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The Book of Mormon: One Too Many M's

Stephen Van Eck

For a book which inspired a thriving religion, the Book of Mormon is highly problematic.

The first edition contained numerous grammatical, spelling, and Punctuation errors, most (but not all) of which were corrected in subsequent editions. In all, over 4100 revisions were made to the original edition. The grammatical errors were referred to as "Smithisms" by one critic, and can be found in other writings admittedly by him. No word of God, at any rate, would need such extensive revision.

The Book contains words that nobody, not even Joseph Smith, can define--including neas, ziff, cumoms, and cureloms. If he was given the ability to translate at all, then these should have been translated as well.

It contains theological discrepancies and other errors, including having Jesus born in Jerusalem.

It contains blatant anachronisms, including the practice of Christianity before Christ was even born, paraphrased sayings by Jesus by B.C. characters, and reference to the Book of Revelation centuries before it was written.

The biggest anachronistic problem is the fact that it quotes extensively from the King James Version of the Bible. Yet it was supposedly translated from "reformed Egyptian" written on plates buried in 421 A.D.--twelve centuries before the KJV existed! It defies plausibility that a nineteenth century man would translate an ancient tongue into 16th century language, exactly matching the KJV. It must have been copied.

Furthermore, much of the Isaiah it quotes is the Deutero-Isaiah portion written around 540 B.C., sixty years after the band of Hebrews supposedly left for America, bearing plates of their Scriptures. These plates could not have contained this portion of Isaiah.

Despite Smith's imaginative storytelling ability, the narrative portion of the Book of Mormon cannot be considered entirely original. And early on, probable derivative sources were discerned. The first break came when an excommunicated Mormon named Philastus Hurlbut heard of claims that the Book of Mormon resembled an unpublished historical romance by a Solomon Spaulding, submitted in 1812. It was called "The Manuscript Found," and told the fictional story of early Hebrew settlers in America, and how a portion became the ancestors of American Indians, and who left behind a buried account of their history before they were wiped out. This is the basic outline of the Book of Mormon. Hurlbut collected sworn affidavits from 70 people, relatives, friends, and neighbors of the now deceased Spaulding who claimed a resemblance between Spaulding's manuscript and the Book of Mormon. Several witnesses were clear that the names Lehi and Nephi occurred in Spaulding's work, the latter being a name not found anywhere before that time. The names Moroni and Zarahemla were also mentioned. It was alleged in the subsequent expose that Sidney Rigdon was a friend of the printer to whom Spaulding submitted his manuscript, that he presumably stole it from the shop and eventually passed it on to Smith, and that he perhaps helped Smith adapt it from fiction to bogus scripture. Rigdon became an important elder in the LDS Church in 1830--after the Book was published, they'll point out, but two witnesses placed Rigdon in the company of Smith in 1827 and '28. Another witness said that Rigdon had been going around proclaiming that a great event was soon to be revealed.

Spaulding's manuscript was indeed missing. But that meant that no direct comparison could be made. Eventually a manuscript was found in Spaulding's hand, but it bore little resemblance to the Book of Mormon in substance or style. It told of Romans coming to America, and the names in the story were not at all similar. This allowed the Church to claim vindication for their account of the Book's origins, and accuse Hurlbut of being merely a disgruntled apostate with impeachable motives, who suggested and slanted testimony from led witnesses. However, it could still be argued that this manuscript (entitled "The Manuscript Story," rather than "The manuscript Found") was another one by Spaulding, and not the original story in question.

Further support for the Rigdon-Smith hypothesis comes from the testimony of Spaulding's doctor, who read the Book of Mormon in 1831, and who also claimed--two years before Hurlbut's expose--that it was taken from the writings of his patient. According to the doctor's written testimony, Spaulding thought that Rigdon had stolen his manuscript. The doctor also claimed that the full title of the work was, "The Manuscript Found in the Wilds of Mormon; or Unearthed Records of the Nephites."

Yet another piece of evidence comes from a W. Lang, whose law firm the excommunicated Oliver Cowdery joined. Lang wrote, "The plates were never translated and could not be, and were never intended to be." (This suggests that Cowdery still believed that there were actually plates.) "What is claimed to be a translation is 'The Manuscript Found' worked over by C." (Cowdery) "He was the best scholar among them." (If Cowdery didn't say so himself ... ) "Rigdon got the original at the job printing office in Pittsburgh ... Without going into detail or disclosing a confidential word, I can say to you that I do know, as well as can now be known, that C. revised the manuscript and that Smith and Rigdon approved of it before it became the Book of Mormon." Apparently Cowdery had admitted the hoax to Lang, but took all the credit for it. This is not consistent with Cowdery being the servile follower of Smith that he had been. Had Cowdery given Smith the completed manuscript, furthermore, losing the first 116 pages of the dictated "translation" would have scarcely been a problem. Cowdery, despite his apparent boasting to Lang, can be considered a collaborator at best, but a conspirator at least.

A second source, not as frequently mentioned as Spaulding, may be "View of the Hebrews" (1823) by Ethan Smith (no relation). Smith was a preacher in Vermont, not far from Joseph Smith's hometown and his congregation included Oliver Cowdery's stepmother. Thus, Joseph Smith had every opportunity to be aware of this book. In fact, he even referred to it, but after he had published his own.

Brigham Roberts, an early official Church historian, specified twelve similarities between "View of the Hebrews" and the Book of Mormon, including a diaspora from Jerusalem, hieroglyphics in America, wholesale quotation from Isaiah, two peoples: civilized and barbarous (the latter being Indians), reference to the puzzling Urim and Thummim, a long-lost buried book, inspired seers and prophets, a messiah in the New World, Gentiles in America having a special mission,,. and a gathering of God's people in the last (latter) days. Roberts concluded VH was a source for DM, and that BM was the ultimate product of Joseph Smith. He also came to the opinion that the Book was "only a wonder tale, told by an undeveloped mind." Apparently his fearless investigation had undermined his faith--an example for other Mormons to follow.

In 1832, Alexander Campbell, who founded the Disciples of Christ, issued a work entitled, "Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon; With an Examination of Its Internal and External Evidences ... and a Refutation of Its Pretenses to Divine Authority." Campbell concluded that it was Joseph Smith's work, and established the Environmental Theory of its inspiration. Rather than an authentic tale of ancient Hebrews, Campbell saw evidence of concerns particular to Smith's time and place. The book, he asserted, seemed to be attempting to resolve all the theological disputes of the time, sixteen of which were listed by Campbell. As for the bizarre notion that Hebrews were the ancestors of American Indians, it was actually a common view at that time. Six previous books were based on the notion.

Despite establishing the Environmental Theory, Campbell eventually came to accept the Rigdon-Smith hypothesis. In this writer's judgment, they need not be mutually exclusive. The Book can easily incorporate both.

Campbell also pointed out that another vital subtext for the Book was Smith's apparent fascination with Masonry. The Book refers to a secret society of men, called Gadiantons, who "began to bind themselves in secret oaths to aid one another in all things, good or evil." Gadianton bands took oaths to conceal each others' crimes, identified each other with secret signs and passwords, and conspired to subvert government. This is how the Masons were perceived by many.

Smith's fascination was a result of the William Morgan case, which was the OJ trial of its time. In 1826 Morgan published a book revealing Masonic secrets, which Masons swear not to disclose under pain of death. When arrested for a minor offense, Morgan was bailed out by Masons and was never seen again. Five men were arrested, but only two were convicted on minor charges. Outraged citizens attributed this to the sinister influence of the Masons, and it led to the formation of the Anti- Masonic Party.

A psychoanalyst named Walter F. Prince addressed the Masonic angle in 1917. Also concluding that the Book was Smith's work, he posited a fascinating thesis. More than half the names in the Book of Mormon are not Hebrew at all, but apparent nonsense. As an author of any fictional work invents names, these do not come by a random process, but are drawn unconsciously from the author's environment and life. Of the 31 proper names beginning with M, Prince noted, 7 begin with "Mor," and 11 also have "on" near the end. These are all variations on Morgan, the man whose story fascinated Smith. "Anti,".as in "Anti-Masonic," also appears in several names. Interestingly, the secret temple rites of Mormons are said to bear some resemblance to Masonic rituals, and despite their notoriety, Smith became a Mason in 1842. Also interesting is the fact that the Book of Mormon was originally printed by a Masonic print shop. Oddest of all is that Morgan's widow later became one of Smith's plural wives.

The Book was indeed eclectic. It even incorporates a "dream" of Joe, Sr., which was told as the dream of Lehi (Nephi's father) in Chapter 8 of I Nephi. In her extensive reminiscences, Lucy Smith, mother of the Prophet, innocently reported her husband's dream not realizing its actual significance.

The Book of Mormon is consistent, sensible, and credible, however, compared to the other "holy, revealed" texts of Mormonism. These are Doctrines & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, and are the product of Smith, again, as well as Brigham Young and other Smith successors. These not only contradict the Book of Mormon itself, they're not only grandiose and fanciful, but they're a confusing and convoluted mess as well. They contain doctrines like God having a physical body and not being omnipresent, the existence of many gods, the God of this world being "Adam-God," that Jesus and Lucifer are the physically-begotten first sons of this God, that Jesus had multiple wives, that in his premortal state he was the archangel Michael, that converts to Mormonism are physically altered to become literal "seed of Abraham," and that good Mormons can eventually become gods themselves, with their own world to rule--and populate-someday.

There's also Joseph Smith's "corrected" version of the Bible, rewritten to support Church doctrines, foreshadow Church events, and even includes a prophecy of Smith himself. Smith saw fit to make over 600 alterations to a book Mormons still pretend is the word of God. But such alteration, and the addition of bizarre new doctrines, renders Mormonism into something other than Christianity.

Enough! When reviewing the true history of Mormonism, and the contents of the spurious "holy books" of this religion, it underscores the maxim that there is no idea so absurd that some people cannot be induced to believe it.

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