Henry C. Sheldon
A Fourfold Test of Mormonism
New York: Abingdon Press, 1914
A FOURFOLD TEST
HENRY C. SHELDON
Professor in Boston University
THE ABINGTON PRESS
NEW YORK CINCINNATI
[ 4 ]
Copyright 1914, by
HENRY C. SHELDON
Scholars generally have had such a lively impression of the utter groundlessness of the claims of Mormonism that they have been inclined to shrink from awarding those claims any serious consideration. We can appreciate this mental attitude; but we remind ourselves that it is not always wise and profitable to follow the dictates even of a just disdain. Apart from its intrinsic merits, a system which seeks to perpetuate and extend itself by a great force of missionaries kept constantly in the field may well be awarded a measure of careful scrutiny. This conviction has led us to prepare the present treatise. Our aim has been to give in brief form a comprehensive and thoroughly articulated criticism of the Mormon religion.
The footnotes indicate in general the sources from which we have drawn. It is incumbant on us, however, to make grateful mention of the information which has been furnished in personal letters of very competent observers of present-day Mormonism in Utah.
Boston University, July, 1914.
THE HISTORICAL TEST
The foremost credential of Joseph Smith, Jr., whom the Mormons recognize as their founder, was undoubtedly the Book of Mormon, which was published at Palmyra, New York, in 1830, as a translation of writings engraved in Reformed Egyptian upon plates which had been hidden some fourteen centuries before in a hill near the translator's home, and which, according to his story, were brought into his possession in 1827 through the instrumentality of an angel. As the agent for introducing this New Bible into the world, Joseph Smith had, among the enthusiasts who gathered about him, a prestige which kept him in the ascendant. As often as any one of them was taken with
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an ambition to play any sort of independent role as prophet, or revelator, he could be put to silence by the superior authority of the man who was reputed to have been the chosen means of bringing to light a full volume of sacred writings.
It is evident, then, that the first demand, in a crucial dealing with Mormonism, is to test the claims of the founder in relation to the Book of Mormon. The primary question is: Are those claims credible, or do they bear unmistakably the stamp of falsehood and imposture?
Many considerations, some of which are of compelling force, shut up the critical investigator to the second alternative. In the first place, the antecedent character and occupation of Joseph Smith invite strongly to the belief that his discovery of the Book of Mormon was a mere pretense. He was notoriously given to
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of this double outrage against the text being the insertion of a forcast of the prophetic vocation of Joseph Smith and of the unearthing of the Book of Mormon. In this barefaced falsification, Rigdon, as being joint translator with Smith, was an accomplice. 1
The necessary inference from such a series of unmasked pretenses is that faith in Joseph Smith, as the discoverer and translator of a veritable Bible preserved in an antique language, must be the product of ignorance, credulity, tradition, or sheer volition. Of substantial basis it is thoroughly destitute, unless the Book of Mormon itself is of such a marvelous character, and so unaccountable on ordinary grounds, as to afford such a basis. That the book is not thus distinguished will be shown in due course.
1 Doctrine and Covenants, xxxv.
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In the fourth place, the high pretensions of Joseph Smith in relation to the Book of Mormon must be regarded as most seriously damaged by the historical demonstrationn that, to a conspicuous degree, the groundwork of that book was borrowed from a romantic story of Solomon Spaulding entitled Manuscript Found. This was begun in 1811 or 1812 at Conneaut, Ohio, was left for a time in the printing office of Patterson in Pittsburgh, was probably taken thence to Amity, Pennsylvania, to be retouched, and was sent anew to Patterson's establishment shortly before the death of the author in 1816. 1 As first planned, Spaulding's story contained an account of a party of voyagers who left Rome in the time of Constantine, and were driven ashore on the American continent, where one of their number
1 See the very careful review of the matter by A. T. Schroeder, The Origin of the Book of Mormon Reexamined in Its Relation to Spaulding's Manuscript Found.
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left a narrative of their travels, as also of Indian wars and customs, which narrative Spaulding assumes to have discovered and translated. The story in this form came into the possession of E. D. Howe in 1834, and then passed out of sight until it accidently fell into the possession of President Fairchild, of Oberlin, in 1884, and was deposited in the college library. In the later and better remembered form, as being that from which the author often read to his friends, the story was carried further back, the voyagers were represented as starting from Jerusalem, and an effort was made to reproduce the antique biblical style. In this respect the later form of the story was widely contrasted with the earlier. Several witnesses, shortly after the appearance of the Book of Mormon, affirmed, in the most explicit terms, that the Spaulding story to which they had listened had
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this peculiar cast. Moreover, the testimony of the brother of Solomon Spaulding, of his business partner, and of several others assures us that the story in this form represented the voyagers to America as being Jews and as starting from Jerusalem. Herein it corroborates the statements of Howe, who says that the Oberlin manuscript was shown to several of the witnesses whom he cites and was characterized by them as the earlier and discarded form of the Spaulding romance. 1 It is utterly vain, therefore, for Mormon apologists, as they have been wont to do, to plead the unlikeness of the Oberlin writing to the Book of Mormon as disproving the obligations of Joseph Smith to Spaulding's manuscript. It affords not the slightest installment of a disproof of substantial obligations. The most that could be alleged would be that its style is in
1 Mormonism Unveiled, p. 288.
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contrast with that of the Book of Mormon. The contrast, however, may be explained by the twofold fact that Spaulding in the later version of his story wrote of set purpose in a peculiar style, and that Joseph Smith, in working over the materials furnished by Spaulding, conformed them to a very appreciable degree to his own habits of expression.
When the Book of Mormon began to be circulated those who had listened to the Spaulding story, with its peculiar names and its antique biblical style, were at once struck with the close resemblance between the two writings, and several of them have witnessed to that effect. John Spaulding, to whom his brother Solomon read passages of his Manuscript Found, says: "It was an historical romance of the first settlers of America, endeavoring to show that the American Indians are descended from the Jews, or the
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[Joseph Miller who had] read from his manuscript, remarks: "I had in my house for about six months for the purpose of comparing it with my recollection of the lost Manuscript Found, and I unhesitatingly say that a great part of the historical part of the Book of Mormon is identical with the manuscript, and I firmly believe that the manuscript is the foundation of the whole concern." Henry Lake, who was partner with Solomon Spaulding in rebuilding a forge at Conneaut, spent many hours in hearing him read from his manuscript. "This book," he says, "represented the American Indians as the lost tribes, gave an account of their leaving Jerusalem, their contentions and wars, which were many and great. One time, when he was reading to me the tragic account of Laban, I pointed out to him what I considered an inconsistency, which he promised to correct; but by referring
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to the Book of Mormon I find, to my surprise, it stands there just as he read it to me then.... I have no hesitation in saying that the historical part of the Book of Mormon is principally, if not wholly, taken from the Manuscript Found. I well recollect telling Mr. Spaulding, that the so frequent use of the words 'And it came to pass,' 'Now it came to pass,' rendered it ridiculous." Hiram Lake, son of the foregoing, testifies: "My father told me that the Book of Mormon was unquestionably derived from the Spaulding manuscript. Since 1834 I have conversed with Aaron Wright, John N. Miller, and Nathan Howard, old residents here (Conneaut), now deceased, all of whom lived here in 1811 and 1812, and who had heard Spaulding's manuscript read, and they told me they believed the Book of Mormon was derived from Spaulding's Manuscript Found. Some or all of
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these persons made affidavits to this effect which were published in a book called Mormonism Unveiled, edited by E. D. Howe, of Painesville, Ohio." Hiram Gould, referring to the same persons, affirms: "I heard them all say that the Book of Mormon" was undoubtedly taken from a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding." Oliver Smith, to whom Spaulding, while stopping at his house, read one hundred or more pages of the romance, makes this statement: "When the Book of Mormon came into the neighborhood and I heard the historical part of it related, I at once said it was the writing of Solomon Spaulding." 1 Very significant is the exclamation which sprang from the lips of Squire Wright when, in 1832, the Book of Mormon was read in public at Conneaut
1 All of the above testimonies are given by Mrs. Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism, appendix. See also Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, pp. 278-288.
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"Old come to pass" has come to life again." 1
It amounts, we judge, to a historical demonstration that the manuscript story of Solomon Spaulding served as an antecedent and groundwork of the Book of Mormon. Considerable liberty may have been used by Joseph Smith, or by his accomplice, or by both in modifying details and introducing supplementary materials, but that the general framework and wide stretches of the subject-matter of the Book of Mormon were borrowed from Spaulding is not open to reasonable doubt.
This conclusion holds whether or not any reliable evidence is at hand as to the medium through which Joseph Smith was brought into possession of the Spaulding manuscript, or enabled to use its contents very largely in shaping the Book of Mormon.
1 T. Gregg. The Prophet of Palmyra, p. 449.
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As other noted crimes have gone undetected, so might a carefully concealed theft in this connection. But, as a matter of fact, there is evidence as to the medium in question, which, if not demonstrative, affords a basis for a thoroughly probable inference, A sufficient list of data points to Sidney Rigdon as the man who helped Joseph Smith, by supplying him with the highly imaginative story of Spaulding, to pass on from his empty bluff about a Golden Bible to an appearance of a real discovery. That this preacher, who was primarily connected with the Disciples, was none too conscientious for a performance of this kind, is indicated by the fact of his cooperation with Smith, as mentioned above, in an outrage upon the integrity of the biblical text. That he had opportunity for the knavish performance is certified by his known
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access to the printing establishment of Patterson in Pittsburgh. He may not have been employed at any time in that establishment, but it is ascertained that he was on intimate terms with Lambdin, who was with Patterson from 1812 to 1823, and so in all likelihood had means of both knowing about and seeing the Spaulding manuscript. Among the evidences that he improved his chance to get the manuscript into his possession are the following: Joseph Miller of Amity, Pennsylvania, who acted the part of a friend in need to Spaulding in his last days, says he told him "there was a man named Sidney Rigdon about the office (of Patterson), and they thought he had stolen the manuscript." 1 The conviction of Mrs. Spaulding, as expressed a number of years later, that the manuscript was left among the effects of her deceased
1 T. Gregg. The Prophet of Palmyra, p. 442.
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(this page not yet transcribed)
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be a great thing some day." 1 There is no reason for supposing that this was other than the manuscript which Dr. Winter saw in Rigdon's study several years before. The Rev. Adamson Bentley wrote in 1841: "I know that Sidney Rigdon told me there was a book coming out, the manuscript of which had been found engraved on gold plates, as much as two years before the Mormon book made its appearance or had been heard of by me." This statement, though given to the public more than a score of years before the death of Rigdon, was never contradicted by him. 2 How should Rigdon at that date have had knowledge of the prospective forthcoming of the Book of Mormon? Tajen in connection with the testimony as to his prior possession of the Spaulding manuscript, and the well-established
1 Schroeder, p. 24.
2 Ibid., p. 23.
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indebtedness of the Book of Mormon to that writing, Rigdon's forecast is plain historical evidence that he had come into collusion with Joseph Smith and had supplied him with the specified writing as the groundwork of his fabulous Bible. This conclusion is confirmed by evidence that Rigdon was away from home for considerable intervals, and in the neighborhood of Smith, during the period in which the Book of Mormon was being made ready for publication. The remark of V. [sic - Z.?] Rudolph is on record "that during the winter previous to the appearance of the Book of Mormon, Rigdon was in the habit of spending weeks away from his home, going no one knew where." 1 Pomeroy Tucker, who was on the ground at the time, notes that a mysterious stranger was seen at the Smith residence in 1827 and again in 1828. 2
1 Mrs. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism, p. 252.
2 The Origin of Mormonism, pp. 28, 46.
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Abel Chase, a near neighbor of Smith's, reports: "I saw Rigdon at Smith's at different times with considerable intervals between." Lorenzo Saunders, another neighbor, says, "I saw Rigdon at Smith's several times, and the first visit was more than two years before the Book appeared. 1
To complete the historical demonstration of the complicity of Rigdon with Smith in concocting the Book of Mormon two points need to be added. In the first place, it is to be noticed that a strain of the Campbellite or Disciples' teaching, in which Rigdon had been indoctrinated, pervades the Mormon Bible. Such characteristic features as the sole legitimate form of baptism, great emphasis on the efficacy of baptism, while a very moderate view is taken of the virtue of the eucharist, and a rather pronounced
1 Schroeder, p. 30.
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expectation of the coming and millennial reign of Christ, are unequivocally reproduced. The second point concerns the subsequent relation of Rigdon to Smith. The former was shown considerable deference and in various relations was treated as only second to Smith. But, on the other hand, he was subjected to such humiliations as a high-spirited man could scarcely endured who was not rendered comparatively helpless by consciousness of complicity in fraud. So Lin argues with a good show of reason. "The iron hand," he says, "with which Smith repressed Rigdon from the date of their arrival in Ohio affords strong proof of Rigdon's complicity in the Bible plot, and of the fact that he stood to his accomplice in the relation of a burglar to his mate, where the burglar has both the boodle and the secret in his possession." 1
1 The Story of the Mormons, p. 132.
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As we have taken pains to state, proof of the indebtedness of the Book of Mormon to the Romance of Solomon Spaulding is of much greater import than the determination of the question whetehr Rigdon served as the intermediary between these two writings. We cannot forbear the judgment, however, that the data which make for an affirmative answer to this question are really conclusive.
It should not be overlooked that the Spaulding manuscript enters into the case against Mormonism rather as auxiliary than as a fundamental. It helps to explain how the young man who was given to the telling of big stories, who made a pretense of handling magical instrumentalities, who contradicted himself in his references to the plates, and who later indulged in capital instances of downright faking, was furnished with the idea, the framework, and to a considerable
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extent the specific contents of the Book of Mormon. In strictness, however, the supposed function of the given document in originating the Book of Mormon is no necessary basis of an adverse verdict. The proof of fraudulent pretense on the part of Joseph Smith is not dependent upon verifying that function. This will be made to appear in the remainder of this essay, and especially in the section immediately following.
THE CRITICAL TEST
The indubitable characteristics of the Book of Mormon afford the most conclusive refutation of the claims of Joseph Smith in relation to its discovery and translation. Should all other lines of evidence be put out of sight, a critical mind would find in the book itself overwhelming proof of its being no antique reality, but a modern fraudulent concoction. The evidences of its recent date permeate the book and are absolutely decisive.
To begin with, in the so-called Book of Mormon things pertaining to the scientific or natural order are given a false and srbitrary setting. The mariner's compass, or an instrument fulfilling an identical purpose, is brought into service six hundred years before
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(remainder of text not yet transcribed)