The Book of Mormon: One Too Many M’s

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of Mormon resembled an unpublished historical romance by a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.