Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize the History of Mexico to produce the Book of Ether?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize the History of Mexico to produce the Book of Ether?

The timing of its publication makes it impossible for Joseph Smith to have seen even the first volume prior to the submission of the Book of Mormon manuscript to publishers

It is claimed that a 16th century work by Fernando de Alva Ixtilxochitl, History of Mexico, provided source material for Joseph Smith's construction of the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon.

The History of Mexico theory is yet another attempt to fit a secular origin to the Book of Mormon. The timing of its publication makes it impossible for Joseph Smith to have seen even the first volume prior to the submission of the Book of Mormon manuscript to publishers. Moreover, the relevant volume is volume nine, which was published many years after the Book of Mormon. The parallel between History of Mexico and The Book of Mormon, if anything, supports the claim that The Book of Mormon is a genuine historical record, although of course it would be overreaching to conclude that it proves the truth of The Book of Mormon.

Writing of History of Mexico

Fernando de Alva Ixtilxochitl was a Catholic priest of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry. He lived from approximately 1568 to 1647. He wrote several works of history, and is recognized by some historians as being particularly astute, partly because of his mixed ancestry that allowed him access to more knowledgeable people than he otherwise would have been able to learn from.[1] Ixtilxochitl's works are often known under the Spanish titles Obras Historicas or Historica Chichimeca

Parallels between History of Mexico and the Book of Ether

Ixtilxochitl's history includes an account of the origin of the first settlers of Mexico. In the original Spanish, it reads: "Y como despues multiplicandose los hombres hicieron un zacualli muy alto y fuerte, que quiere decir la torre altisima, para guarecerse en el cuando se tornase a destruir el segundo mundo. Al mejor tiempo se les mudaron las lenguas, y no entendiendose unos a otros, se fueron a diversas partes del mundo; y los tultecas, que fueron hasta siete companeros con sus mujeres, que se entendian la lengua, se vinieron a estas partes, habiendo primero pasado grandes tierras y mares, viviendo en las cuevas y pasando grandes trabajos, hasta venir a esta tierra, que la hallaron buena y fertil para su habitacion."[2]

In his 1989 book, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Allen translated the above passage to read as follows: "[After the flood, the people] built a Zacualli very high and strong, which means 'The Very High Tower,' to protect themselves against a second destruction of the world. As time elapsed, their language became confounded, such that they did not understand one another; and they were scattered to all parts of the earth. The Tultecas, consisting of seven men and their wives, were able to understand each other; and they came to this land, having first crossed many lands and waters, living in caves and passing through great trials and tribulations. Upon their arrival here, they discovered that it was a very good and fertile land."[3]

This obviously parallels Ether 1 and LDS teaching, which recount how the Jaredite colony migrated from Babel, at the time of the Tower of Babel as also recorded in Genesis 11:1-9, to a "Promised Land" in the western hemisphere.

Translation of History of Mexico

The first known translation of Ixtilxochitl's history into English was in Edward King, Lord Kingsborough's book Antiquities of Mexico. This was a nine-volume work; the first volume was published in 1830 or 1831 and the ninth was not published until after Lord Kingsborough's death in 1837. Lord Kingsborough put his personal fortune on the line for the publication, which featured luxurious materials and hand-painted illustrations. He over-extended himself and was sent to debtors' prison.[4] The extremely high quality of the printing, and the therefore extremely high price of the volumes, make it incredibly unlikely that Joseph Smith ever saw a copy of this work.

Impossibility of Joseph having used Ixtilxochitl as a source

Critics may give just enough information about History of Mexico--it was published in English in 1830, the same year as the Book of Mormon--to make it seem plausible that Joseph Smith used it as a source text for the Book of Mormon. However, this claim is completely demolished under closer scrutiny.

First, Joseph Smith did not know Spanish, and none of his close associates prior to 1830 were known to know Spanish. So Joseph's access to an English translation is crucial to the critic's argument.

Second, the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, but the handwritten manuscript was finished and submitted to printers the year before, in July 1829. Even if Joseph had somehow obtained a copy of Antiquities of Mexico, hot off the presses in England early in 1830, it would have already been far too late to work any of the knowledge gleaned into the Book of Mormon manuscript in time for printing. First edition Book of Mormons do contain the entire Book of Ether.

Third, Antiquities of Mexico was published in nine volumes, and Ixtilxochitl's writings comprise volume nine,[1] which was not published until 1837 or later.[4]


Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Mexico, Volume IX. (San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Company, 1883), 139-140.
  2. Fernando Alva de Ixtilxochit,Obras historicas, 12.
  3. Joseph L. Allen, and Blake J. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, (Orem, UT: S.A. Publishers, 1989), 62.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Edward King, Viscount Kingsborough, wikipedia retrieved March 30, 2011