The Oberlin Spalding Manuscript
with introduction and editorial comments
Jackson, Kent P. (ed.) Manuscript Found,
The Complete Original..., UT, 1996.
Go to: Kent P. Jackson's Typescript
The Complete Original
By Solomon Spaulding
Edited by Kent P. Jackson
in the Religious Studies Center
Specialized Monograph Series
Religious Studies Center
Brigham Young University
What is "Manuscript Found"?
Rex C. Reeve, Jr.
Because of its importance as the keystone of the Latter-day Saint faith, the Book of Mormon has been and will continue to be a point of attack for those who seek to discredit the claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These attacks often hinge on the book' s authorship. Joseph Smith stated that an angel of God delivered to him a scriptural record, written on gold plates, of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, which he translated by the gift and power of God. "The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible... and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel."1
Since its first publication in 1830, millions who have read the Book of Mormon have accepted Joseph Smith's testimony of its origin, believing that they received a personal spiri- tual witness that the book is true and that it is indeed "a volume of holy scripture."
Some critics have rejected the testimony of Joseph Smith and have felt obliged to provide alternative explanations for the authorship of the Book of Mormon. Those critics generally fall into one of two broad camps: (1) those who claim that Joseph Smith alone wrote the book without divine assistance, basing it on doctrines common to his day, or (2) those who claim that others helped him or that he copied all or part of it from some manuscript or document. Both of these arguments have been addressed by believers in the Book of Mormon, but they still reappear from time to time.
The theory that Joseph Smith copied the Book of Mormon from someone else's writings was first introduced in 1834 in Eber D. Howe's book, Mormonism Unvailed. It published materials gathered by Philastus Hurlbut 2 which were intended to prove that the Book of Mormon came from a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding
1 Introduction to the Book of Mormon.
2 The name Hulrbut has alternate spellings: Hurlbut, Hulbert, and Hurlburt.
Affidavit signed by D. P. Hurlbut, citing witnesses
that the manuscript was the "Writings of Sollomon Spalding"
Rediscovery of the Manuscript Story
In 1884 L. L. Rice of Honolulu, Hawaii, discovered the Spaulding manuscript among some old antislavery documents in his possession. In the 1830s Rice had purchased Howe's newspaper, The Painesville Telegraph, along with papers that had belonged to Howe. He apparently was unaware of the manuscript and its interest to Latter-day Saints and their detractors. Included with the manuscript was an affidavit written by Philastus Hurlbut, invoking the names of witnesses who knew the document to be the work of Spaulding (see photograph, above). Rice donated the manuscript to James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, to be included in the college's archival collection. It remains there today.
In 1885 the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints published the Spaulding manuscript, based on a copy made after it arrived in Oberlin.11 The following year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published it also, based on a copy Rice
11 Solomon Spaulding, The "Manuscript Found": A Verbatim Copy of the Original (Lamoni, Iowa: The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1885).
What is "Manuscript Found"? xix
81. The people had a great leader with four sons.
82. The last war was to be one of extermination. 23
More recently, in 1977, three researchers in California -- Howard A. Davis, Donald R. Scales, and Wayne L. Cowdrey -- claimed that knowledgeable handwriting experts had established a link between the Spaulding manuscript and twelve of the original handwritten manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon. "They obtained enlarged photocopies of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon that are in archives in Salt Lake City. These reproductions and known specimens of Spaulding's handwriting were submitted to three prominent handwriting analysts with impressive credentials. Working independently, and unaware of the Book of Mormon connection, all three analysts concluded that Spaulding had written all the material they examined." 24
In an address given at the Church Educational System's Church History Symposium, 19 August 1977, Dean C. Jessee refuted this research, pointing out that all three experts came to Salt Lake City after the above statement was made to examine the original pages, which "indicated that final conclusions had not been reached, and each of them confirmed this verbally." 25 Jessee's comparison of the handwriting of the two documents shows several obvious and consistent differences between them. 26
A few critics have recently attempted to go beyond simple story parallels and have examined such things as writing style, thematic parallels, vocabulary, word construction, and word combinations, in an attempt to establish Spaulding's work as the basis of the Book of Mormon. Dale R. Broadhurst has said, "In my opinion the textual parallels are so numerous and so detailed that serious questions are raised as to a possible internal relationship of the two texts.... Incredible as it may seem, no previous writer on the subject
23 M. D. Bown, "One Hundred Similarities Between the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding Manuscript" (N.P., 1937), 14-15, 22-23, 29, 33-35, 37.
24 Edward E. Plowman, "Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?" Christianity Today 21 (8 July 1977): 32-34.
25 Dean C. Jessee, "Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon," CES Church History Symposium (Provo, Utah: Church Educational System, 1977), 59.
26 Ibid., 58-60.
xx What is "Manuscript Found"?
had ever subjected the Spaulding manuscript to even the most basic quantification methods prior to April 1979. Though literally hundreds of supposedly authoritative statements have been printed telling how the Oberlin manuscript does or does not resemble The Book of Mormon, none of these were based upon critical examinations of the texts themselves." 27 This approach to the Spaulding theory has neither been accepted widely nor used by many critics of the Book of Mormon.
Why Book of Mormon Critics Reject
One of the first critics of the Book of Mormon to reject the Spaulding theory was Davis H. Bays. He opted for Oliver Cowdery, not Sidney Rigdon, as the creator of the Book of Mormon. In 1897 he called the Spaulding theory a failure, although he still felt that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon by himself.
27 Dale R. Broadhurst, "A New Basis for the Spaulding Theory: Parallels of Theme and Vocabulary in the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding Manuscript," Spaulding Research Project Working Paper No. 10, Revision 2 (Delaware, Ohio: Methodist Theological School, 1981), 4-5.
Near the west Bank of the Coneaught River there are the remains of an ancient fort. As I was walking and forming vario[us] conjectures respecting the character situatuation & numbers of those people, who far exceeded the present race of Indians in works of art & inginuety I hapned to tread on a flat stone. This was < at > a small distance from the fort; & it lay on the top of a smal[l] mound of Earth exactly horizontal -- The face of it had a singular appearance. I discovered a number of characters which appeared to me to be letters -- but so much effaced by the ravages of time, that I could not read the inscription. With the assistance of a leaver I raised the stone -- But you may easily conjecture my astonishmen[t] when I discovered that
yet been obtained. The text may be found on the "GospeLink" CD-ROM
available from Deseret Software, Deseret Books, Salt Lake City.