.https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/alt.religion.mormon/darrick$20madoc/alt.religion.mormon/VnCSj_AvxTc/wrgleSmluX8J. (19 August 2020).
  2. Darrick T. Evenson, “The Angel Moroni Identified: Revealing the True Identity of the Ordinal Author of the Book of Mormon & Revealing Some of the Literary Sources of the Work,” <http://orderofenoch.angelfire.com/MADOC.html>. (19 August 2020).
  3. On Dee as scryer, see Frank Klaassen, "John Dee's Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature," Canadian Journal of History 37, no. 2 (2002): 349–351.
  4. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 47–52.
  5. Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7; Mosiah 18:17; Alma 4:20; 5:3; 13; 3 Nephi 11:25; 12:1.