Arthur S. Anderson
Dark Mormon Beginnings

Catskill, NY: Press-TIGE Pub., 1999


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Transcriber's comments


Copyright 1999 Arthur S. Anderson. All rights reserved.
Quotations provided here are limited to "fair use" excerpts.

 
Solomon Spalding in 19th Century Fiction








Dark  Mormon
Beginnings





by


Arthur S. Anderson











Press-TIGE Publishing
Catskill, NY

 

[ 1 ]





Chapter

1


Roy Cargill slipped into his black gown and carefully draped his multi-colored academic hood over his shoulders. Tucking his cap under his arm, he eagerly left his apartment to attend his graduation ceremonies. This day which had been postponed for so long was both an end and a beginning in his life. He regretted that his mother and father would not be here to share in this day.

The quad was set up with a stage and podium with row upon row of white wooden folding chairs for graduates and their families. The tragic accidental death of his parents a few years before had provided him with the funds to return to school and earn his PhD. His return to school was the only positive thing that flowed from the car wreck that killed his parents. He probably would have wallowed in hatred and sought revenge if the drunken driver who had steered across the yellow line had not also died. Shaking off these gruesome memories of his past, he quickened his step as he entered the quad.

A touch of excitement ran through him as he passed through the ancient cast iron gates that admitted the graduates to the quad. Students, parents and friends milled around congratulating the graduates which Yale was about to release into the world. Roy made his way toward the area reserved for PhD candidates. The archaeology department, was granting eleven masters degrees and three PhD's.

Roy took a seat next to Paul Stevenson, his best friend and fellow PhD candidate.

"Paul, can you believe it's finally over?"

"It seems like we have been here forever."

"I was beginning to think I would never get Doc Johnson to accept my thesis. I must have rewritten it a dozen times."

Paul, showing a big toothy grin, said, "You and me both. It seems like nothing ever satisfies the professors. You just have to wear them down."

"Remember that story a few years ago of the student who shot and killed his major professor? I'd call it justifiable homicide."

"With all the graduate schools and the collection of assholes they call professors, it's surprising it doesn't happen more often."

The department heads and administrators were starting to take their seats on the stage. Their colorful academic hoods created bright spots against the uniform black of their robes.

"Paul, when are you moving to Dartmouth?"

"I have to be there in a week. Dr. Byner has worked me into his summer grant, translating early medieval Italian records. I won't begin teaching until the fall. Then it's going to be my turn to be the asshole to a nice fresh crop of graduate students. I fully intend to maintain the time-honored tradition of busting their collective butts."

"I envy you living in the cloisters of rural New Hampshire and destroying young minds."


 


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(remainder of chapter not transcribed due to copyright restrictions)








 

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"Thanks, Paul. I'll change out of this monkey suit and we can get the fishing licenses."

They left the shop and walked to the sporting goods store and Roy bought two three-day licenses, two reels of fly line and some tapered leaders. By law he should have had Julie there to sign her own license application but the clerk was a student and knew Paul so he just told Roy to have her sign right away. A fish and game inspector could ask to see their licenses and would be upset at an unsigned license and might give the store some grief.

"I promise to have her sign the license right away, you don't have to worry."

They drove back to the hotel and the ladies had not returned. Neither of them expected the ladies to be back for a while so they went into the bar to have a drink and talk.

Roy stopped at the bar and ordered two beers and Paul found an oak booth with leather seating. When they were both seated and the waitress had brought the beer, Roy said, "Tell me about your honeymoon cruise."

"We have booked a two-week cruise in the Caribbean. It starts in Ft. Lauderdale, and then cruises to Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the French half of San Martaan, Curacao, Bogota Venezuela, and Jamaica. It should be a glorious honeymoon."

"It sounds great. I had a number of friends that regularly cruised the Mediterranean when they were stationed in the embassies in Tel Aviv and Cairo. They tell me that it is total luxury from the moment you get on the ship. Superb food. entertainment and dancing every night and tours when you are in port. Everybody on the ship is vacationing so the attitude of people is very friendly and laid back. I envy you. it ought to be a super way to kick off a marriage."

"We're flying out the next morning after the wedding and reception and I'm not going to tell you guys where we are staying on our wedding night. I don't trust you."

"We wouldn't play any tricks on you, unless of course, just the right opportunity presented itself How's life here at the college? Have you met any of the faculty yet?"

"I met a lot of them when I first got here, before most of them left for various summer activities. They have only a small staff in the summer and limited course selections. I'll say one thing, this is one hot bed of liberalism, especially in the social sciences and history departments. I found it much better to keep my political ideas to myself. It is amazing how cloistered faculties think they have it all figured out."

"Well, if you think about it. they surround themselves with a faculty of like thinking and they talk down to the students who don't have the experience to contradict them and are, for the most part, frightened of them."

"To change the subject. have you given any thought to the issue of the controversy that publishing a Solomon Manuscript that casts doubt on the Book of Mormon could have created?"

"Well, I know that the Mormon Church would not be particularly happy over it but I suspect that in reality it would not have much effect on the faithful. The faithful in most religions are fully capable of using faith as a bridge over any obstacle that might be placed in their path. The church might take the position that God had provided enlightenment to Joseph Smith in the form of the Solomon Manuscript and that the real message of the Book of Mormon is not in the concept of peoples descended from the Hebrews that had populated America but in the material of Jesus Christ visiting the New World to spread the Gospel of the Lord. Theologians in the church would find some way to deal with the problem and it is only the spotlight that would be put on


 


                                      Dark Mormon Beginnings                                       59



their faith for a little while that would cause a problem. Sure. some of the marginal parishioners looking for an excuse to leave the church would leave but this is probably a minor fraction of the faithful."

"I suppose you are right and I guess, as historians, we have an obligation to report the truth for the sake of the accuracy of the historical record. We find in our research so often that the victors mold history to the way that they would like it to read but we explore the past to expose the lies of the conquerors. Imagine if Hitler had won the war what the history books would have said about the holocaust?"

"By entering the profession we have chosen, we have taken a vow of truth for all practical purposes. If man is to learn from the past, he must know the truth, for distorted history tells us nothing."

"I know, but it is rare that anything we find affects the proportions of the Mormon Church.

"I don't know. There have been many finds that have affected the Catholic Church and they have risen above their history, things like the Inquisition and the corruption of the church in Germany during the time of Martin Luther. They have survived this and much more. In fact, it was the widespread corruption in the Catholic Church that led to the reformation where priests took vows of celibacy and the family dynasties that ruled the church, were divided and the church was made stronger as an institution."

"Stress is probably good for religion. It builds character in the leadership and changes the focus from business as usual to finding ways to strengthen the faith. Few who are involved in the beginnings of these events would ever see them as forces for good. but they only have the narrow. short range view."

"From my studies of the early Mormon Church. the extreme pressure put on them in Missouri and Illinois forged the leadership of the church. It is generally known that the men who accompanied Joseph Smith with his band that marched to Missouri to take on the local people and faced disease. privation and military failure came out of it. Many of them dedicated men who were able to face anything. The parishioners who faced the wrath of the locals and were driven from their homes three successive times, were ready for the extreme hardships of the trek to Utah. I am sure many of the faithful were sorely tested and many found wanting but those who survived established one of the largest modern religions."

"You are right, faith is one of the most powerful forces on earth and the writings of the historians does not really threaten faith in the end. The only thing that ever ends a religion is the fall of a civilization. We see this in the Egyptians. the Romans and the Greeks. I suppose that it is silly to think that any document could break an institution like the Mormon Church.''

"Here come the girls. Looks like they have found our hideaway."

Julie and Marsha came over to the booth and slid in next to the men.

Julie said, "How about a drink for the working girls?"

Roy answered, Here comes the waitress, we'll order another round."

Roy reached for his wallet and pulled out their fishing licenses and said. "I promised the clerk to get you to sign this right away as you're supposed to sign it in front of him and we prevailed on him to look the other way." Roy passed the license to Julie and she signed it in her neat hand.

"Well, we have honored your promise." The waitress appeared and the girls ordered drinks.

Marsha said. 'This is a beautiful lady, Roy, you'll be surprised at how great she looks in her bridesmaid dress."


(remainder of chapter not transcribed due to copyright restrictions)



 

                                     Dark Mormon Beginnings                                       73



She practically screamed. "I've found it!, I've found it!"

"Found what?"

''The Spaulding manuscript collection."

"How?"

"I typed the name of the farmer who bought the Clark farm."

He stood over her shoulder reading the screen and said, "Damn, lady, this looks like it could be it. One way or another, we may be able to settle this long standing controversy. Let's get to it," he said looking over Julie's shoulder and writing down the storage number.

They went down the shelves and looked for the record number they had identified. They made short work of the effort and saw that the number had to be on the top shelf above them and too high to reach. Roy hunted around and found the roll around stair and returned pushing it in front of him. He wheeled it into place and found that when he stepped on it the wheels retracted and he could safely climb to the top shelf. He located the number and found a horse hair trunk of modest size. He hoisted it down and they took it back to their work cubicle with Julie peppering him with excited what if questions. They got back to the cubicle high on the possibilities.

Roy carefully set the trunk down and they both donned white cotton gloves. He examined the box carefully and it had two leather straps with buckles. The leather was hard from age and very carefully he undid the buckles trying not to damage anything. He gently grasped the lid and it readily swung open on brass hinges. They peered inside and saw a stack of papers divided and bound with ribbons. Roy carefully reached in and lifted out the top stack of bound papers. The stack had a title page on it that read, The Tales of Jonathan Westerby and the Western Indians," a novel by Solomon Spaulding.

Julie said. "Let's take out all of the packets and catalog the titles. if they each have one, before we open any of them to read."

"Okay." and he began to take the packets out as Julie wrote down the titles. Spaulding had written quite a number of hooks and articles and most seemed to be about ancient times. The title that was most interesting was "The Manuscript Found." This was so close to the already published "Manuscript Lost" that it demanded their attention.

"Roy. we have a lot of material here and must split it up and scan it to see what we have. Let's leave the 'Manuscript Found' for last, assuming that it is what we are looking for and we are going to want to study it to the exclusion of everything else."

"Okay, you take the first packet and I'll take the second. When you get the gist of the material, write a note about it."

Spaulding's themes were of things having to do with ideas about the origin of the Indians. with many of them being treasure hunts for lost gold or jewels of Indian civilizations. This was what he liked to write about.

Late in the afternoon, Julie finished her last packet and waited for Roy to finish the last one he was working on. The 'Manuscript Found' was all that remained in the trunk. They sat side by side as Roy undid the ribbon and picked up the first page and placed it between them so they both could read it. The tension in the air was so thick they felt like they couldn't breathe.

As they read. the story that was unfolding had many of the key elements of the part of the Book of Mormon that preceded the appearance of Christ. The names were there


 


74                                              Arthur Anderson                                              



Lehi, Moroni, Lamanites. Coincidence could not explain the comparisons. The writer of the Book of Mormon had to have read this or had it at his fingertips. It was not word for word, but it contained the main ideas.

"Julie, this is it unless it is some kind of elaborate fake that somebody was afraid to go through with."

"A fake! Is that a real possibility?"

"There have been a lot of hoaxes but we can go a long way to eliminating that with tests on the paper, the ink and as there are other examples of Spaulding's handwriting we can get handwriting experts to do a comparison."

They continued to read and when they finished, Roy told her, "We should start making a xerox copy of the manuscript."

Julie said, "Sure," and they began to copy the material.

"This is incredible. I want to go out and shout it out to the world!"

"Whoa, at this point that is the last thing we should do. We must think this through carefully and begin by trying to prove that this is authentic. We must then decide about the way we want to release this information. Let's carefully pack everything back into the box and return it to its proper location and go back to the hotel to discuss what we need to do. I don't think we should even tell our friends about it yet as they might inadvertently leak it to the wrong person and we might lose control of the document."

"Why all of the secrecy."

"I don't mean to scare you but this is a prize that a lot of researchers would die for. This is no esoteric discovery that is only interesting to the historical community, this is the kind of discovery that the general public will eat up and there could be a lot of money in the story."

"You think so? I noticed that you said 'our story,' do you mean that?"

"You have been with me right from the start and it was your idea to try Jamieson's name which was key to the discovery so this makes you a full partner. Even though we shouldn't need any kind of agreement, I am going to write up a little statement that this is a joint discovery for the record. This will protect you if anything happens to me or we start fighting with each other."

"Roy that isn't necessary, I trust you."

"Nevertheless, it's just good business, so I will write it up."

"I can't tell you how proud I am to be a part of this, even though I am not a scholar."

"We have both been so very lucky in finding this. It's great to have a partner to share it with."

They packed everything up, stored the Solomon Box back in its location and stopped at the front desk. Roy showed them their copier counter and paid for their copies. They walked to their car and drove back to the hotel with their precious copy in a large envelope.


(remainder of chapter not transcribed due to copyright restrictions)



 

Transcriber's  Comments

Arthur S. Anderson's 1999 book

Mr. Anderson's book is entertaining in some places, but it is obviously not the sort of novel to catch the fancy of the general reading public. The primary story element -- a couple's discovery of some old Solomon Spalding manuscripts -- is perhaps too arcane a subject to support the writer's "third person omniscient" narrative. This tale is not "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" by any measure.

Had the author woven the manuscript discovery events, as a secondary sequence, into an otherwise well written novel, this "holy grail" aspect of his story might have supplied a readable sub-plot. To a certain extent Mr. Anderson has attempted to do this, but without the central, manuscript recovery theme, the remainder of his tale comes across as rather facile storytelling. Few of the book's readers will care much who Roy Cargill and Julie Morgan are -- or how and why their less than scintillating relationship flowers in the course of Anderson's story.


Getting Back to Basics

By making Roy and Julie's discovery of Spalding's "Manuscript Found" the book's central plot element, Mr. Anderson sets before himself the daunting task of convincingly portraying the whole "Spalding theory's" effect upon the LDS Church, from the early years of the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth. The task would be a difficult one, even for an accomplished historian and a talented fiction writer, so it comes as no surprise that Mr. Anderson falters in this enterprise before he lays even half a dozen chapters before his readers. The necessary convincing portrayal of the "Spalding theory" calls for the writer to accurately and succinctly summarize numerous historical events, while at the same time not boring the average reader with the trivia of the Mormon past. First and foremost the storyteller needs to construct a believable scenario as to how Spalding's writings formed the basis for Mormonism's first scriptures and how and why it was that the first Mormons (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, etc.) built Mormonism upon that literary base.

Beyond all of this, the book's writer should have attempted to create a compelling connection between some of these historical Mormon characters and his story's modern protagonists. This, Mr. Anderson has not accomplished. Nor has he presented a credible explanation of how those first Mormon leaders connect, through the passage of time time and extension of their common cause, to the men who now operate the LDS Church, seventeen decades after (in Anderson's mid-1990s setting) that church's founding. Assuming that the Spalding writings did form the core of the first Mormon scriptures, some of those "first Mormons" knew that fact and maintained a cover-up of the embarrassing truth for many years -- well into the modern era. Whether the more recent heirs to the LDS high command have been knowing sustainers of the deception, or merely the unaware perpetuators of the shadowy legacy, their prominent, active participation in Dark Mormon Beginnings might have given Anderson's novel some much needed "plot grit."


Enter the Danites -- Stage Right

Not wishing to involve potentially litigatious latter day "prophets, seers, revelators and translators" in his anti-Mormon tale, Anderson provides cardboardy surrogates, in the characters of some sub-apostolic LDS functionaries and an extracurricular band of contemporary "Danites." To make a long story short, the LDS officials work through what appear to be fundamentalist RLDS destroying angels to try and suppress the publicization (and publication) of Spalding's manuscript. This unlikely contrivance leaves the top Salt Lake City leadership entirely out of the picture and fosters a series of unbelievable scenarios in which the "Danites" chase, capture, lose, and attempt to murder Roy and Julie. While such a "car chase" sequence is perhaps inevitable in this sort of fictional melodrama, Anderson allows his already weak storyline to fall apart in farfetched performances, which neither effectively further the plot nor develop the drab interaction between Roy and Julie.

Had Mr. Anderson been slightly more imaginative in his writing, he might have summoned forth a super-secret remnant of James J. Strang's Mormon Order of the Illuminati, coupled with a mentally unstable octogenarian "Council of the Fifty" LDS Apostle, and a rogue Chief of Church Security, to play the roles of latter day "Danites." At least these sorts of imaginary characters might have supplied plausible motives (and some interesting "black programs" technical resources) for their pursuit of Roy and Julie across the country, in sundry attempts at destroying the damning manuscript.


Philosophical Issues

Anderson ventures out gingerly, here and there, to address some philosophical issues associated with his presumed non-divine origin of the Book of Mormon. He curiously advances the notion that, "If man is to learn from the past, he must know the truth, for distorted history tells us nothing." Unfortunately most reconstructions of the past are "distorted," to some extent, and when "truth prevails" it still may not affect what most people believe to be reliable history. Anderson correctly concludes that the modern discovery of any relevant Solomon Spalding writings would not have much impact upon LDS Church membership -- at least not in the short term. The average Mormon wants scriptures he can place his trust in, without a very complicated account of where they came from and why he should accept them in good faith. The typical parishioner's basic desire for "pat answers" in the realm of religion will dissuade most members from listening to unorthodox and alarming explanations, no matter how strong the evidence (or the media message) for a non-divine Book of Mormon may ever be. Also, while some LDS leaders and functionaries might experience a knee-jerk reaction to such evidence, compelling them to procure, suppress or destroy any "white salamander" historical documents within their reach, true religious faith and natural human curiosity will probably serve to mitigate those kinds of pernicious reactions. It is unlikely that a latter day suppression of such "manuscripts found" would be entirely successful. And, were these things "found," their long term effect upon Latter Day Saintism would hardly be catastrophic.

On the other hand, any official LDS admission that parts of the Book of Mormon rely upon the fictional productions of Solomon Spalding would be problematic indeed. Such an admission undercuts the professed historicity and reliability of the "Nephite Record," and that, in turn, undermines the Mormon doctrine of the literal gathering of Israel upon the American continent. Anderson suggests that "Theologians in the church would find some way to deal with the problem," but such a reliance upon the "precepts of men" would create as many new problems for Mormonism, as it solved old ones. Despite the rise of an occasional Orson Pratt or James Talmadge among the LDS leadership, its claim to prophetic authority does not rest upon the ruminations of seminary-trained intellectuals. When theologians "spiritualize" the overtly literal message of the Book of Mormon, that effort tends to weaken the book's pronouncements for America being the "land of promise," where latter day Israel will gather, under the restored priesthood, in the "one true church." Ultimately, any official LDS admission that the Book of Mormon is not what it says it is, will be an admission of a disintegration of authority at the topmost levels of the Church. It is very doubtful that the LDS hierarchy would thus patronize its own disestablishment, in any event.


A Ticklish Uncertainty

One philosopical topic missing from Arthur S. Anderson's novel is any speculation, on his part, as to what effect a well publicized discovery of documents disproving the divinity of the Book of Mormon might have upon the LDS missionary outreach. While the faithful Latter Day Saint would not leave the Church nor quit paying his tithing, just because tabloid newspaper headlines at the local supermarket check-out stand blared forth: "Book of Mormon a Fake!," such media publicity could have a dampening effect upon prospective conversions to the LDS and RLDS causes. Anderson might easily have capitalized upon this ticklish uncertainty, by introducing a character into Dark Mormon Beginnings who had been on the verge of becoming a Mormon, but who cast aside that weighty determination after encountering Roy and Julie, and hearing about their alarming discovery. This sort of counter-convert might even have been put to use as a helpmeet for the endangered couple in their flights from the "Danites," etc.

The final paragraph of Mr. Anderson's book begins with these words: "The experts never fully agreed on the manuscript's authenticity..." And, of course, the findings of such experts rarely change the course of history -- unless those findings can be made to serve the purposes of popular persuasion and partisan politics. It is barely conceivable that a contemporary Amasa M. Lyman or a Richard R. Lyman might one day pick up and use the "findings of the experts" as a tool for furthering his influence amidst internecine apostolic rivalries. Probably only in such an unlikely event would the "Spalding claims" or the "Ethan Smith claims" or any other similar set of expert conclusions be brought to bear directly upon the LDS establishment. If this farfetched novel ever requires an equally farfetched sequel, a passable story might be conjured up from these cabalistic cogitations. Then again -- perhaps it would be best to forget the whole idea.


 

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