View of the Hebrews (Book of Mormon 1.0)

December 29, 2008

Despite the church’s claims, the roots of Mormonism, rather than being ancient and Old World, are often instead nineteenth century and very American.

The Book of Mormon is no exception. Believers testify it is a ancient record but comparing the book with sources contemporary to Joseph Smith places the book squarely in the 1820-30s Burned Over District. Perhaps the most well known of these sources is View of the Hebrews, a book written in 1823. The author, Ethan Smith—a Congregationalist clergyman in Vermont, believed (as did many others of his time) the Native American populations living near him were descendants of the Israelite diaspora that emigrated to the New World. Specifically Pastor Smith believed they descended from the lost 10 Tribes which had traveled to the Western Hemisphere and eventually populated both North and South America. More specifically this Israelite “branch” after coming to the new world split in to 2 factions— one that was industrious and civilized and another that was uncivilized. The two groups battled for many years with the uncivilized group eventually destroying the more civilized. Pastor Smith believed the Native Americans that  encountered in the 1820s were the descendants of the same uncivilized group.

View of the Hebrews

So obviously the plot line of View of the Hebrews is extremely similar to that of the Book of Mormon. There are additional parallels between the books that suggest Joseph Smith drew on Ethan Smith’s book for content and story line, which I will not detail. (Check out the links at the end of the post for more information.)

Despite apologists dismissing the parallels as superficial some LDS who have acknowledged their significance. B.H. Roberts, LDS General Authority and Assistant Church Historian in his Studies of the Book of Mormon posed a number of questions about the Book of Mormon and it’s origins— some of which dealt with View of the Hebrews. Specifically, Roberts looked for parallels between VotH and the BoM and found enough similarity to ask:

“Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence?” (B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (University of Illinois Press, 1985), p. 242)

Some have questioned whether Joseph Smith even knew of Pastor Smith’s book before the Book of Mormon was published and there are a number of facts that make it extremely likely he did. Evidence shows that View of the Hebrews was very successful, being first printed in 1823 and then a second edition in 1825 and was distributed all over the Burned Out District where Joseph Smith lived. Ethan Smith even traveled promoting his book, stopping in Palmyra, Joseph’s hometown, in 1826. But even more importantly, Ethan Smith resided in Poultney, Vermont where Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith’s distant cousin and primary scribe lived. Smith was pastor at the church where members of Cowdery’s family attended between 1821 and 1826— the time that he was writing the View of the Hebrews. Cowdery almost certainly had knowledge of the book when he began to scribe for Joseph on the Book of Mormon in 1829.

Although Joseph did not directly quote the Book of Mormon from Ethan Smith— the evidence suggests that he borrowed much of the plot and larger ideas/themes. That said, View of the Hebrews was itself reflecting a number of ideas that were common in Ethan Smith’s world. In fact, Hugh Nibley argued exactly that in making the case that the Mormon prophet didn’t borrow from VotH but rather the ideas were “in the air” for both Joseph and Ethan. In either case, the Book of Mormon is, in the end, a nineteenth century book talking about nineteenth century ideas.


B.H. Roberts Parallels

Other 19th century BoM Sources

Discussion of VotH

Could Joseph Smith Have Written the Book of Mormon

Plagiarism in the Book of Mormon

1825 View of the Hebrews, 2nd Edition

Books discussing View of the Hebrews:

No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon

An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins


  1. Faithful Saint says:

    This posting of yours shows you have not researched this matter clearly. You take quotes out of context and twist the information to suit anti-mormon rhetoric.

    The quote you took:

    “Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence?” (B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (University of Illinois Press, 1985), p. 242)”

    .. was quoted in this manner,

    “Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence?” The answer is “yes,” not only because the points of resemblance are neither numerous nor startling, but also because the differences far outweigh the similarities. Why would Joseph have contradicted and ignored View of the Hebrews at virtually every turn, if indeed he gave it basic credence? (footnote -#6)

    [ footnote #6: Further discussion is available in Spencer Palmer and William Knecht, “View of the Hebrews: Substitute for Inspiration?” BYU Studies 5 (1964): 105-13; and Hugh Nibley, “The Comparative Method,” Improvement Era 62 (October-November 1959), 744-47, 759, 848, 854, 856, reprinted in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1989), 8:193-206. ]

    This quote I used was taken from – Welch, John W., “REEXPLORING THE BOOK OF MORMON”, Chapter 22 – VIEW OF THE HEBREWS: “AN UNPARALLEL”

    This article that I read also clearly said,

    “Since several people have pointed out alleged “parallels” between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews, consider the following “unparallels” that weaken, if not completely undermine, the foregoing hypothesis:

    1. View of the Hebrews begins with a chapter on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. 1 It has nothing to say, however, about the destruction in Lehi’s day by the Babylonians.

    2. View of the Hebrews tells of specific heavenly signs that marked the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Joseph Smith ignores these singular and memorable details.

    3. Chapter 2 lists many prophecies about the restoration of Israel, including Deuteronomy 30; Isaiah 11, 18, 60, 65; Jeremiah 16, 23, 30-31, 35-37; Zephaniah 3; Amos 9; Hosea and Joel. 2 These scriptures are essential to the logic and fabric of View of the Hebrews, yet, with the sole exception of Isaiah 11, none of them appear in the Book of Mormon.

    4. Chapter 3 is the longest chapter in View of the Hebrews. 3 It produces numerous “distinguished Hebraisms” as “proof” that the American Indians are Israelites. Hardly any of these points are found in the Book of Mormon, as one would expect if Joseph Smith were using View of the Hebrews or trying to make his book persuasive. For example, View of the Hebrews asserts repeatedly that the Ten Tribes came to America via the Bering Strait, which they crossed on “dry land.” According to View of the Hebrews, this opinion is unquestionable, supported by all the authorities.

    From there View of the Hebrews claims that the Israelites spread from north to east and then to the south at a very late date. These are critical points for View of the Hebrews, since Amos 8:11-12 prophesies that the tribes would go from the north to the east. Population migrations in the Book of Mormon, however, always move from the south to the north.

    5. View of the Hebrews reports that the Indians are Israelites because they use the word “Hallelujah.” Here is one of the favorite proofs of View of the Hebrews, a dead giveaway that the Indians are Israelites. Yet the word is never used in the Book of Mormon.

    Furthermore, a table showing thirty-four Indian words or sentence fragments with Hebrew equivalents appears in View of the Hebrews. 4 No reader of the book could have missed this chart. If Joseph Smith had wanted to make up names to use in the Book of Mormon that would substantiate his claim that he had found some authentic western hemisphere Hebrew words, he would have jumped at such a ready-made list! Yet not one of these thirty-four Hebrew/Indian words (e.g., Keah, Lani, Uwoh, Phale, Kurbet, etc.) has even the remotest resemblance to any of the 175 words that appear for the first time in the Book of Mormon. – (Ibid)”

    You can obtain this book and read the many other points show the Book of Mormon is not parallel to this writing of “View of the Hebrews”

    Any person can obtain that book to read it. More can be found at F.A.R.M.S., entitled “An Unparallel.” Spencer Palmer’s and William Knecht’s 1964 article in BYU Studies are available under the title “View of the Hebrews: Substitute for Inspiration?”

    Essentially, you have failed to research properly and have allowed your discontentment with the church to twist your viewpoints. From what I read of your blog thus far, you have perputrated falsehoods. None of the things you presented are valid. They are only true on your mind, no place else.

    Those who have chosen ignorance and ignore the Spirit of God are those who will disobey God and have no place in his kingdom.

  2. lds-Brian says:

    You have it all wrong. Maybe that is why you left the church, because you prefer lies to the truth.

  3. Liar hater says:

    lots of false doctrines around and the view of hebrews is one of them. Looks like you bought the scam hook line and sinker!

  4. admin says:

    Faithful Saint-

    The quote is NOT out of context. It is at the end of pg. 242 of Studies of the Book of Mormon by B.H Roberts— which I have sitting in front on me. Preceding it are numerous parallels to the Book of Mormon and the quote ends the section— nothing after. What you quote is someone’s COMMENTARY ON what Roberts, the original author, wrote in 1922. The additional words are NOT HIS and so the only context issue here is yours. If you actually checked the original source material you’d know that. I’d suggest that you spend less time parroting apologists and find time to, as you put it, “research properly.”

    The ‘unparallels’ you that you refer to have no bearing on my post. As I clearly mentioned, my contention is that Joseph Smith didn’t crib VotH word for word but instead borrowed and was influenced on major plot ideas and themes. You make the mistake of assuming because Joseph didn’t use all of Ethan Smith’s ideas that he used none of them. Really? C’mon. Certainly you realize that such binary, all-or-nothing logic— despite it’s popularity in LDS apologetics— is not supported at all.

    The facts are that B.H. Roberts and others have noted that the similarities between the VotH and the BoM are compelling and cannot be dismissed as your 1960s quotes suggest. On the contrary the similarities are “numerous” and “startling”. In addition to the 18 core parallels that Roberts listed, David Presuitte in his Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (2000, McFarland) compiles dozens more, all of which are more compelling than any of the ‘unparallels’ I’ve seen.

    That said, let’s dispense with these:

    1. View of the Hebrews begins with a chapter on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. 1 It has nothing to say, however, about the destruction in Lehi’s day by the Babylonians.

    VotH Chapter 1 may not discuss the Babylonian destruction but it is discussed a number of times elsewhere in the book. And besides as I mentioned it appears that Joseph borrowed plot line and themes and not the exact structure or verbage.

    2. View of the Hebrews tells of specific heavenly signs that marked the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Joseph Smith ignores these singular and memorable details.

    It wouldn’t make sense for JS to discuss the Roman destruction as the Lamanite/Nephite population would have known nothing of it— being that they left the Old World in 600 BC. The BoM does however ‘prophesy’ of the 70 AD destruction in general terms. And besides as I mentioned it appears that Joseph borrowed plot line and themes and not the exact structure or verbage—although sometimes the verbage is quite similar too.

    3. Chapter 2 lists many prophecies about the restoration of Israel, including Deuteronomy 30; Isaiah 11, 18, 60, 65; Jeremiah 16, 23, 30-31, 35-37; Zephaniah 3; Amos 9; Hosea and Joel. 2 These scriptures are essential to the logic and fabric of View of the Hebrews, yet, with the sole exception of Isaiah 11, none of them appear in the Book of Mormon.

    Joseph does use many of the same scriptures that Pastor Smith uses but not all. He would not need to use all though because as I mentioned it appears that Joseph borrowed plot line and themes and not the exact structure or verbage— although sometimes the verbage is quite similar too.

    Anyway, you get the idea. Something does not have to be identical to another thing to have been influenced by it and to have borrow from it.

    Thanks but I do not need to buy a copy of View of the Hebrews as there are at least 2 places online where the 1825 edition can be read.

    I understand that you think my viewpoints are twisted. Fair enough, but you also accuse me of perpetuating falsehoods and claim that nothing I have presented on the blog is valid— without presenting any actual evidence of this. Please feel free to comment elsewhere on the blog and specifically show me the ignorance I’ve “chosen”. As I am only interested in the truth, rather than mere “anti-mormon rhetoric” I would love to hear where I can improve.

    -LDS Revelations

  5. admin says:


    A) I have not technically left the Church and B) your claims about me would have a lot more weight if you backed them up at all. Exactly how do I prefer lies to truth? What have I said that you find untrue? Present your case and then we can discuss. Yes??

    Right now it’s just accusations.

  6. admin says:

    Liar hater-

    The View of the Hebrews as a source for the Book of Mormon is not any sort of doctrine— but in any case you seem to disagree with my post. Have you read the View of the Hebrews? Do you really think those similarities are just coincidence— especially when Oliver Cowdery almost certainly knew of the book before the BoM translation???

    By the way, I find it extremely funny that you, an active Mormon, are telling ME that I’ve bought a scam hook, line and sinker. From my viewpoint clearly you’re the one who’s been hooked, lined and sunk.


  7. admin says:


    Was B.H. Roberts “anti” when he compared View of the Hebrews to the Book of Mormon?

    The truth cannot be hurt by sincere examination. So show me where I am wrong— and I mean specifically. Again, you have done nothing to refute a single thing I have written.

  8. Lds-Brian says:

    You are foolish, Ldsrevelations. You think you are justified by any comments or ideas presented by any other person, sorely failing to understand that God’s word clearly says that you are judged according to your own works. It does not matter if you want BH Roberts to be right or not, it is what you choose to do against God, his servants, his prophet and his church that will get you to damned and if BH Roberts or anyone agrees with you, so shall they suffer the same. It is your responsibility to seek correction from God, it is not for someone else to prove it to you. God’s doctrine of “self-responsibility” is absolute, all the excuses and claims about BH Roberts will not help you from suffering the consequences born of your own choices and actions.

  9. admin says:

    Ah, yes, another sermonette. I can’t say I’m surprised.

    Don’t worry about me, lds-Brian. I have studied long and hard and am confident that I have come to the right conclusions regardless of what anyone else has said/written. I am open to other evidence and will change my views according to the strength of it. As of now, I have read portions of VotH and have read the BoM numerous times and see undeniable similarities. I have read BOTH sides of the argument looking for the TRUTH only. Can you say the same?

    I do find it interesting that you dismiss B. H. Roberts so handily. So, you are in the position of passing judgement on a General Authority, Church Historian and one of the greatest scholars Mormonism has ever seen. Really? Such certainty.

    You also appear certain that I am in danger of eternal damnation because I do not accept Mormonism as you do. You are certain that your belief is right because a) it’s (most likely) how you were raised and b) you have had feelings that seem to confirm it’s rightness. Consider this: Muslims have simililar feelings that confirm their belief. So do Baptists. Why are their feeling any less valid? Why is their religion not right? Why is their Church not the “only true and living” rather than Mormonism?

    The way I see it, if God gave me a brain I am going to use it to help me figure things out— including the probable origins of the BoM. It is at least as valuable a tool as feelings, right? Turns out that studying about the BoM myself, rather than just taking what I am told in church, has been far more informative. I am “working out my salvation”, as it were.

    So I have taken the responsibility to question BOTH Mormonism and it’s critics and in most instances the critics have a better case. Have you ever questioned Mormonism? I know nowadays it’s frowned upon in LDS circles but hell, that what the religion was born out of— questioning.

    At least consider this quote by Hugh B. Brown, 1st Counselor in the First Presidency:

    “I hope that you will develop the questing spirit. Be unafraid of new ideas for they are the stepping stones of progress. You will of course respect the opinions of others but be unafraid to dissent—if you are informed.
    “Now I have mentioned freedom to express your thoughts, but I caution you that your thoughts and expressions must meet competition in the market place of thought, and in that competition truth will emerge triumphant. Only error needs to fear freedom of expression. Seek truth in all fields, and in that search you will need at least three virtues; courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in the form of a prayer. They said, ‘From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth—O God of truth deliver us’.”

    But in the end, I suppose, we may have to agree to disagree. I’m fine with that and still welcome the discussion of the ideas on the blog— I do however require that posts engage in a logical, fact-based debate. This is a place to make an argument and PROVIDE SUPPORT for it— not for testimonies and calling people to repentance.


  10. I REALLY enjoyed your post and blog! It took me a tiny bit to locate your site…but I bookmarked it. Would you mind if I threw up a link back to your blog? I have a Political News Blog site of my own at White Rabbit Cult. Thanks!

  11. HonestOpen says:

    Apologists for the BOM already are clear about their agenda and are closed to further information swaying their belief. Critics of the BOM as well may be as closed. Perhaps it would serve us all to see truth and be open to any new truth that may come our way and instead of fighting to be right, be a stand for any truth whatever the source. Clearly, from my reading, there are fundamental questions raised about the connections between Ethan Smith and Joseph Smith. These questions lead me to believe there is more than mere coincidence. Whether or not BH Roberts was schizophrenic in his loyalty and core beliefs of the BOM is perhaps a superficial question. He clearly raises the issues and has no clear answers.
    The one clear and ever present defense for the BOM is at the end of the Book where the invitation is given to pray and receive a witness. If one believes that absolute knowledge of truth can be received from God through the Holy Ghost, then this may override any facts presented. Nonetheless, the facts exist and weak attempts to create convoluted explanations for hundreds of legitimate noted inconsistencies and connections regarding the BOM do nothing more than demonstrate a closed minded approach. Being right seems therefore important than being honest or open. Rather than allowing our belief to follow the scientific method of a theory and then following a legitimate path to prove or disprove the theory, there is a rationalization and twisting of facts or gathering obscure data in the process of supporting our rightness at any cost.

  12. jase says:

    Mormons listen to yourselves. How much evidence does it take? No amount is enough for those who actively look for excuses.

    Plagiarism does not involve copying sources exactly, but borrowing ideas from different sources, of which there are plenty.

    You see the MAIN idea is grab just enough from each source to give the appearance it’s original. What is sad is I know I don’t have to point this out.

    Your reasoning that is a coincidence because Smith ignored many parts of it is exactly the reason it isn’t a coincidence.

  13. Speaking Truth says:

    In reference to View of the Hebrews, I have even found parallels Plagiarized from the bible that Joseph Smith used in translating the Book of Mormon. It does not take a genius to realize that Joseph Smith plagiarized from many sources within his community. He had access to news papers, books, articles, stories, townspeople etc. It may even surprise Mormons that Joseph Smith even borrowed ideas from other individuals who had similar ‘first visions’, his is not genuine. Egyptologists have even made scientific discoveries that Joseph Smith’s translation of The Book of Abraham had nothing to do with Abraham and was actually relating to “Book of the Dead” or “Book of Breathings” which proves that Joseph Smith was a false prophet. He could not translate, nor ever had such an ability. I have done various research and have read lds church history to come up with my conclusions. Perhaps if members of the LDS church spend less time taking things at face value and investigating their own church history they would discover the same issues anti-Mormons have discovered. I am a defender of truth and believe that when more knowledge is revealed, which it will, that the Mormon church will either stand or fall. I am seeing evidence everyday that the church is slowly crumbling within its own self because of contradictions within its own history. I believe that the church should just come out and view all the evidence and deal with it, rather than side step and hide the truth from its members. Let the truth be unveiled!

  14. Paul says:

    You claim that “the plot line of View of the Hebrews is extremely similar to that of the Book of Mormon.” Having read both books myself, I wonder if you have read both books yourself to make such a claim?

    First, View of the Hebrews claims that the Indians are descendants of the lost ten tribes and they crossed the Bering Straights into America, migrating southwards. The Book of Mormon makes no mention of the ten tribes. The only genealogy given is of Lehi, and he was a descendant of Joseph through Manassah. They came over by ship from the east coast of Arabia, not by crossing the Bering Straights.

    The Book of Mormon is a narrative religious history of a group of people and tells of three seperate and distinct groups that came to America, the first from the Tower of Babel, and the other two from Jerusalem. This correlates well with several Indian histories that were discovered years after the Book of Mormon was published, and not translated into English until well into the 20th century. Ixtlilxochitl, Bernardo de Sahagan, Juan de Torquemada are just a few of these hisotories, all compiled seperately and saying the same thing. The all agree with the Book of Mormon that there were three groups that came over, and from the same places and times mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

    View of the Hebrews is a thesis. It lays the groundwork for the author’s theory by using scriptures to show the dispersion of the ten tribes and their north easterly movement. The author then shows similarities between some Indian customs and language with that of the Hebrews. This is not something the Book of Mormon concerns itself with at all. View of the Hebrews is concerned with presenting the proofs of the author’s theory.

    It is an interesting side note that the Hapalog X2 chromosome found in some middle eastern people (and in particular the Jews) has been found in the group of Indians that Ethan Smith was most concerned with in his View of the Hebrews. So evidently, the ones he studied were descendants of Israel. Did they come from the Bering Straights as he hypothesized, or were they descendants of Hagaoth the shipbuilder’s people in teh Book of Mormon. Since they are mainly along the Misssissippi, it is quite conceivable that Hagoth in sailing north, crossed the Caribbean and headed up the MIssissippi.

  15. @Paul-
    I have not read View of the Hebrews cover to cover but have read through it and personally I find a number of parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. As I mentioned I do not think that Joseph Smith borrowed any actual text from the VotH to create the Book of Mormon. I do however think that he likely borrowed themes, plot lines and ideas that were available in the VotH and in other places in the culture around him. Clearly the splitting of the Israelite immigrants into 2 groups (1 white skinned and industrious the other dark skinned and slothful) who constantly war and then eventually the more primitive dark skinned prevail and destroy the more white and delightsome group…is virtually identical to the BoM plot.

    Fact is the idea that the Native Americans were Israelites of some sort was common to 19th century America and both VotH and Joseph Smith picked up on it. At least that’s my view. Personally I think even if believers think the BoM is historical, to deny the 19th century belief and the similarities between the BoM and the VotH is just silly. I mean even B.H. Roberts saw them.

    From what little I have read on DNA the X haplotype I think the only people really coming up with the conclusions you are floating are employed at BYU mostly if not exclusively. When I see non-LDS, non-apologists claiming ancient Jews in the pre-Columbian new world I’ll take a little more notice.

    For now I can safely say though that the Lamanites weren’t— as was claimed for years— the ‘principal’ ancestors of the Native Americans. I believe the evidence is clear on that.

    Thanks for the comment.

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  17. Dan says:

    What I fail to understand is how can simply pass off the BoM as Joseph’s imagination, when there are many evidences, archaeological, historical, and linguistic which support the BoM. You say that your coincidences are not merely coincidences, yet you pass off our many “coincidences” as irrelevant, simply because you have no reasonable explanation. Also, Joseph had little education. He was taught to read, write, and do basic math. So, you are saying that such an uneducated “ruffian”, as some of you describe him, can write a 500 page book which is internally consistent, which possesses many validated Hebraisms (such as chiasmus) in its text (none of which are referred to in VoH, by the way), which also possesses a strong knowledge of military tactic, olive tree care (which is only mentioned by Jacob, who was the only prophet in the BoM besides Nephi and Lehi to have direct contact with such knowledge, given that his family was Israelite), and also complex allegories of a spiritual nature which are deep and profound. Such a work would suggest a highly educated person, yet Joseph was not. Such a work would have required years of study. Such a work would have to have been the work of a genius. For such a work, we can arrive at only one conclusion: that it came through the power of God, who is indeed a genius, in fact he possesses such an intellect as to make our definition of genius seem frail and inanimate. Come up with a valid explanation of how millions of people have had their lives changed by this book, and how all this evidence has been found which supports the books authenticity, and then we may talk, but until then (in other words, never) I will not listen to your critique.

  18. Thanks for the comment, Dan. Please bear with me on my reply. It is long and covers a fair amount of territory. That said, I think (shocker) that it makes some good points.

    The reason I think the BoM is a 19th century document— whether written by Joseph Smith alone or the whether it is was combined from a number of sources— is because logic favors this conclusion. Unlike what Elder Holland has suggested the weight of evidence is squarely on the side of the keystone of the LDS faith NOT being ancient. I don’t think the evidences that LDS cite are irrelevant but do not find them very compelling.

    I have read apologetic work on the evidences for the BoM and find them few and thin. Chiasmus is not only found in many 19th century documents including James Strang’s Book of the Law of the Lord but also in more modern works that LDS would readily admit are not 1) scripture and 2) ancient. Considering that Joseph Smith borrowed huge parts of the BoM from the KJV it’s no surprise to find the poetic structure in the book. But even where Smith is not quoting the KJV it is entirely likely that Smith— who was known to quote Bible verses nearly verbatim— could have infused the BoM with chiasmus and hebraisms by simply concocting language similar to what he knew by heart.

    See, while Smith did not have years of formal education he was not the ignorant rube that LDS would like people to think. Both Joseph Smith Sr. and Hyrum were school teachers in Palmyra in the off-season. The Smith home was not an uneducated one. Also Joseph was for a time an ‘exhorter’ and eventually became a “very passable exhorter”— meaning he would teach or give sermons and was relatively good at it. Use of language obviously not an huge issues for him. True, Joseph did not have the years of formal education common today but he obviously was educated, a natural genius and was by no means illiterate. In 1826 while working for Josiah Stowell as a treasure digger, Joseph attended school again in Bainbridge NY. If you read his 1829 letter to Oliver Cowdery Smith proves to be quite articulate despite some minor issues with grammar and spelling. Like Lincoln, Smith did much with little education.

    Also evidence shows that Joseph had a vivid imagination that would be required to write something like to BoM. In fact B H Roberts LDS Seventy and Church Historian said the following on the topic:

    “”In light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet. An imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are to be found in the ‘common knowledge’ of accepted American Antiquities of the times, supplemented [sic] by such a work as Ethan Smith’s, View of the Hebrews, would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is.”

    “… was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials as have been indicated in the preceding chapters …? That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question.” B.H. Roberts (Studies, p. 243).

    I personally do think Joseph Smith was a genius of sorts. That said I think you give the Book of Mormon far too much credit. You suggest that the book is of such a caliber that it would require the redefinition of the term ‘genius’. I disagree. Whatever value the BoM has it is mostly a less than well written narrative that feels more like 19th century juvenile adventure writing than scripture. It contains at times the worst grammar— sentences that burn through words but but cannot manage to ramble their way to a predicate or conclusion. The same over-simplistic plots and themes and plots are replayed over and over with a slight change of cast. Smith’s natural intelligence and ability compensated for where his education lacked in writing the BoM but in the end it is not the wonder that most LDS see it as.

    I refer again to Roberts in studies of the BoM:

    “”… There is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history that points quite clearly to an undeveloped mind as their origin, The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency…
    “Is this all sober history … or is it a wonder-tale of an immature mind, unconscious of what a test he is laying on human credulity when asking men to accept his narrative as solemn history.”

    “… was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials as have been indicated in the preceding chapters …? That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question.” B.H. Roberts (Studies, p. 243).”

    Over all the BoM is not great literature, writing or scripture. Any number of novels written before or since are superior— some by less that well educated authors like Twain. He was not schooled past elementary and was working as an apprentice by age 11and yet his books far surpass the BoM in language and content. Books since such as The Lord of the Rings, are far more complex, well written and consistent that the BoM. True, Tolkien was a more educated man than Smith but then his books reflect that. By that standard the BoM is about what one would expect from an elementary school plus educated frontiersman who possibly collaborated on the volume and likely borrowed heavily from other sources.

    You asked for evidence to answer the question how JS could have written the BoM. I suggest you check out this link for more:

    Beyond all that though I think the BoM is 19th century because aside from the fact clearly Joseph could have written it, the content of the book itself is clearly from Smith’s day. If he did not write it, someone in his time and vicinity apparently did. It’s interesting but you see the war strategies as evidence that the BoM is ancient. I on the other hand see them as proof that Smith wrote it. Thomas E. Donofrio has done a good bit of work showing that Smith likely cribbed early American authors (who wrote of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812) in writing the BoM, using the History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, published in 1805 by Mercy Otis Warren, David Ramsay in his own History of the American Revolution published in 1789 and also Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Found (the manuscript that would have been available to Smith in not extant. This was used instead). The number of phrases that are direct quotes is enough to convince me that the BoM was not written anciently.

    Grant Palmer goes further to show 19th century evangelical protestant worship practice and language in the BoM— especially in the King Benjamin narrative. In fact, Palmer shows where 75 percent of the BoM content likely came from— all 19th century sources.

    The fact is Dan, it’s a more valid and defendable explanation of Book of Mormon to say it is a 19th century document and was likely written by, at least in part, by Joseph Smith than to to say it is what the LDS Church claims it to be. There’s is far more evidence to that end— and the evidence is more credible and compelling. Are you willing to look at the sources I provided? Can you explain how ancient Nephite prophets were able to quote 19th century authors verbatim 1200 years before they lived. How’s it that ancient american Christianity sounds and acts just like 19th century methodism but not like 21st century Mormonism? How did translation errors from an 1769 KJV Bible get into the KJV if the seer stone only allowed the verse to be translated correctly? How is it that the BoM presents a view of Native Americans that was common to the 19th century but is now rejected by anthropologists and DNA. Why is there not one definitive artifact clearly placing the BoM in the new World? Just one clear piece of evidence?

    Sure, you can choose to ignore this evidence if you want and only see that which allows you to believe the LDS world view you were raised with. However don’t make the mistake of claiming the evidence based case for the BoM is in any way similar or superior to the case against it. It is patently false and only shows a ignorance of the landscape and/or a determination to believe facts be damned.

  19. Linaria says:

    I appreciate your research and fact-based approach. It’s very refreshing 🙂

    I’m just starting to research this, so I can’t pretend I have read half as much as you. But, I respect your research and wonder if you have an opinion on this: My one concern is, if Joseph Smith were not inspired, how did he write it straight through (as I have read he did) without editing and rewriting and inserting? I think it was Oliver Cowdery who said that Joseph would start exactly where he left off, without Cowdery even telling reading him the last part. I mean, it’s not impossible I guess but it’s pretty amazing. Then again, Mozart could do that with music…

    In any case, I am not trying to defend the BoM, but I’m trying to sort through things in my mind. I really want to get to the bottom of this, and I would appreciate any thoughts or links you might share. Thanks!

  20. Well actually the Jospeh Smith was likely concepting and working on the story of the BoM for much longer than the time it took to recite it to Oliver Cowdery. You have to remember that he had already worked out the portions of the narrative when dictating the 116 pages that were “lost”. And it’s inaccurate to think that the BoM as it exists now is not edited from the manuscript given to the printer. The typesetter at Grandin Press had to add punctuation and make hundreds of changes to get the text ready for print. Even there first edition was a good bit rougher than what we have now- and their have been thousands of changes to the text in subsequent editions. Also in the manuscript there were some name errors, Mosiah mistaken for King Benjamin or vice versa- or something like it.

    To your point about Joseph Smith being able to pick up where he left off, it is fairly well known that Smith had an amazing memory. Prophetic claims aside he clearly was a genius and had an amazing minds. As you mention with Mozart while this ability is rare it is not unheard of.

    Personally I find Joseph’s memory less compelling evidence of the Book of Mormon as a ancient document than all of the 19th century content that is contained in the Book of Mormon. Check out these links for some really intersting stuff on where the BoM content came from:

  21. What i find interesting is that none of you even recognize that the Book of Mormon has no purpose and was not written as a story, a narrative, a novel or an adventure. It has one purpose and one purpose only- to testify of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and the Son of God. No one could have invented or made up the Book of Mormon faithful and fanatical witness page after page of the fact that salvation is ONLY in Christ. For a book that is 531 pages, with 101 different titles- different titles- to God and Jesus Christ. over 1700 references to christ which ends up being every 2.7 verses; 300+ references a piece to faith and repentance; 145 references to baptism; 100+ references using the words salvation, redemption, sacrifice, atonement, etc.- shall i continue. from the 1st chapter of nephi where they prophesy of the messiah to the last chapter of Moroni where he exhorts to Come unto Christ- if the Book of Mormon is not in very deed the Word of God and written by the power and gift of God then whoever wrote it still produced the greatest written testimony that ever lived. The Bible (though true and the word of God) doesnt even come close- not even in the same universe (if you go by number of references alone/ per page) to the repetition and clarity that Jesus is the Christ in the Book of Mormon. A book so fanatical about its principle protagonist (Christ) either is true or false. If you say the Book of Mormon is false then you must equally say that Jesus is not the Savior of the world because you cannot have one or the other. The Book of Mormon is God’s greatest witness to the world that salvation is in Christ alone, because it reminds you on almost every page!

  22. What LDS defenders need to look for in the BoM is the early American anachronisms (18-19th century)that permeate the volume and show that it is not a record of any ancient people but instead 19th century frontier fiction. Joseph Smith unwittingly left so many markers in the content from his own time that anyone who is willing to really look at the evidence will likely conclude it can’t be what Smith and his successors said it is.

    “A book so fanatical about its principle protagonist (Christ) either is true or false.”

    This statement is false. First off what does the BoM being ‘true’ or false even mean? Does it being ‘true’ mean every word is truth and factual. Certainly that’s no accurate. I think you are suggesting that based on the fact the book talks constantly about Christ (totally debatable) then it must be what it claims to be (ancient record written in reformed egyptian by ancient americans, translated from gold plates) which does not follow at all from you assertion. In fact, it’s patently false. If I were to write book now that talks incessantly about Christ, baptism, repentance and the like, using all available writing and ideas about Jesus and were to claim it is the record of the people of Africa and their dealings with Christ— that wouldn’t make it what it claims to be. Even if one were to assert that all of the writings in the BoM about Jesus were accurate according to current Christian teachings it still has no bearing on if the BoM is what it claims to be.

    And the reason the Bible doesn’t talk about as much as the BoM (may be debatable) Christ is that Jesus is anachronistic in BC writings. What you see as a strength is actually one of the reason non-LDS see the BoM as a fraud. Pre-BC talk of Jesus and Pauline verbiage long before Paul screams anachronism. It’s included because hindsight is 20/20. Joseph wrote it in the 19th century and wa-lah…the BoM sound like 19th century Christianity.

    ” If you say the Book of Mormon is false then you must equally say that Jesus is not the Savior of the world because you cannot have one or the other.”

    Again your logic is seriously flawed. Personally I;m agnostic on God and Jesus but one can easily say that the BoM is not what it claims to be and that the traditional Christian view of Jesus is still legit. Note first of my truth bart for the BoM is whether it is actually an ancient record, translated from plates as claimed…you know, the Lamanites and Nephites would have had to really existed. That’s all independent of whether Jesus lived, died on the cross and atoned for mankind and is God. Christianity existed before Joseph Smith and does not/did not depend on his reassertion of Christian claims. Jesus could exist and the BoM not be what it claims even when it reasserts Jesus as Savior.

    All that said thanks for the comment.

  23. Fatboy says:

    I think there is a very important understanding missing here. When Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he did not just sit back and look into the Urim and Thummin. When he first started to translate it was very difficult and exhausting. In order for him to translate he had to be prepared both mentally and spiritually. This why section 9 of the D&C came about as Oliver tried to translate. Also the words did not just appear in the translators. The whole process worked through Joseph’s own knowledge and understanding which is I believe that it took four years for him to finally get the plates. This is why there is modern English usage and style. As the translation continued and Joseph Smith’s knowledge and understanding increased the translation became more pure to the true intent of what he was being translated. If Joseph had to retranslate the Book of Mormon years later, it would not be word perfect to the original because his understanding and knowledge would make it a more pure translation. Not that it would change the meaning but it would be ven more clear. Joseph Smith was imperfect but is all God had to work with.

  24. “Also the words did not just appear in the translators”
    The actual accounts of the translation that we have from witnesses say just the opposite. The words actually DID appear directly on the seer stone. One of the best and most detailed accounts— from David Whitmer — states that the translation was actually word for word from the seer stone (the so called spectacles, Interpreters or U&T (as it was later called) was likely taken back by the angel after the 116 pages debacle (Emma Smith, confirms this). The Book of Mormon as we have it was translated all by the use of a a seer stone obtained by Smith himself and the method was nearly identical to the one Joseph had used in treasure digging for years before prior to translation. He would place the seer stone into a hat and the put his face into the hat and look into the stone and read what he saw on/in it. Whitmer said what appeared to be a piece of parchment appeared on the stone and the words appeared on it. After a portion was read by Joseph, the scribe would write it down and then read it back. If it was correct then the word/words/phrase would disappear and another would appear and the process repeated. Joseph Knight Sr. also claimed Joseph actually saw the words appear in English (“in Brite Roman Letters”) on the stone and that the translation did not continue til they were written correctly and that even spelling had to be right. Accounts of Joseph Smith reading off letter of word he could not supposed pronounce supports this idea.

    This sort of exact or ‘tight translation’ had to happen in order for the chiasmus and hebraism LDS always call out to come though the process. If Joseph were merely getting close to the ideas or getting the bigger themes there is no way these structures would make it from Reformed Egyptian to English. I mean the Bible passages are so verbatim they even carry the KJV translation errors. =) Anyway to restate, the historical accounts we have say it was a word for word translation and all of the textual proofs LDS love to cite could not exist in the BoM without this sort of process.

    Also applying the name “Urim and Thummim” to the spectacles and the seer stone(s) was apparently an afterthought provided by Parley P. Pratt IIRC (who was not around til Oct 1830, 7 months after the BoM was published). At first Joseph and the Smith family referred to the translation device as ‘the spectacles.’ Likewise the often seen LDS art showing Joseph reading off the plates is inaccurate as well. Many times the plates were not even in the room or house when the translation was happening and Smith could not have seen them in any case with his head buried in the hat as it was.

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