Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize Josiah Priest's ''The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed''?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed?

There is so little of The Wonders of Nature that has parallels with the Book of Mormon that it would provide a forger with little help

It is claimed that Joseph Smith plagiarized Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed in order to write portions of The Book of Mormon.

Matthew Roper makes several observations regarding this claim:

  1. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever read Priest's book before he translated the Book of Mormon.
  2. That there are very few ways to describe an isthmus. Roper states, "In his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster defines the word neck as 'a long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury.' "[1]

Narrow neck

The Wonders of Nature(1825) Book of Mormon Other similar phrases
For instance, in many places, such as the isthmus of Darien, a narrow neck of land is interposed betwixt two vast oceans. (p. 598) And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. (Ether 10:20) A long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury. (Webster's Dictionary (1828)

Vapour and darkness

The Wonders of Nature(1825) Book of Mormon Other similar phrases
"Darkness which may be felt.... vapours ... so thick as to prevent the rays of the sun from penetrating an extraordinary thick mist. ... no artificial light could be procured ... vapours would prevent lamps, etc. from burning. ... [T]he darkness lasted for three days." (p. 524) "[They] could feel the vapour of darkness, and there could be no light ... neither candles, neither torches, ... neither the sun ... for so great were the mists of darkness ... [I]t did last for the space of three days." (3 Nephi 8:20-23) They saw not one another. So deep was the obscurity, and probably such was its nature, that no artificial light could be procured; as the thick clammy vapors would prevent lamps, &c., from burning, or if they even could be ignited, the light through the palpable obscurity, could diffuse itself to no distance from the burning body. The author of the book of Wisdom, chap. xvii. 2-19, gives a fearful description of this plague. He says, "The Egyptians were shut up in their houses, the prisoners of darkness: and were fettered with the bonds of a long night. They were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being horribly astonished and troubled with strange apparitions; for neither might the corner that held them keep them from fear; but noises as of waters falling down sounded about them; and sad visions appeared unto them with heavy countenances.

No power of the fire could give them light-only there appeared unto them a fire kindled of itself very dreadful; for being much terrified, they thought the things which they saw to be worse than the sight they saw not. For though no terrible thing did scare them, yet being scared with beasts that passed by, and hissing of serpents, they died for fear: for whether he were husbandman, or shepherd, or a labourer in the field, he was overtaken; for they were all bound with one chain of darkness. Whether it were a whistling wind, or a terrible sound of stones cast down, or a running that could not be seen of tripping beasts, or a roaring voice of most savage wild beasts, or a rebounding echo from the hollow mountains, these things made them to swoon for fear." See Psalms 78:49.

To this description nothing need be added except this circumstance, that the darkness, with its attendant horrors, lasted for three days. ("Commentary on Exodus X: The Ninth Plague - Thick Darkness, Verse 23" Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 1


Notes

  1. Matthew Roper, "Unanswered Mormon Scholars (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism Raised by Mormon Defenders)," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 87–145. [ off-site]