Terryl L. Givens
By the Hand of Mormon...
NYC: Oxford University Press, 2002
Ch. 6 (excerpt)
The American Scripture
that Launched a New World Religion
Terryl L. Givens
[ 155 ]
When you get at the hard core of the situation, the Book of Mormon as an objective fact, there isn't any middle ground; it becomes as simple a matter as the Mormons and anti- Mormons originally said it was. Either Joseph was all he claimed to be, or during the period at least of the writing of the Book of Mormon he was a "conscious fraud and imposter." -- Dale Morgan to Juanita Brooks
"It's what I call common sense, properly understood," replied Father Brown. "It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don't understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr. Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr. Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing- room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it's only incredible." -- G. K. Chesterton
The conundrum of the Book of Mormon is that, on the one hand, as Mormons readily admit, not one single archaeological artifact has been found that conclusively establishes a direct connection between the record and any actual culture or civilization of the Western Hemisphere. On the other hand, as a researcher from FARMS, the organization praised by Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, points out, "there is mounting up a considerable body of analysis demonstrating that at least something of the strangeness of the Book of Mormon is due to the presence in it of other ancient and complex literary forms which Joseph Smith
156 BY THE HAND OF MORMON.
is highly unlikely to have discovered on his own, and showing as well that its contents are rich and subtle beyond the suspicions of even the vast majority of its most devout readers."
(pages 156 - 161 have not been fully transcribed
DEVICES OF THE DEVIL 157
(pages 156 - 161 have not been fully transcribed
158 BY THE HAND OF MORMON.
(pages 156 - 161 have not been fully transcribed
DEVICES OF THE DEVIL 159
... [Hugh Nibley says] "that whoever presumes to doubt the purported source and authorship of a document cannot possibly escape the obligation of supplying a more plausible account in its stead."... Unbelievers, as is apparent, have not been remiss in playing by such a rule. But to be widely plausible, such an alternate theory had to both credit the book's indisputable complexity -- its rich mix of history, warfare, theology, allegory, and characters -- and to discredit Joseph as author. He had to have received, in other words, the help of a collaborator. Sidney Rigdon, the enthusiastic convert, was the first suspect. He had been an effective Campbellite preacher, and after he defected to Joseph Smith, some of his former co-religionists thought they detected familiar restorationist elements in the rival religion and its new book of scripture. Rigdon's source, they soon alleged, had been one Solomon Spaulding. Though lack of factual evidence has led virtually all scholars to dismiss the theory, it was believed by Alexander Campbell himself and proposed by early writers on Mormonism anxious to present some plausible account of authorship that did not attribute to Joseph Smith either heavenly sponsorship or a rich literary imagination. [24 Two now-dated accounts that invoke the theory are George Arbaugh, Revelation in Mormonism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932) and William Alexander Linn, The Story of the Mormons (New York: Macmillan, 1902).]
160 BY THE HAND OF MORMON.
Solomon SpauldingThe first to allege publicly the Spaulding connection was Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, who had just been excommunicated from the Mormon church for "unchristianlike" conduct toward some young women. [25 For a thorough treatment of the Spaulding hypothesis and its fortunes, see Lester Bush, "The Spalding [sic] Theory Then and Now," Dialogue 10.4 (autumn 1977): 40-69.]
In 1833 he heard that a Reverend Solomon Spaulding had written an unpublished novel with striking similarities to the Book of Mormon, entitled "Manuscript Found." Tracking down former friends and family of Spaulding, Hurlbut collected eight affidavits alleging that Spaulding's work, like Joseph Smith's, referred to a Jewish migration to America, had leading characters named Nephi, Lehi, Laban, and Moroni, and included the locale of Zarahemla. Also similar, they said, was the plotline of two competing factions, one of which eventually perished in internecine warfare.
Hurlbut located Spaulding's widow in Otsego County, New York, where he also managed to find, among Spaulding's effects, the manuscript in question. As it turned out, the manuscript described the adventures not of Jewish seafarers fleeing to America, but Romans blown off course en route to "Brittain." And the main characters were not Nephi and Lehi, but Fabius, Hamboon, Ulipoon, and the like. With the two main contentions of the affidavits discredited (shared names and "leading incidents" between the two works), one would have expected the theory to die a quiet death. It did not. Hurlbut sold his source materials to Eber D. Howe, who rehearsed the hypothesis in his extensive critique of Mormonism that he published in 1834, Mormonism Unvailed [sic]. He suggested that the manuscript found in the New York trunk was not the same one described in the affidavits and elaborated the theory by introducing another element -- the complicity of Sidney Rigdon. While in Pittsburgh, Spaulding's widow remembered, he delivered his manuscript to a printer named Lambdin. Lambdin, Howe conjectured, delivered the manuscript into the hands of Sidney Rigdon sometime between 1823 and 1824. He and Joseph Smith reworked it and presented it to the world as the Book of Mormon.
So in spite of a radical dissimilarity of style and substance between the two works, the entirely conjectural nature of both the Spaulding-Lambdin and Lambdin-Rigdon handoffs notwithstanding, and ignoring the fact that no evidence could link Sidney Rigdon to Joseph Smith before December of 1830, newspapers in New York picked up the Spaulding-Rigdon theory as a persuasive explanation for the gold bible fraud. By the 1840s, it had become the standard non-Mormon account of the book's origin. Over the next century, the debate would continue. Proponents of the theory would persist in collecting affidavits alleging, at second hand, some connection between the principals. Mormon writers would continue to refute the flimsy case, point by point.
Then, in 1884, the Spaulding manuscript, long thought lost or destroyed, surfaced again and was positively identified as the one first
DEVICES OF THE DEVIL 161
recovered by Hurlbut. Even with the manuscript now available to compare, sporadic attempts to reassert its role as a source would persist until 1945. In that year, Fawn Brodie, writing authoritatively as one of the first Mormon debunkers to be taken seriously as a scholar, gave the Spaulding theory a proper burial. [26 She summarizes the theory's crippling flaws in introducing a lengthy appendix on the subject. Among them are the obvious Hurlbut authorship of the affidavits, the stylistic consistency of Joseph's entire corpus and its inconsistency with Rigdon's, the illogic and impracticality of their collaboration given their respective circumstances, and the unlikelihood of Rigdon's acquiescence to the role of silent partner, receiving no credit even while suffering discipline and eventual disaffection from both Joseph and the Mormon church. Brodie, No Man Knows, 442. end] In its place, she revived a more viable candidate.
Ethan SmithWriting her now famous psychohistory of Joseph Smith, Brodie is often credited with first citing Joseph Smith's knowledge of Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews and alleging it as the likely source of the Book of Mormon. While editor of the church's Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith oversaw the publication of an article in 1842 that quoted material from Ethan Smith in support of the Book of Mormon's authenticity. Although Brodie admits there is no evidence for Joseph's knowledge of the Ethan Smith work prior to 1830, she nonetheless insinuates both plagiarism and cover-up when she writes that the prophet, in citing Ethan Smith's material, was "careful to use" as his source a reprint of the relevant passages that appeared in 1833 -- three years after the Book of Mormon's publication. [27 The material in question involved an ancient Hebrew phylactery discovered in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the legend recounted by "an old Indian" that "his fathers in this country had not long since, been in the possession of a book, which they had for a long time, carried with them, but having lost the knowledge of reading it, they buried it with an Indian chief." The article cited Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews (1825, 2nd ed.) as the original source, and Josiah Priest's American Antiquities (1835, 5th ed.) as the reprint source. Times and Seasons 3.15 (June 1, 1842).]
If it is true, as she argues, that the "striking parallels between the two books hardly leave a case for mere coincidence," [28 Brodie, No Man Knows, 47.] it is also true that a plagiarizing Joseph must be unique among frauds in providing the public with the source of his own plagiarism before anyone else had seen the connection. This peculiarity notwithstanding, several critics continue to support the Ethan Smith book as the most plausible source for Joseph Smith's literary production. [29 Robert Hullinger, for instance, argues that "Joseph Smith's probable dependence upon View of the Hebrews has all the strengths that others looked for in the Spaulding manuscript theories but none of their weaknesses." Robert N. Hullinger, "The Lost Tribes of Israel and the Book of Mormon," Lutheran Quarterly 22.3 (August 1970): 319-29. He cites as supporters of his view Larry W. Jonas, Mormon Claims Examined (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1961); Wesley M. Jones, A Critical Study of Book of Mormon Sources (Detroit: Harlo Press, 1964); and famous anti-Mormon critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism -- Shadow or Reality (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, 1964).]
Brodie was not, of course, the first to raise the specter of Ethan Smith's work as source material for the Book of Mormon. B. H. Roberts had addressed the issue more than two decades earlier. [30 Before Roberts, I. Woodbrige Riley mentioned that Ethan Smith's work "by 1825 had circulated to westernmost New York" (Founder of Mormonism, 125). It was for Brodie, however, to give general currency to the theory of borrowing.] First published in 1823, then slightly enlarged upon in an 1825 edition, Ethan Smith's book combines copious excerpts from Isaiah together with descriptions of reported Jewish-Indian parallels (borrowing extensively from Alexander von Humboldt's report of his exploration of Mexico and James Adair's 1775 History of the American Indians, which also argues an Indians-Lost Tribes theory). Neither novel nor chronicle, Views is an inelegant blend of history, excerpts, exhortation, and theorizing. In Roberts's 1922 study of the parallels, he enumerated 18 similarities between the two works...
Dr. T. L. Givens' 2002 book
By the Hands of Mormons?Coming recommended to "the general reader" by the famed student of religion, Harold Bloom, the curious investigator might well be forgiven in consulting Dr. Terryl L. Givens' By the Hand of Mormon, in hopes of finding an "extraordinary" report on the first LDS scriptures -- a report (according to Bloom) both "vastly informative" and demonstrating extraordinary "insight." Alas, while Givens' book may indeed inform its readers of many things, evidence for claims to any noteworthy insight on the part of its author is a slender commodity within this 320 page volume. The writer may be intelligent, resourceful, and informed (in a constricted sort of way), but he is rarely insightful. Rather than being the product of an objective and scholarly hand, the current writer can only wonder if this book is not a covert public relations effort, crafted surreptitiously "by the hands of Mormons?" With that harsh assessment firmly stated, this writer still finds himself agreeing with Bloom on one point: Dr. Givens has indeed produced an "extraordinary" book. It was obviously not written in a day. The work is extensively documented and the critical apparatus at once catches the eye of the inquiring scholar. In places the book is readable -- perhaps even enjoyable and informative -- but only in brief passages and only here and there. In the main it reads like an extended, annotated bibliography of pro-LDS sources, lopsidedly counterbalanced by occasional references to works mildly critical of the Mormon religion and its latter day scriptures. It might be untrue and unfair to say that wherever Dr. Givens identifies some point of controversy regarding the "Nephite record," he invariably sides with the LDS apologists, but a critical reader who quickly skims the book's contents might easily be forgiven for reaching such a conclusion.
In fact, one noted LDS doctrinal apologist who has extended this book more than a brief perusal, has found little there to disagree with. Dr. Louis Midgley, in an on-line posted review at Amazon.com, expresses these supportive remarks:
"[Dr. Givens' new book] is a fine contribution to Book of Mormon studies... an extraordinary accomplishment... Givens shows why it has been impossible to understand Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon by finding some "new middle ground" between or beyond the polarities of authentic ancient history or fraudulent composition -- and hence between Joseph Smith as seer or charlatan... Givens shows that competent Saints are not trying to discover some dramatic archaeological evidence, as sectarian critics demand, that would "prove" the Book of Mormon. Instead, the increasingly sophisticated efforts of the book's defenders to draw upon literary, historical, and anthropological support for the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon has forced its more honest, better-informed detractors to abandon earlier explanations and to search for explanations of its authorship."
Dr. Midgley identifies Givens (a BYU graduate) as being "a Latter-day Saint scholar," but there is nothing in the content or packaging of By the Hand of Mormon to so identify its author. For all intents and purposes, Dr. Givens writes as a disinterested investigator and reporter, seemingly unaffected by any personal, spiritual confirmation telling him that "the Book of Mormon is true." Therefore, his current contribution to latter day scriptural studies will here be treated as though it came from the objective "Gentile" author that his book, its recommendations, and advertising seem to portray.
A reviewer for a recent issue of Publishers Weekly apparently browsed Givens' product in a rosy light. In that published exposition, By the Hand of Mormon is hailed as being an "outstanding book by Givens, an English professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia." The author is further credited as producing a work which "investigates the history and theology of the Book of Mormon." That much is true -- Givens has looked at the accessible history of a much maligned book first published in 1830, and he has also poked about a little, trying to make sense of its "more theology parts." He has also poked about a little in the often obscure writings of those few students of religion who have published anything worth saying about the theology and theological intent of the Book of Mormon. This in itself is a laudable task and the curious reader cannot but help feeling some appreciation that the writer has brought together between two covers so many references to this largely arcane erudition. How he has selected, rated, and assembled those bits and pieces of scholarship, and what usefulness he thinks he has found in them, is perhaps less deserving of praise. Again quoting from Publishers Weekly, Givens has been commended for writing a report that "persuasively demonstrates how the Book of Mormon was trumpeted by early Latter-day Saints more for the fact of its existence which to them indicated an imminent apocalypse than for its content per se." If this is true -- and it may well be the fact of the matter -- one can only wonder if it were so because the original writer(s) injected little useful content into the "Nephite record," or, perhaps, because so few of its first expounders fathomed the meaning and purpose of that same content? This is an important question and one which Givens appears to have largely side-stepped.
While the author calls the Book of Mormon "perhaps the most religiously influential, hotly contested, and, in the secular press at least, intellectually under-investigated book in America," he does not give a good reason why anybody with an exemplary intellectual capacity should have ever investigated the book in the first place. What is it about the Book of Mormon that warrants the close scrutiny of the scriptural scholar who is not merely interested in demonstrating the text to be something other than what it claims to be? At some point in his book Givens should have provided a clear and concise answer to this question. It is not enough for him to say that he has tried to "examine why the Book of Mormon has been taken seriously" by certain readers in the past. And, while some contemporary Latter Day Saints may be flattered to think that a "Gentile" professor has taken the time to study their scriptures, in order to find out what the text has "meant" to generations gone by, that is not the same thing as his figuring out why the text meant something to its past adherents. Was the Book of Mormon meaningful because it contains something of inherent spiritual value; or was it meaningful because it was carefully designed to be meaningful to a certain turn-key audience? Again, this is an important question, and the reader will search By the Hand of Mormon in vain, if he or she expects to find Givens' thesis regarding this pivotal point ever clearly enunciated.
One last quote from the Publishers Weekly review may be germane here. The reviewer there points out that Dr. Givens "notes that it was only during the late 20th century that Mormons began to regard the Book of Mormon as a cultural and spiritual 'keystone.'" Might the actual truth instead be that it has only been in recent decades that very many Latter Day Saints have possessed the literary and philosophical sophistication to adopt and adapt the "Nephite record" for "keystone" theological purposes? Might the actual truth be that only its original writer(s) and redactor(s) understood the full pedagogical purpose of the text? and that the book's content and intended use were mostly lost even upon the first generation of Mormon converts? Now and then in Mormon history, there came along an Orson Pratt, a Charles B. Thompson, or a Benjamin Winchester who had an inclination to delve into the text for more than superficial polemical purposes; but why was that the exception and not the rule? Why wasn't the Book of Mormon made the primary object of study at the Kirtland School of the Prophets or at the incipient University of Nauvoo? Why did Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon almost immediately after its publication attempt to trump the alleged "fulness of the gospel" in the Book of Mormon with a massive re-working of the King James Bible? And, for that matter, why was Sidney Rigdon involved so intimately in the manufacture of biblical scripture almost from the very moment he first sat down with Joseph Smith, Jr., in public at Fayette? Also, even though many of its earliest believers may have not understood and utilized the Nephite record for systematic theological purposes, how many of them were markedly effected by its story in other ways? Can the zeal of the earliest Mormons, to migrate to the land of their "inheritance" be traced to Book of Mormon role modeling. Can the Mormons views of what constitutes religious "persecution" be attributed to Book of Mormon examples? Can Joseph Smith, Jr.'s "generalship" in the problematic Zion's Camp of 1834 be attributed to the Saints' imitation of the military commanders Moroni, Helaman, and Mormon?
These are the kinds of questions that Mormons typically leave unanswered and they are the kinds of questions Dr. Givens leaves mostly unanswered.
Avoiding the Middle Ground?
Before he begins the main body of his writing, Givens forewarns his readers that he will eventually attempt to paint a picture of what the Book of Mormon "might conceivably yet come to mean, to its various readerships." Just by his venturing to say such a thing, the student of this book receives a notice telegraphed in advance, indicating that Givens sees some merit in upholding diverse views of the Mormon scriptures. Since Dr. Midgley credits Dr. Givens with avoiding explanations of the Book of Mormon based in any "new middle ground" between believers and skeptics, Givens' prefatory remarks and stated intent are somewhat intriguing.
Leaders of the LDS Church, along with their principal underlings, and their chief "scholars," have traditionally demonstrated very little interest in promoting diverse views of latter day scripture. In fact, strict obedience to the hierarchy's singular and frequently ultraliteralistic interpretation of the Book of Mormon has always been a hallmark of saintly faithfulness. But Dr. Givens has long since discovered the world of Liahona LDS, Signature Books Saints, and Cultural Churchgoers and he seems to sense that the institutional church may yet be compelled to grant some small intellectual space for alternative viewpoints. That much minor fortune telling is fairly elementary, no matter how much the current top leaders may decry dissension and contention within the "Congregation of the Lord." What might prove much more significant here, however, is how and why non-Saints might ever find the Nephite record "meaningful." Can the Saints' experience with the book, or even the message of the book itself, ever be of value to those outside of Zion? Givens opens the door to this fascinating fancy, but he never crafts a truly insightful word picture describing that possibility. Had he done so -- had he captured just a hint of the latter day "vision" in his prosaic writing -- his results might have been much more significant (and perhaps even truly useful to the Saints themselves).
If the Book of Mormon did not come from ancient Nephites and even ancienter Jaredites, where, exactly, did it come from? Professor Givens must have had this question rattling inside his mind throughout the course of his researching and writing. However, just a cursory glance at his acknowledgments and his bibliographical citations informs the reader that the able academic has no interest in rocking the institutional ark on this problematic topic. Givens' massive dependence upon LDS sources (and upon sources hardly available elsewhere than in the collections of LDS libraries) betrays his primrose path of inquiry and his selection of saintly mentors. As a starting point, this direction of scholarly procession may have been unavoidable; no serious student of Mormonism and Mormon history can afford to ignore the vast holdings of Mormon document depositories or the contents of LDS writings and publications not readily available in most research libraries. But, like H. H. Bancroft and others before him, Givens appears to have depended far too much upon Mormon sources -- or, to put it more explicitly, upon sources rated as "truly useful" by the folks who have their paychecks printed by "The Corporation of The President" of the Mormon Church.
No student of Mormonism, confined to the hothouse environment of the religiously "faithful" can long maintain the sort of strict objectivity necessary in the compilation of a book such as Givens set out to write. It is to be expected that he missed seeing numerous documents and rare publications not judged as being "truly useful" by his LDS friends (co-religionists?). To what extent he ever consciously tried to compensate for this predictable problem, Professor Givens does not clearly say. One thing might be said for certain, however, an attempt by the student of Mormonism to seek an intellectual balance and integrity, by consulting Saints and former Saints who are no longer religiously "faithful," will not provide sufficient grounds whereupon to construct that necessary objectivity. In order to attain the intellectual balance here spoken of, the student of Mormonism must find a way to step outside of Mormonism altogether, for lengthy periods of examination and contemplation -- and yet, all the while, he or she must still remain focused upon the phenomenon of Latter Day Saintism. It appears that Dr. Givens did not find a solid footing for this alternative perspective while he was conducting his own research. Curiously enough, though, he and others like him (the disinterested and objective experts) may one day be able to help subsequent investigators find their proper grounding. Considering the fact that there are at least eleven million Latter Day Saints in the world today, non-Saint scholars who wish to study that "peculiar people" without having to depend too much upon the Mormons for source material, have few places and persons to turn to for help and advice. Whether or not Dr. Givens publicly identifies himself as a faithful Mormon, he can at least begin to extend that needed help and advice outside of saintly circles.
After much introductory material -- far too much to summarize here -- the good professor gets down to the real nitty gritty on page 159 of his book. Speaking of early non-Saint explanations for the Book of Mormon, he says: "to be widely plausible... an alternate theory [for Book of Mormon origins] had to both credit the book's indisputable complexity -- its rich mix of history, warfare, theology, allegory, and characters -- and to discredit Joseph as author." Here Givens takes a massive mis-step whereby he is never quite able to find his intended pathway thereafter. Although there is much fodder for the critical commentator in other parts of Givens' book, the remainder of the current review will focus upon this singular mis-step.
Trekking Along the Road Less Traveled
An artificial contrivance amounting to a false premise is formed when an investigator of Mormon origins concludes that the Book of Mormon must be (1) the ancient record it claims to be; or, (2) the writings of a person other than Joseph Smith, Jr.; or, (3) merely the writings of Smith himself. In the minds of some analysts the razor of simplicity must inevitably slice the fruit of latter day scriptural origins into these three, seemingly mutually exclusive possibilities, but simplistic pre-judgments do not always furnish the most productive means by which to solve a mystery. The Holmesian approach would be to first eliminate the impossible (that the book is exactly what it claims to be) and then to concentrate one's investigation upon the remaining possibilities, no matter how improbable they at first may appear to be. The remaining possibilities in the case for authorship of the Book of Mormon are that one or more early nineteenth century writers produced the text. Since Joseph Smith, Jr., has his name upon the title page of the first published edition, and since he was a known primary participant in the coming forth of the book, the possibilities in the case for Book of Mormon authorship may be further subdivided into those in which he is credited as the principal author and those in which he is not. Dr. Givens might well have begun his "Devices of the Devil" chapter with this elementary fact; instead, he chose to say that "to be widely plausible" an "alternate (non-Nephite) theory" for the origin of the Book of Mormon "had to both credit the book's indisputable complexity... and to discredit Joseph as author."
As Dr. Givens well understands, the overwhelming majority of faithful Mormons will at once object to any explanation other than that the book is what it says it is. Certain sophisticated and liberal Saints may, however, see some wisdom in allowing unconvertible unbelievers to credit Joseph Smith, Jr., with the book's authorship. In both of these two, seemingly mutually exclusive explanations, the limelight remains narrowly trained upon Smith and he can be honored in history as the founder of an impressive and far-reaching new religion, no matter his shortcomings or personal foibles. The non-Saint, by his or her decision not to join the Mormon religion, has already greatly discounted or eliminated the book's claim to be what it says it is. However, in the exercise of traditional Mormon polemics, that negative decision leaves the unbeliever supposedly accountable to explain "the book's indisputable complexity." Dr. Givens, by accident or design, has fallen into this very trap of LDS apologists and polemicists. Both he and they effectively ignore another option -- that the book's contents can be accounted for by admitting it could have been produced by fully human means, during the first part of the nineteenth century, no matter how inexplicable Joseph Smith, Jr.'s role may appear to be in its coming forth to the world.
For those deciding not to join the Mormons, and thereby eliminating the explanation that the book is what it says it is, there are three remaining options for further investigation. These possibilities are: (A) Smith wrote the text almost entirely upon his own, whether by design or through a process something like automatic writing; (B) the text was produced by some person(s) other than Smith, and Smith only joined the process shortly before its publication; or, (C) the book was produced by Smith and one or more other contributors working together. Considering Smith's limited education and presumed limited access to worldly knowledge, Option "A" seems to be somewhat less probable, on a purely logical basis, than the other two possibilities. Option "B" is one that the Mormons themselves have traditionally co-opted, albeit with the provision that the other "person(s)" included were ancient American prophets. As mentioned above, for sophisticated and liberal Saints, option "A" is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is only non-Saints and "cultural Mormons" who are allowed to buy into that explanation. Thus, option "A" and the co-opted version of option "B" are compatible, in that both explanations keep the focus of intellectual attention trained upon Joseph Smith, Jr., as being the extraordinary man who was almost solely instrumental in bringing into the world a most remarkable religious book. The "B" option, as originally defined, inevitably suffers from the internal weakness of failing to provide a trustworthy explanation of how the text got from the original writer(s) into a published book. Unfortunately history has yet to provide much reliable assistance in overcoming this particular point of weakness.
The "C" option -- that the book was produced by Smith and one or more other contributors working together -- is not one that LDS leaders and their obedient followers have anything to gain in investigating or promoting. Today only explanation "C" is thoroughly problematic to the Latter Day Saints, because its serious consideration invariably leads to the advocacy of conspiracy theories -- theories of Mormon origins in which Joseph Smith, Jr.'s religious and spiritual capital sinks practically to zero. It is not likely that a modern student of Mormonism investigating the "C" option could stroll into the LDS Archives in Salt Lake City or into the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU in Provo, and expect much sympathy or unqualified cooperation from the Church's employees in those scholarly haunts. No doubt Dr. Givens was well aware of this fact even before he wrote his 1997 contribution to LDS studies, The Viper on the Hearth, a thin book on anti-Mormonism which conveniently ignores Spalding, Rigdon, Hurlbut, Howe, etc. altogether.
In his promoting the traditional LDS viewpoint, (i.e., that the typical non-Mormon explanation of the text must inevitably "discredit Joseph as author" of such a complex book), Dr. Givens has neatly fallen into the intellectual ambush -- one hesitates to say "has laid the ambush" -- that best perpetuates the traditional LDS claims for the book. The ostensible escape from this snare -- following Brodie's opinion that Smith could have written the text on his own -- also ends up in perpetuating the traditional LDS claims for the book, as already explained. In the dust of charge, counter charge, feint and retreat, the alternative escape route remains safely obscured and untried. During the last five decades of Mormon origin studies, the "C" option has truly been "the road less traveled." More than that, it is a once promising field of study and research now gone to weeds and jungle overgrowth. This is a sad development indeed. In fact, a fully rational and reasonable explanation for the text can be (and sometimes has been) compiled and articulated from available facts and inferences, pointing to Smith as a willful participant with others in creating at least the final draft for the Book of Mormon. Most contemporary students of Mormon history either overlook these venerable explanations, or they shrink from examining them out of fear of ridicule and shunning from their more "faithful brethren" and various well known, sometimes co-opted, non-Mormon scholars
Whether or not Dr. Givens is himself a Mormon or simply one of those latter co-opted scholars, each reader of By the Hand of Mormon may judge for himself or herself. It must be admitted, however, that Givens proceeds as though the "C" option is not a viable alternative in reconstructing the Mormon past -- as though the student's consideration Smith having possibly received "the help of a collaborator" somehow eliminates Smith as the primary known participant in the "Gold Bible Company." This postulated "help of a collaborator" is not an either/or matter, nor does its advocacy rely upon pure speculation. The "C" option encompasses an entire spectrum of scenarios -- a rich range of possibilities -- in which Smith himself may have been anything from the primary writer to a very minor contributor. The readily available evidence is admittedly spotty and inconclusive, even sometimes contradictory. It is also admittedly the gleanings of people who were mostly untrained in historical research and mostly prejudiced against the Saints. This is to be expected, but that fact alone should not deter the student of history from rummaging through this particular "evidence," sorting it out, and looking for hitherto unexamined primary sources which might help either corroborate or refute portions of the data already at hand. The task of the reconstructor of the Mormon past is not solely to guess as to where along the situational spectrum Smith's contribution to the writing of the Book of Mormon might best be located: the serious student of Mormon history must personally search out and figure out a reasonable reconstruction of things, documenting his or her research and providing any and all new sources of information thus uncovered, for the benefit of subsequent investigators. Such open-minded and potentially beneficial style of investigative reporting, in the field of Book of Mormon origins, has been a rarity for quite some time. The day may soon be at hand when something will be done to remedy that oversight; unfortunately, Dr. Givens has done little more than add his marginalia to outdated road-maps of the beaten path.
The Role of the Rev. Sidney Rigdon
Dr. Terryl L. Givens appears to believe that the critical historian's initial task -- the reconstruction of Mormon origins -- has already been completed by the LDS biographer Fawn M. Brodie and others of her ilk. The previous sentence does not include a typographical error -- Mrs. Brodie was a Mormon when she wrote her book, not a former Mormon nor an anti-Mormon. Where Givens follows her sixty year old path-breaking, he follows a Mormon path through Mormon territory. Brodie's excommunication from the LDS Church was an outcome (an accident?) of post-1945 reactionary forces and events, and not at all a part of her original research and writing plan. Mrs. Brodie wrote a biography of Joseph Smith, Jr. -- an intriguing and well-written docu-drama, perhaps, but not a reliable history of the rise and progress of Mormonism -- while a member in good standing. In emphasizing Joseph Smith, Jr., against the backdrop of incipient Latter Day Saintism, Brodie necessarily blurred and dimmed the prominence of many of the other early Mormon leaders. Her most notable blurring and dimming was directed at President Sidney Rigdon, a fact duly noticed and appropriately criticized by her friend and fellow traveler, Dale L. Morgan.
Dr. Givens says that "Sidney Rigdon, the enthusiastic convert, was the first suspect" fingered by those "unbelievers" who sought to "discredit Joseph as author" (or divinely appointed "proprietor") of the Book of Mormon." The assumption implicit in this statement is that the nineteenth century explanations for Book of Mormon authorship that credited Smith were untenable because they did not include the massive scholarship and well reasoned insights put forth by writers like Mrs. Brodie in the following century. If this is what Givens has assumed, he may well be correct. No nineteenth century published source yet uncovered and made public is known to provide reliable, first-hand information telling how Smith wrote the book by himself. Practically all such published allegations of those days, in which Smith is credited as the book's author, understate the complexities of the text. Dr. Givens, however, provides little or no documentation for what the earliest published allegations really were. Not all of those sources, wherein Smith's writing abilities are lightly credited, necessarily fix the blame for the book upon the Rev. Sidney Rigdon. Oliver Cowdery and shadowy figures (who may have been members of Cowdery's extended family) are also fingered as likely suspects in some of the very early, non-Mormon, published reports.
In making his unsupported statement regarding "the enthusiastic convert," Givens so muddies the waters of scholarship as to obscure almost totally the fact that Sidney Rigdon was first pointed out as the probable writer of the Book of Mormon by his own contemporaries -- by persons who had no particular reason to "discredit Joseph as author." This is an important point for consideration and is yet another issue Givens has essentially side-stepped in his book. There are unpublished sources originating with Rigdon's contemporaries which might be cited here, but quotations from a few published pieces will be sufficient to demonstrate Givens' misstatement.
The "Thrice-Baptized" Elder and the Public Press
As early as Feb. 15, 1831, the editor of the Cleveland Advertiser spotlighted "a noted mountebank by the name of Elder Rigdon" as the person "believed" to be the author of the Book of Mormon. The Advertiser article represents Sidney Rigdon as a maverick, knavish Campbellite attempting to "operate on his own capital" in the realm of religious doctrine. The article even implies that Rigdon's previous activities as a Campbellite preacher led him "to test the validity of the doctrine contained in the Book of Mormon," not just as a basis for his own conversion, but as the work of a conniving baptizer of proselytes to that same doctrine. This was quite possibly the first publication of what soon became a popular assumption -- the notion that the Rev. Sidney Rigdon had secretly contributed to the founding of the Mormon sect and the writing of its first scriptures. It would by no means be the last such allegation published by those who knew something about the "Thrice-baptized Elder."
Weeks previous to the appearance of the Cleveland Advertiser article, a correspondent of the Hudson Telegraph told of the Mormon conversion (?) of "a certain Elder" and his followers in "the northern part of Geauga County," prompting Warren Isham, that Ohio paper's editor, on Nov. 18, 1830, to headline his publication of the report "The Golden Bible or, Campbellism Improved." The editor identifies the clergyman (Sidney Rigdon) who has accepted and promoted the "barefaced a deception" of Mormonism, as "the famous Campbellite leader, who has made so much noise on the Reserve for a few months past." Exactly who it was who thus "improved" the religion of the local Campbellites, the editor does not say. His correspondent asserts, however, that the message of the Book of Mormon (no matter who "the author may have been") "is the same that is held forth by a certain denomination [i.e. the "Reformed Baptists" or Campbellites] which has sprung up in our day." He thus implies that "The Golden Bible" was purposely written to promulgate "Campbellism Improved."
These and other contemporary reports from northern Ohio demonstrate that Rigdon's local critics did not accuse him of writing and promoting so "barefaced a deception" as the Book of Mormon because they were seeking to "discredit Joseph as author" of that same book. A vocal number of Rigdon's neighbors saw him as a rogue religious elder who had been making "much noise" among the credulous believers in that region, perhaps even secretly preparing them for a new set of scriptures he had written "on his own capital" as an improvement for his own version of Campbellism. In their eyes the religion Rigdon championed before his Mormon baptism appeared to suspiciously resemble the religion of The Golden Bible: the pretended religion of "designing Villains" and a designedly more miraculous version of Campbellism. It is perhaps significant that in a February 1831 letter, Matthew S. Clapp, one of Rev. Rigdon's Campbellite parishioners in Mentor (a next-door neighbor and an eye-witness to the circumstances of Rigdon's Mormon conversion) repeatedly uses the word "seemed" to describe his pastor's supposed change of religious views. Relating how the first Mormon missionaries were hospitably received by Rev. Rigdon, Mr. Clapp says: "They took up their abode with the pastor of the congregation, (Sidney Rigdon,) who read their book and partly condemned it -- but, two days afterwards, was heard to confess his conviction of its truth. Immediately the subtlety and duplicity of these men were manifest." In this way a member of Rigdon's own congregation implies that his conversion was a subtle act of showmanship and his initial hostile unfamiliarity with Mormonism mere duplicity. Matthew's brother Henry H. Clapp later wrote that, at the time of his supposed conversion, Rigdon "affected to exhibit great sorrow and contrition for the inutility of his past preaching" as a Campbellite, but that the affected exhibition was "an evident piece of hypocrisy." According to Henry, the Rev. Rigdon's Campbellite congregation at first could not imagine how their pastor could have written so crude a piece of literature as the Book of Mormon, but that "accumulated evidence forced the conviction" upon them that he was its author. (By the bye, the current writer does not use the terms "Campbellism" and "Campbellite" with any derogatory intent. These were once popular designations for the "Restoration movement" which, after 1830, gave rise to the Disciples of Christ and allied denominations.)
Parley P. Pratt, one of Rigdon's early, pre-Mormon disciples, said in 1838 that "Early in 1831, Mr. Rigdon having been ordained, under our hands, visited elder J. Smith, Jr., in the state of New-York, for the first time; and from that time forth, rumor began to circulate, that he (Rigdon) was the author of the Book of Mormon." Pratt says nothing about the circulators of that "rumor" trying to "discredit Joseph as author" of the Book of Mormon; he merely says that Sidney Rigdon's Dec. 1830 journey to visit Joseph Smith, Jr. in New York set such rumors afloat. Considering the fact that Rigdon, the alleged new convert, conducted the first public Mormon preaching services at Palmyra and Canandaigua while on his way to Fayette, and considering the fact that almost immediately upon his arrival at Harmony, he sat down with Smith to write page upon page of their improvement upon the King James Bible, it is no wonder that astonished onlookers might have quickly guessed an earlier and secretive cooperation between the much maligned, literate preacher and the much maligned, charismatic seer. Although David Whitmer's thoughts did not go so far as to suspect such secretive cooperation, eye-witness Whitmer was obviously one of those astonished at the sudden comradeship the two men manifested, practically from the moment Rev. Rigdon appeared on the scene in New York. Whitmer says: "Rigdon was a thorough Bible scholar... He soon worked himself deep into Brother Joseph's affections, and had more influence over him than any other man living. He was Brother Joseph's private counsellor, and his most intimate friend..."
Dr. Givens pauses in his reporting at about this point in the chronology to reflect upon the fact that Rigdon "had been an effective Campbellite preacher, and after he defected to Joseph Smith, some of his former co-religionists thought they detected familiar restorationist elements in the rival religion and its new book of scripture." Here is food for thought! Which of Rigdon's "co-religionists" made such statements? How accurate were they in their allegations? What was Rigdon's and the Mormons' response to these allegations? Givens provides no answers. Had he followed this line of inquiry just a little farther, the University of Richmond professor might have stumbled upon the informed assertions of a "co-religionist" of Sidney Rigdon the Baptist. A goodly portion of the Rigdon biography, penned by the Rev. Dr. William H. Whitsitt (who was a prominent Baptist scholar and theologian as well as a professor at what was then Richmond College in Virginia), was written to demonstrate that the "familiar restorationist elements in the rival religion" were injected into the Book of Mormon and injected into the society created by its promoters by none other than Elder Rigdon. But, predictably, Dr. Givens has no use for Dr. Whitsitt's scholarship on this (or any other) point in the origin of Mormonism. Whitsitt's name, along with any mention of the content of his personal papers at the Library of Virginia and the University of Richmond, is entirely lacking from Givens' book.
The author of By the Hand of Mormon next says that "Rigdon's source, they soon alleged, had been one Solomon Spaulding [sic]." Exactly who "they" were, the good professor neglects to document. Presumably he is here speaking of the same, nameless "unbelievers" who first theorized that Sidney Rigdon might serve as a likely suspect in discrediting the role of Joseph Smith, Jr. in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Givens goes on to say: "ignoring the fact that no evidence could link Sidney Rigdon to Joseph Smith before December of 1830, newspapers in New York picked up the Spaulding-Rigdon theory as a persuasive explanation for the gold bible fraud." Again the writer provides his readers with no citations whereby to backtrack and examine his research findings, but, evidently, Givens is here speaking of the Dec. 20, 1833 Wayne Sentinel news report, in which D. P. Hurlbut is quoted as saying that "The pretended religious character of the [Book of Mormon] has been superadded by some more modern hand -- believed to be the notorious Rigdon." Although numerous "newspapers in New York picked up" and ran reprints and paraphrases of this report, it did not identify Solomon Spalding as furnishing textual source material to Sidney Rigdon. Thus, it is difficult to see how New York newspapers ever used the Sentinel piece as forming a "Spaulding [sic]-Rigdon theory as a persuasive explanation" for the origin of the Book of Mormon.
Besides this particular mention in D. P. Hurlbut's 1833 reporting, Sidney Rigdon's probable role in the creation of the Mormon holy book had already been given in considerable detail, in "newspapers in New York," months previous to the publication of the ex-Mormon missionary's press release. The New York Morning Courier and Enquirer of Aug. 31, 1831, claimed that a "cunning, intelligent... preacher" from Ohio had become acquainted with Joseph Smith's "money diggers -- this "Ringdon [sic] partly uniting with them in their operations" in New York, well before their publication of the "Gold Bible." In the next issue of the same paper, the traveling journalist who had submitted the first "Ringdon" news item from western New York, added more details to his account, saying that "by the suggestions of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio" Smith's "money-diggers" thought of turning their "digging concern into a religious plot." Furthermore, the same reporter (James Gordon Bennett, later a famous editor in his own right) relates the locally-derived allegation, that "There is no doubt but the ex-parson from Ohio is the author of the book which was recently printed and published in Palmyra and passes for the new Bible." Reporter Bennett did not conjure up these 1831 "rumors" in order to "discredit Joseph as author" of the Book of Mormon," nor to promote the Spalding-Rigdon "theory." Bennett was simply reporting what local sources in and around Palmyra were telling him. As Parley P. Pratt stated in 1838, these "rumors" grew out of various persons' knowledge or suspicions of the early association and cooperation of Smith and Rigdon; indeed, as Pratt points out, "The Spaulding story never was dreamed of until several years afterwards, when it appeared in Mormonism Unveiled."
Now it may well be that these unnamed persons' knowledge and suspicions concerning the early association and cooperation of Smith and Rigdon never amounted to proof that the two, much maligned, best friends had secretly collaborated in producing the Book of Mormon, but for Dr. Givens to assert that there was/is no evidence whereby to "link Sidney Rigdon to Joseph Smith before December of 1830" is downright deceptive and a mark of shoddy scholarship on his part. There is, in fact, considerable "evidence" for a reconstruction of history in which Rigdon supposedly knew Smith prior to the Mormon book's 1830 publication. Even Rigdon's LDS biographer has admitted that Rigdon at least knew about Smith well before becoming a Mormon.
Dr. Givens remarks to the contrary notwithstanding, what is lacking here is not a significant pile of "evidence," but rather the "compelling evidence" by which dedicated students of Mormon origins might be inspired to undertake new, on-the-ground researching of primary historical sources -- the sort of concentrated investigation in which the necessary "conclusive evidence" and possible proof might be uncovered. There is good reason to believe that faithful Mormon historians have never conducted this kind of research, or, if they have, that they, like Dr. Givens, have consistently avoided reporting primary sources supportive of the "C" option for Mormon origins. Some rhetorical questions may here be in order: Where in scholarly LDS reporting might the student of history find documented the fact that a brother of Oliver Cowdery lived within walking distance of Sidney Rigdon's residence in 1820 or that Rigdon lived within walking distance of Solomon Spalding just four years earlier? Where in Mormon theses and journal articles might the investigator find a proper citation to Rigdon's first known published refutation of the Spalding-Rigdon claims? Where in LDS publications might their readers find any details about what Rev. Rigdon's Ohio neighbors had to say about his supposed 1830 conversion, his subsequent journey to New York, and his activities before and after he reappeared in Ohio? Other than in a handful of rare old polemical writings, where might today's Latter Day Saints ever learn that several people claimed personal knowledge of Sidney Rigdon having visited western New York prior to his publicized trip there at the end of 1830? Also, where might these same readers ever discover that numerous witnesses credited the ex-Mormon missionary D. P. Hurlbut with displaying Spalding's original to the Book of Mormon in and around Kirtland at the end of 1833?
Were a few searchers of dusty old records to actually undertake some concentrated explorations in the cities and towns between Mentor, Ohio, and Harmony, Pennsylvania, the findings thereby uncovered might indeed "prove" to be very problematic for Givens' friends among the professional Mormon scholars. So, it comes as no surprise that the Richmond academic does not recommend that any modern investigator undertake such an investigation. No -- it is far easier for everybody concerned to simply accept the superannuated conclusions of Fawn M. Brodie and agree not to probe too deeply into the pre-Mormon life of the Rev. Sidney Rigdon and his closest associates. This implicit, gentleman's agreement -- not to probe too deeply -- allows for Saints and non-Saints alike to cooperate comfortably in writing the post-1830 "New Mormon History." Whether or not Joseph Smith, Jr. was heir to the Nephite records or simply the heir to a vivid imagination bordering on spiritual genius can remain a subject of personal preference among the cooperating scholars, so that armchair researchers and accommodating academics like Givens can write their erudite tomes without fear of upsetting the modern detante inside the Restoration's scholarly societies (not to mention possibly upsetting the crucial cooperation of LDS archivists and historical specialists).
Authorship Claims? What Authorship Claims?
As careful inquiry into the contents of "the newspapers in New York" will no doubt confirm, the Spalding authorship claims were not spelled out within their columns until Apr. 8, 1834, when the Buffalo Patriot repeated the essentials of those claims from an Ohio source. Although Rigdon's name was linked to Book of Mormon authorship in the 1833 Wayne Sentinel piece, it was not yet, in those early days, linked with that of Solomon Spalding -- not even in further disclosures of the Spalding claims such as those carried by the May 14, 1834 issue of the Ontario Freeman. In fact, "the newspapers in New York" were left empty of any association of Spalding's and Rigdon's names until August, 1836, when the New York City Commercial Advertiser paraphrased some material from E. D. Howe's 1834 book and suggested that Spalding's writings might have fallen into Smith's hands "through the agency of one Sidney Rigdon." The Advertiser article does not press this suggestion very forcefully, however, and ends by simply stating that "on arriving in Ohio, the new religion, its missionaries, and its wonders, were presented to the Campbellites. These people having been for a long time under the dominion of enthusiasm, and having fancied that the millennium or some other grand event was about to happen, were in the right condition to receive the new revelation. A great many of them were converted, and with them, Sidney Rigdon, their preacher -- a man of powerful eloquence and of great popularity among them." This hardly sounds like a partisan advertisement for the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims in the New York papers.
Probably the credit for publishing the Splding-Rigdon claims first appearance in New York rightfully goes to the New York Observer of May 18, 1839, which reprinted the recent accusations made by Solomon Spalding's widow. Among other things, she is reported as saying: "Sidney Rigdon... had ample opportunity to become acquainted with Mr. Spaulding's manuscript and to copy it if he chose." Considering the fact that the young Sidney Rigdon lived within a couple of hours' walk of Spalding's residence at Amity, Pennsylvania and that Sidney's Aunt Mary Rigdon lived in that same tiny hamlet of Amity, the widow's remarks do not sound too far-fetched. Add to these points the fact that Rigdon and Spalding picked up their mail in the same little Pittsburgh post office and that the postal clerk remembered both men as patrons of that office in the months before before Mr. Spalding died, and the widow's report begins to sound downright believeable. And, as if this were not enough, add in the facts that Rigdon admitted knowing Spalding's chosen publisher, that the postal clerk said Rigdon was friends with that publisher's partner, and that Rigdon operated a leather shop (in which book-bindings were produced for sale to local publishers) within easy walking distance of the publisher's book-selling and book-binding offices, and then the widow's testimony amounts to serious evidence. At least her accusations received Elder Rigdon's attention and spurred him to pen a stinging reply in which he offered his first (and only) known rebuttal of a relatively minor portion of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims.
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Dr. Givens begins to sound more than just a little repetitious when he says "Though lack of factual evidence has led virtually all scholars to dismiss the [Spalding-Rigdon] theory, it was believed by Alexander Campbell himself and proposed by early writers on Mormonism anxious to present some plausible account of authorship that did not attribute to Joseph Smith either heavenly sponsorship or a rich literary imagination." At last the good professor gives a source for his pronouncements -- though he offers no citations and barely a hint at an explanation of his opinion. It goes without saying that Givens' historical summary reeks of presumption and pre-judgment. He follows traditional Mormon polemics in making it appear as though the critics of the Book of Mormon were so "anxious" to pin the blame for its authorship upon some "plausible" nineteenth century writer that they grasped at any straw of rumor that happened to float their way. Perhaps this explains why Dr. Givens is so reluctant to cite his sources in this matter: to do so would allow today's readers to consult the original books and articles, and thus to learn that those old writers were often more careful in forming and stating their conclusions than Givens gives them credit for. Even Eber Dudley Howe, the "anti" that Mormons love to hate, shows considerable restraint and thoughtfulness in his contributions to the seminal 1834 book published under his name.
Whether or not it has been the "lack of factual evidence," or simply the lack of discriminating inquiry which "has led virtually all scholars to dismiss" the possible role of Sidney Rigdon in the creation of the Mormon scriptures, is a debatable issue. It will remain a debatable issue, no matter how successful writers like Givens may be in temporarily suppressing or beclouding that venerable debate.
Practically all scientific and scholarly paradigms run their course of popularity, starting out by receiving only a smattering of critical support, growing to widespread popular acceptance, and dying a lingering death when new data is reported, for which the old explanation can no longer well account. At least this is generally the case in the "open market" of ideas where educated opinions are underwritten by free intellectual exchange and published peer reviews. A given (no pun intended) sub-theory in an historical model may evolve through time, but if the parent paradigm cannot well account for reliably reported data, both the paradigm and all its sub-theories will eventually come to the brink of collapse. When an over-arching new explanation of things finally emerges, a few of those earlier sub-theories may be brushed off and put to use in the new model, but not in support of the discarded old ideas. This is what, sooner or later, will occur in the interpretation of Book of Mormon origins.
In the instance of the "Rigdon theory" for Book of Mormon origins, the evidence was never adequately compiled, only rarely given educated consideration, and all too quickly swept away by committed LDS sanitizers, intent on keeping the public focus trained upon Joseph Smith, Jr. as the only early Mormon of special talents and achievements. The LDS explanation of things was never intended or expected by its proponents to satisfy secular scholarly scrutiny. Since 1945 the informed saintly leaders (both in their LDS and RLDS flavors) have implicitly entrusted that function to Fawn Brodie's paradigm for Mormon origins. Their trust has been well placed, as can be seen in the dramatic growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints since the publication of her book. For every wavering believer converted to rationalism or evangelicalism by Brodie's thesis, hundreds more have been converted to Mormonism in the religious operating space her explanation of things has opened up in front of the great, rolling "stone uncut by human hands."
All "good (?) things" must come to an end, however, and the Brodieite paradigm for Mormon origins has run its course. It will sooner or later (perhaps sooner than many might imagine) be replaced with explanations based upon solid research and enlightened interpretation of historical and literary sources. In the opinion of the current writer, the appearance of Dr. Givens' book marks the final death pangs of twentieth century Mormon rationalist theory-crafting. The evolutionary process in understanding the Latter Day Saint experience is already well advanced and will continue to move forward, whether or not Mormon leaders attempt to do much of anything to slow that progress down. It is to be expected that certain LDS traditionalists will work to subvert this evolutionary process by means both overt and covert, but the coming change in historical models in inevitable. Like it or not, the Saints and their onlookers must enter the post-Brodie era and writers like Givens should be aware of the change. Such outsiders (and insiders attempting to publish as outsiders) may prove to be uncertain prophets and undisciplined midwives in helping bring about that change, but they have an important duty to discharge, nevertheless.
The Riddle of Rigdonism
Were Professor Givens more of a theologian and less of a literary bibliographer, he might question just why it was that the Rigdon authorship model "was believed by Alexander Campbell." Certainly Campbell did not begin his public response to the disruptive appearance of the Mormon book among his co-religionists by pinning the blame on Sidney Rigdon. In fact, Campbell's very belated adoption of the "Rigdon as Iago" concept in Mormon history caused Elder B. H. Roberts to accuse the reforming divine of "perfidy" in Roberts' 1908 defense of the Book of Mormon.
Givens follows Brodie and Brodie follows Campbell in his earliest pronouncements regarding the latter day scriptures. Brodie's point of departure from Campbell, in explaining the origin of the Book of Mormon, is to quote his "Delusions" article of Feb. 7, 1831 as a sort of preeminent authority on where the book came from (i.e. supposedly from the mind of Smith). Brodie, in her ignoble "Appendix B" gleefully quotes the sappy 1831 words of the Sage of Bethany: "It is certainly Smith's fabrication as Satan is the father of lies." Thus moved the religio-political promotions of Rev. Campbell in 1831 and thus swings the agile imagination of Mrs. Brodie in pursuing her vision of Joseph Smith, boy literary genius extraordinaire. Following her use of the Rev. Alexander Campbell's erstwhile remarks for this pivotal purpose in forming her core thesis, Brodie demonstrates little interest in the fact that Campbell slowly and significantly shifted the culpability for the book onto the shoulders of his old disciple, Sidney Rigdon. Rev. Campbell was demonstratively unhurried, almost openly reticent to publish his true feelings and beliefs in this important shift of accusation. Givens is evidently aware of the significant change on Campbell's part, but he is uninterested in pursuing Campbell's motives and actions much beyond the point where Fawn Brodie drops all reference to the First Restorationist. Had Givens looked a little more deeply into Campbell's relationship with Rigdon (and into Campbell's relationship with Rigdon's congregations in nothern Ohio) he might have stumbled upon the interesting conclusions of doctrinal analysts like the Rev. Dr. William H. Whitsitt and the Rev. Clark Braden, and thus reopened some old overgrown trails amidst the uncleared underbrush of Mormon origin studies. However, as mentioned above, Givens apparently has no use for one-sided scholarship of these old "antis."
The current writer can only wonder whether Dr. Givens has the faculty to comprehend just how much we modern Latter Day Saints are denominational orphans, appallingly unaware of our vital family ties with the original "Restoration Movement" of the Campbells, Walter Scott, and Sidney Rigdon. All questions of Rigdon's alleged duplicity in perverting Campbellism into Mormonism set to one side, the unquestioned truth remains that the overwhelming majority of today's Latter Day Saints have no inkling of their predecessors in the faith having shared so much essential common ground with the "Reformed Baptists" of Rigdon's time. The theological and experiential ties between the two groups have been purposefully obscured, both by the modern Disciples of Christ and Christians (who have practically excised Rigdon from their early history) and by the Latter Day Saints, who labeled Campbellism as the false dawn of the Restoration almost from the day of Rigdon's Mormon baptism forward. It is a somber and pitiable fact that almost no students and teachers of American church history are now aware of this crucial religious relationship. The denominational divorce has long since been finalized and the institutional offspring of 1827 have been allowed to grow up unaware of their common bonds. How regrettably unfortunate!
This latter day relational ignorance was not always so strong as it has become nowadays. It is a truly significant religious relationship and one-way doctrinal dependence that several writers of the 1840s (not just Whitsitt and Braden forty years later) perceived and attempted to communicate in their time. Today those writers' books have become little more than faded entries in the "anti-Mormon" section of rare books catalogs and the writers' insights into the Mormon evolution from Campbellism have been long since forgotten. Most of the relevant articles in the periodical press of that day and age do not even merit a line in the catalogs and the original letters and journal entries documenting that evolution remain unknown and unread. Modern LDS historical and theological writers like Marvin S. Hill and Grant Underwood have occasionally provided passing glances at the old common ground once trodden by both Mormons and Disciples, but they have also understandably shied away from examining that early connection too closely. As mentioned earlier, the Rev. Sidney Rigdon's promotion of Mormon doctrine, from late 1830 onward, was at a very early day labled "Campbellism Improved." In fact, it would not at all be an exaggeration for one to say that there was a period between 1827 and 1831 in which millenarian, restorationist "Rigdonism" became a distinct offshoot of the Campbells' "Restoration Movement" and that several disciples of the radical religious "mentor" residing and preaching in the Ohio Mentor, became "Rigdonites" shortly before they evolved into being Mormonites. This transitory, miracle-seeking, scripture-addicted, heaven-daring "Rigdonism" awaits scholarly investigation and elucidation, but it reportedly stood closer to incipient Latter Day Saintism than it did to parental Campbellism.
Excursus: The Campbellite Connection
Although Turner was careful not to accuse Rigdon of playing a founding part in Mormondom's creation, the Rev. Henry Caswall was less reluctant in expressing his conclusions a year later. Rev. Caswall united ideas he gleaned from reading Turner with information he derived from several other sources to form a more solid assertion. In his 1843 book Caswall identifies "Campbellism" as being "made to form one of the main ingredients of Mormonism," through a conscious "process" carried out primarily by Elder Sidney Rigdon, who "held to the literal interpretation of the prophecies, and taught that the long lost tribes of Israel were soon to be restored, and that wonderful revolutions were at hand..." As Caswall puts it, "Rigdon separated from the regular Baptists, together with Alexander Campbell, and, having left Pittsburg, commenced preaching some new points of doctrine, partly agreeing with those of Campbell, and partly different. These new doctrines related to the literal fulfillment of the prophecies, the return of the Jews, the literal reign of the saints in Zion, and the restoration of miraculous gifts. It was afterwards found that these doctrines were inculcated among the fundamentals of Mormonism."
According to Caswall, it was the "coincidences appearing" in the mutual doctrines of Campbellism (more specifically what the current writer identifies as "Rigdonism") and early Mormonism, which "induced in many minds a suspicion almost amounting to certainty that Rigdon" procured a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding, "altered it to suit his own views," and thereafter "originated the scheme of bringing it before the world in a miraculous way" -- via the New York seer, Joseph Smith, Jr. The careful reader will notice that Caswall does not say that cunning anti-Mormons seized upon innocuous, vague similarities between teachings of the Book of Mormon and Campbellism as a contrivance whereby to discredit Joseph Smith's literary or organizational abilities. Rather, observers who had no particular interest in battling Mormonism or Campbellism could not help but notice that the two "restorationist" religious systems shared a great deal of doctrinal and disciplinary common ground, quite apart from most other denominations of their day.
Caswall concludes that significant "coincidences" in doctrines led some people to more easily believe the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims. In Caswall's estimation Mormonism was an organic outgrowth of Cambellism which separated itself from the root religion only after the appearance of the Book of Mormon. Although very few of its initial members knew of this particular evolution it must have been apparent to some of the top Mormon leaders: Oliver Cowdery and his associates were accused of identifying themselves as followers of Alexander Campbell as they sought converts in northern Ohio in 1830, after their departure from Kirtland. Also, the people who first noticed and publicized the then evident Campbellite-Mormon connections were not the initial advocates of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims.
An even stronger voice advocating Mormonism's evolution out of Campbellism was raised by Daniel P. Kidder in his 1842 book. Mr. Kidder goes to some pains to show what he sees as an important connection between the two religious movements when he says: "Various passages in the Book of Mormon show the writer to have been a Campbellite in his views." Kidder also remarks:
Campbellism has proved the harbinger to Mormonism both in America and in England. The two systems seem still to be identical in denying the necessity of spiritual regeneration, although the latter claims extraordinary spiritual gifts through baptism and the laying on of hands. The Mormons claiming to be much greater reformers than the Campbellites, by no means felt themselves bound to walk in the old paths; on the contrary, they took the liberty to abandon such parts of the other system as did not correspond with their new designs, and to run into every additional extravagance that promised to increase their numbers.
In the final paragraphs of his book Kidder sums up his opinion quite succinctly:
Those who had seen Spalding's MANUSCRIPT say that the religious parts of the Book of Mormon have been added. Now, these parts bear a distinctive character, (that of Campbellism,) which Smith was utterly unqualified to give them until after his connection with Rigdon. This shows that there were at least three parties to the real authorship; and we think it would be sheer unjustice not to put Oliver Cowdery, the schoolmaster, upon as good (literary) footing as his more ambitious pupil, Joseph Smith, Jr.
Kidder's accusations drew only a curt response from the Campbellite press of his day. If Kidder's viewpoint is the correct one -- that internal evidence shows the writer of the Mormon book "to have been a Campbellite" -- then one might expect the professors of the parent religion would have voiced the same conclusion. In fact, the Campbellites were not interested in having their denomination in any way associated in people's minds with the repugnant Mormonites and they were not generally inclined to say much about Rigdon's connection with the Saints or with the Disciples. In the Feb. 7, 1831 issue of his Millennial Harbinger, the Rev. Alexander Campbell pins the blame for writing the Book of Mormon squarely upon Joseph Smith, Jr., a man he knew little, if anything, about at the time. As things turned out, Joseph and his wife Emma adopted the daughter of Alexander's deceased sister-in-law, but these feeble family ties did nothing to subdue Alexander's loathing of Joseph Smith, Jr, and all he stood for. Alexander Campbell clearly did read the book published by Smith's sect, but why he chose to overlook its doctrinal overlap with his own movement's teachings remains unexplained. He must have known that the contents of the book then presented an alluring enticement for a certain segment of his own co-religionists, but Alexander may have decided publicly ignore that fact to simply discredit the book in order to avoid drawing any undue attention to its incorporation of beliefs and practices practically unique to Campbellism.
In an editorial article accompanying his derision of Mormonite "delusions," Campbell responds to Sidney Rigdon's defection to the Saints' ranks and admits the fact that his former religious lieutenant had "led away a number of disciples with him." Campbell ascribes this unhappy mass conversion to Rigdon's unbalanced mental state and hypocritical nature, barely alluding to the verity that Rigdon's preoccupation with "the recovery of spiritual gifts" and the American gathering of the "the long lost tribes of Israel" was a fixation he shared almost exclusively with the first Mormons. For example, practically all proponents of the latter day gathering of Israel in those days expected that event to occur in Palestine. The Rev. Ethan Smith agonized in print over how to send a significant number of supposedly "Israelite" American Indians to Jerusalem and thus fulfill predictive prophecy. But Sidney Rigdon (and very few others -- only the name of Mordecai M. Noah comes immediately to mind) was expecting to gather Israelites and Indians on American soil and thus jump-start a millennium based in the New World's "land of promise."
Perhaps the Rev. Alexander Campbell did not wish to emphasize the popular Ohio preacher's sharing of much theology with the newfangled Mormonites, out of fear that such an admission would both bring condemnation upon his own reforming efforts (as being a sort of precursor or progenitor to Mormonism) and induce more of his own people to sympathetically investigate Smith's claims to be the "restorer of the Jews and the founder of the New Jerusalem." Perhaps Campbell simply did not wish to draw undue attention to his own early and somewhat clandestine cooperation with Elder Rigdon in spreading "the Reformation" among the largely unsuspecting and unsophisticated western Baptists. Campbell had been quietly making use of Sidney's persuasive talents in this regard even before he finagled the young preacher's appointment as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh. The two reformers no doubt shared many a unspoken plan to further the Campbellite "plea for Christian unity" in the days before Rigdon turned upon his astute master. So, if Campbell was in a position in 1831 to tell some of Rigdon's pious secrets, Rigdon was also in a position to reveal certain things that Campbell did not want discussed in public. In the months and years that followed, Elder Sidney Rigdon vented much vengeful wind in LDS papers at Campbell's expense, but the Mormon leader was usually gentleman enough to not to provide the exact details of his mentor's ecclesiastical sins.
At any rate, it was not until January 1835 that the Rev. Alexander Campbell implicitly admitted a possible role for Rigdon in the production of the Book of Mormon. Even here, at this late date, he avoids repeating Rigdon's name, while accepting the basics of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims recently advocated by Eber D. Howe. Campbell merely says: "Perhaps we were too sanguine when we thought that the fable [Mormonism] was so barefaced that it could not stand... but it appears that there are some great knaves, some as great simpletons, and some as dark spots in the United States..." Even seven years after Rigdon's LDS conversion, Campbell could not bring himself to admit in print that Rigdon helped write the book; he just says that "Sidney Rigdon... fond of new ideas, and always boasting of originality... became a flaming literalist... [and] having discovered the Golden Bible, he and Joseph Smith covenanted for a new religion..." Finally, in June of 1839, Campbell published the essentials of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims and admitted in print that, after he read Howe's book, he "had but little doubt that Sidney Rigdon" helped invent Mormonism and acted as its "leading conjurer."
In 1839 Sidney Rigdon's old preaching companion, the Rev. Walter Scott, also publicized the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims -- adding that he knew Rigdon to be a "shameless impostor" who "voraciously seized upon" Scott's own theological discoveries and "engrafted them on the abominable [Mormon] imposition to which soon after he joined himself." Rev. Scott does not say exactly when he perceived this insidious grafting process going on, but he implies it was done before the first Mormon scriptures were published. As Scott says, "This accounts for the success of the ministers of Mormonism, for the Golden Bible, the book in question, is never once spoken of [by Mormon missionaries] till the very statement of the gospel for which our own Reformation is now remarkable, is first submitted... Rigdon filched from us that elementary method of stating the gospel." Scott, like many others who pondered these apparent connections, was unable to establish a solid, pre-1830 link between Rigdon and Smith. The most he could say for certain was that when "Rigdon was a Baptist minister in Pittsburgh" Scott was also there, and "knew him to be perfectly known to Mr. Robert Patterson." Rigdon never denied his acquaintance with the publisher who had received Solomon Spalding's manuscript, so Scott's news here is not much of a revelation. Four years later Scott belatedly published a letter from Rigdon's brother-in-law, in which the writer guessed that "The Mormon book has nothing of baptism for the remission of sins in it; and of course at the time Rigdon got Solomon Spaulding's manuscript he did not understand the scriptures on that subject." To this grossly inaccurate statement, Rev. Scott responds: "Sidney Rigdon accompanied brother Campbell to the M'Calla debate in 1823 and must have heard what was said on baptism on that occasion... neither Rigdon nor any other person who has seen me baptize for remission, could possibly forget the import of the ordinance."
In December, 1843, Alexander Campbell got around to responding to Daniel P. Kidder's assertion, that "Various passages in the Book of Mormon show the writer to have been a Campbellite in his views." Campbell effected his curt answer by publishing a letter written by "T. C. Johnson," in which the writer attempts to refute Kidder's allegations of there being a unique connection between Campbellism and early Mormonism. Although Campbell adds no editorial comments of his own, his displeasure with the promulgation of Kidder's claims shows through in his selection of the letter for publication in the first place. It seems likely that Campbell was influenced to consistently ignore or downplay Sidney Rigdon's religious affinities with the first Mormons, so as not to bring infamy upon his own religious movement. It was only in January, 1844, more than thirteen years after Rigdon's defection, that the Rev. Alexander Campbell finally admitted, in no uncertain terms, that "Sidney Rigdon had a hand in the manufacture of the religious part of the Book of Mormon" and that this conclusion "is clearly established" by the occurrence of Campbellite doctrine and "expressions" in the latter day scriptures.
The mid 1840s marked a watershed boundary in the efforts of non-Mormon writers to elucidate the known and suspected ties between Campbellism, Rigdonism and Mormonism. After the contributions of several reporters were published, the religious relationship shared by the three sects was mostly passed over in the public press. Perhaps the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., the departure of the Mormons for Utah, and national preoccupation with North-South tensions distracted most Americans' attention from things so mundane as how and why the adherents of minor religious groups shared some unusual beliefs and practices.
It was not until after the American Civil War had ended that much else in the way of new source material was brought before the reading public, in the matter of Campbellite-Mormon connections. Dr. Robert Richardson's 1868 biography of Alexander Campbell supplies a few original remarks on this subject, from a writer who grew up in Pittsburgh during Rigdon's residence in that part of the country. On pp. 344-45 of his book Dr. Richardson says: "the delusion of Mormonism began its course in Northern Ohio. Chief amongst its promoters appeared Sydney Rigdon, who was believed, upon good evidence, to have been also its originator.... Floating upon the tide of popular excitement, he was disposed to catch at anything which, without demanding labor, might serve for his advancement, and was naturally led to seek in deception the success which he found denied to indolence.... Having copied or obtained possession of this [Spalding] manuscript, Rigdon seems to have secretly occupied himself during several years in altering and arranging it to suit his purposes." Richardson, however, says nothing specific about the notions of "popular excitement" Rigdon might have introduced in his altering and arranging the pre-publication text of the Book of Mormon. Years later and admirer of Richardson's attempted to correct the oversight by adding: "the Book of Mormon has in it many evidences of having been written or shaped by a renegade disciple, just such a man as Dr. Richardson declares that Sydney Rigdon was... I might find a... hundred evidences that its religious doctrines were, in all probability, written by that man Sydney Rigdon, as indicated by Dr. Robert Richardson."
In 1875 Disciples' scholar Amos S. Hayden published his acclaimed Early History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve, Ohio. In his book Hayden provides a considerable amount of previously unspoken information regarding Rigdon and the initial establishment of Mormonism in northern Ohio (see especially his Chapter IX: "The Advent of Mormonism"). Some of Hayden's reporting strengthens the case for believing that Rigdon engrafted his version of Campbellite doctrine into Mormonism; other portions provide strong evidence for Rigdon's having consciously prepared his parishioners for the coming of Mormonism -- Hayden's presentation of Darwin Awater's letter of Apr. 26, 1873 is his prime example in this regard. None of what Hayden reports works to diminishes the probability of Rigdon's having a clandestine role in the founding of Mormonism.
Close upon Hayden's heels followed some interesting admissions in the Disciples' flagship newspaper, the Christian Standard. In the issue for May 27, 1876 the editor makes space for allegations saying that "Rigdon, instead of being a convert to Mormonism, was himself a confederate of Smith in planning the scheme and writing the Mormon Bible!" and "Rigdon was the "mysterious stranger" who aided Smith, 1828-9-30, in getting up the imposture." These vague claims were expanded into more serious and substantial charges when Isaac Errett (yet another Disciple from early Pittsburgh) penned Rigdon's obituary for the Aug. 5th issue of the Standard. There Editor Errett says: "Sidney Rigdon, the establisher of Mormonism, is dead... To his exertions the Latter-day Saints may rightly attribute the establishment of their church... the anxious inquirer may cease to inquire concerning the strange secrecies of his life and stranger mysteries which envelop the origin of the Mormon Bible... Among the religious notions which he sought to propagate among the Disciples, may be mentioned the following: first Communism; and second, Miracles and Gifts of the Spirit; and third, New Revelations. These were, a few years later, the salients of all the Mormon sermons..." In other words, Errett accused Rigdon of aiding in the origin of the Book of Mormon and of secretly working to establish Mormonism as a religion that propagated "the religious notions" he had been unsuccessful in inculcating among those Campbellites not under his own, immediate influence.
Next came an interesting series of articles written or contributed by James T. Cobb, a classical scholar and an amateur proponent of alternative authorship claims for the plays and poetry generally attributed to William Shakespeare. Cobb's rarely cited articles on early Mormonism all appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune of 1879. One item in particular is best read in conjunction with Hayden's reporting, this is an eye-witness account of Rigdon's 1830 conversion to Mormonism, written by a member of his Mentor congregation. The contents of this report are much the same as those provided half a century earlier by the man's brother. Mr. Cobb combined these eye-witness accounts, material from Hayden's book, and other seldom seen information into several of the 1879 articles, most notably in one entitled "Who Started Mormonism," published on Sept. 7, 1879, in which he offers these relevant comments:
"The depth of this original Mormon conspiracy, and the height of it, will never be reached and known until Rigdon is recognized as its central figure and chief plotter. With the majority of elderly Mormons themselves... this claim -- this supreme claim -- for Rigdon must for a time appear not otherwise than untenable and preposterous; but it will be found, as with every half-concealed truth or fact, the more closely it is looked into the clearer and more cogent it becomes... It is likewise susceptible of demonstration that at least nine-tenths of the peculiar tenets and terminology of Mormonism were appropriated from Campbellism: notably and primarily, baptism for remission of sins which was inaugurated by the Disciples in the fall of 1827, two or three years before the Mormon Church was organized... Rigdon's secret affiliation with Smith from 1827 until 1830 has been stoutly and persistently denied for them; but if one or the other himself ever denied it, the present writer, in an exhaustive draining of the whole field, has not come across such denial, while, on the other hand, there are living witnesses to prove such secret affiliation."
The next notable advancement in this line of investigation came with the 1882 publication of some lectures on Mormonism given by the Rev. William H. Whitsitt, professor at theology in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky. In the first of these lectures, Whitsitt accuses Sidney Rigdon of having written most of the Book of Mormon, and then says: "the Book of Mormon was not written merely to sustain Campbellite views, but also with the purpose of effecting a modification of Campbellism, by means of a more rigid application of the Campbellite principle, 'Where the Scriptures speak we speak, and where they are silent we are silent.'" In another place the lecturer says: "We trust our Campbellite friends will not receive these results with denunciation and abuse. They will hardly be able to deal with them in that way, for these results represent an amount of sober, scientific investigation, and are therefore worthy of respectful treatment. Let the Campbellites in their turn study the Book of Mormon... with the design of making a contribution to historical science."
Whitsitt's ostensible invitation to the "Campbellites," to "study the Book of Mormon," was perhaps more than a little disingenuous and his lectures drew a predictable reply from the late Rev. Campbell's friends. The editor of the Disciples of Christ's Christian Standard replied to Whitsitt in a series of articles appearing in that paper at the end of 1882 and at the beginning of 1883.
The Disciples of this era (although they admitted Rigdon was the founder of Mormonism) were not interested in exploring Whitsitt's censorious views on where the LDS religion came from. The replies in the Standard admitted some accidental connections between their theology and that of the Mormons, but mostly they concentrated on absolving Alexander Campbell from being the inadvertent father of Latter Day Saintism and on painting Whitsitt as a mean-spirited Baptist, out to libel the honored leaders of their denomination. The articles in the Standard accomplished little more than offering various defenses and promoting petty, interdenominational bickering which rarely touched upon the content of the Book of Mormon.
One Disciple preacher who took the allegations against Rigdon's authorship of the Book of Mormon seriously was the Rev. Clark Braden. In 1884 he published the text of his debate with RLDS Elder Edmund L. Kelley and quickly outdid Whitsitt in pointing the finger of piety against the turncoat Campbellite of Mentor. In Clark Braden's view, Sidney Rigdon was the only possible candidate for originator of the Mormons' original theology. Braden and his assistant, Arthur B. Deming, managed to secure a number of statements from aging witnesses to the advent of Mormonism, but probably his most significant contribution was simply his presentation of an outline analysis of the Book of Mormon from the perspective a Campbellite minister well acquainted with the history of Sidney Rigdon. Practically every page on which Braden's arguments are recorded, from page 43 onward, contain some comments germane to the Campbellite-Mormon connection, but Braden most effectively summarizes his views on pp. 216-217:
We proved by Atwater, Dille, Z. Rudolph, John Rudolph, Green, and by Kelley himself, that Rigdon preached and advocated the doctrines in which the Book of Mormon differs from the Disciples, the peculiar ideas of the Book. That he so indoctrinated all his hearers, where he could, that every Rigdonite became a Mormon, when he became one.... We then proved by the Rigdonisms in the Book of Mormon that Rigdon is its author. We found that no one but a Disciple preacher of the time when it appeared, could have been its author, used its language, and uttered its teachings. We showed that where Rigdon agreed with the Disciples, the Book agreed with them. Where he disagreed it disagreed and very bitterly too. That it advocates Rigdon's ideas on community of goods, restoration of spiritual gifts, new revelations, his fall-down power to which he was subject... etc.
While other investigators before him had said that parts of the Book of Mormon must have been written by a Campbellite, the Rev. Braden appears to have been the first student of Mormonism to assert in a published work that only Sidney Rigdon could have been the book's primary author. Braden's allegation might, however, logically be extended to include some of Rigdon's chief pre-Mormon disciples, such as Parley P. Pratt, Orson Hyde, or even Eliza R. Snow. All of these Rigdonites knew very well their mentor's pet theological hobbies and all of them subsequently demonstrated remarkable writing abilities. In the cases of Elder Hyde and Miss Snow, both of these Rigdonites admitted to having known about the "Gold Bible" story (and, by implication, something about Mormonism) well before Rigdon's 1830 conversion.
Less than two years after the publication of Braden's book, the Rev. William H. Whitsitt, (who worked independently of Braden, whom he never cites nor paraphrases) reached practically the same conclusions as the outspoken Disciple minister. In his Feb. 16, 1886 letter to Oberlin College President James H. Fairchild, Whitsitt says:
Mr. Rigdon was a Disciple minister at the moment of producing the particular form of the Book of Mormon... I discovered that it contains all the leading tenets and peculiarities of that people. The contents of the volume, at least to my thinking, will supply a demonstration that it could have been prepared by none but a Disciple theologian, and further that it could have been prepared by no Disciple theologian except Mr. Rigdon... The question touching the Spaulding [sic] manuscript has no direct connection with that result; it stands upon its own merits... I was solicitous to avoid the Spaulding controversy entirely... But having set my hand to compose a biography of Mr. Rigdon, I felt somewhat bound by the nature of the task to express [a positive] opinion [about Rigdon's use of Spalding's writings].
The Disciples kept Braden's 1884 book in print and paid his teachings regarding the Mormons a fading lip-service into the next century. The Baptists, on the other hand, soon forgot Whitsitt's lectures and neither the Disciples nor the Mormons ever took his conclusions very seriously; his biography of Rigdon went mostly unread, with only a small excerpt issued as The Origins of The Disciples of Christ, in 1888 and a fragmentary summary of his findings on Mormonism finally published as a reference article in 1891. With both the Disciples and the Saints studiously avoiding the Mormon origins material in Whitsitt's research, little ever came of this portion his scholarship, other than occasional brief mentions in Baptist publications. It required the graduate studies of a modern Southern Baptist minister to bring the man's work on Mormonism to some minimal academic attention in 2001.
In 1889 the Rev. George W. Longan, a Disciples of Christ minister, published a slender volume in refutation of Whitsitt's 1888 book. Entitled Origin of the Disciples of Christ, A Review of Prof. W. H. Whitsitt's Volume..., Rev. Longan's rebuttal include little material germane to the origins of Mormonism. A more substantial contribution was provided by the Rev. William A. Stanton, a Baptist minister, published a book in 1907 entitled, Three Important Movements, in which he provided some interesting historical details on the Baptists, the Disciples, and the Mormons. Stanton was aware of Dr. Whitsitt's early work, but he probably independently ascertained the idea of Rigdon being a primary participant in the founding of Mormonism -- the "Angel" of the Joseph Smith story. In his 1891 essay Whitsitt says: "Sidney was raised to the dignity of an angel" in his pre-1830 encounters with Smith. An article summarizing Stanton's views on Rigdon was published in 1899, but he voiced essentially the same views in an earlier lecture, given in Pittsburgh, entitled, "Rigdon as the Angel." In his 1907 refinement of these previous communications, Stanton adds: "Note also that the interpolated religious matter... [in the Book of Mormon, are] the teachings of the very things for which Rigdon was excluded by the Baptists. Still further note that millennatianism, baptism for the remission of sins, a common ownership of property, the limitation of faith to the intellect, and other doctrinal peculiarities are characteristic of the religious teachings of the Mormons and of their Bible, just as they were of Rigdon when he was excluded by the Baptists and came into sympathy with Campbell and Scott."
During the first three decades of the twentieth century scholarly attention to the Campbellite-Mormon connection appears to have languished while investigators of Mormonism turned their attention to other matters. RLDS-turned-Disciple writer, Davis H. Bays, avoided the topic of Mormon-Campbellite similarities altogether in his 1897 book, Doctrines & Dogmas of Mormonism. A few published works wherein Rigdon's pre-1830 contribution to Mormonism was presented as established fact might, however, be mentioned in passing. These include the works of William A. Linn, A. Theodore Schroeder and Robert B. Neal.
Charles A. Shook was another former RLDS who became a Disciple minister; he included a chapter on Rigdon as the editor of the Book of Mormon in his 1914 book, The True Origin of the Book of Mormon. Shook concludes that chapter with the following antipathetic note.
The "Doctrine and Covenants" (34:2) throws out a hint of Rigdon's former connection with Mormonism in these words: "Behold, verily, verily I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works. I have heard thy prayers and prepared thee for a greater work. Thou art blessed, for thou shalt do great things. Behold, thou wast sent forth even as John, to prepare the way before me, and before Elijah which should come, and thou knew it not." Nearly all Gentiles will agree with the Mormons that Sidney prepared the way before the Mormon delusion, but when it comes to the statement that he knew it not, it is quite another thing.
About the only Disciple historian who gave Rigdon much notice after the turn of the century was Walter W. Jennings, who incorporated an account of the rise of Mormonism in his 1919 Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ. Although Jennings evidently accepted the idea that Rigdon was the secret founder of the new sect, he says practically nothing about incipient Mormonism's substantial overlap with Campbellism. Other twentieth century Disciple writers would mostly follow in Jennings' foot-steps and downplay the early doctrinal relationship between the two religious groups. On the other side of the fence, Richard C. Evans was a former member of the RLDS First Presidency who left that group and in 1920 penned a volume called Forty Years in the Mormon Church. On page 15 of that book Elder Evans accuses Sidney Rigdon of inserting a sermon arguing against infant baptism into the Book of Mormon manuscript. Unfortunately he only takes the trouble to credit Rigdon with this one editorial addition to Solomon Spalding's writings. Evans was theologian enough to have written dozens of informative pages on this topic, but he apparently never took up that particular literary task.
One notable writer who did take some pains to report on the perceptible connections between these denominations was George B. Arbaugh, whose Revelation in Mormonism was published in 1932. Like Clark Braden before him, Arbaugh attempts to perform a little source-critical analysis on the Book of Mormon and ends up pointing out to his readers where he believes Rigdon made his contributions to the text. For example, he says: "(1) All Disciple theology is by Rigdon. (2) Passages prophetic of Mormonism are by Rigdon, or in a few cases by Smith. (3) Historical passages are by Spaulding. (4) Passages in which "It came to pass" occurs frequently are by Spaulding. (5) Lengthy theological discussions are by Rigdon unless they are integral parts of the narrative. (6) Reflections of the anti-Masonic excitement are by Rigdon, or in a few instances possibly by Smith, since Rigdon got the novel in 1826, several years before this occurred. (7) Long quotations from the Bible were added by Rigdon." Arbaugh never attempted to offer a detailed analysis of this type, but in a 1940 journal article he carried on in the same vein: "... certain portions of the Book of Mormon which seem to have been inserted by Rigdon (or perhaps Rigdon and Joseph Smith) appear to have been influenced by Spaulding's thought..." While this may all be good and well, Arbaugh neglected to lay out an objective methodology by which Rigdon's supposed contributions to the text could be discerned by other students of the Book of Mormon and his unique notions were not much taken up and explored by subsequent writers.
At least one student did read Arbaugh seriously, and that was Joseph W. White, whose 1947 thesis "The Influence of Sidney Rigdon Upon the Theology of Mormonism," shows his acceptance of Rigdon's alleged editorial contributions to the Book of Mormon as a matter of fact. Even so, White concentrates his reporting mostly on those aspects of Mormonism which Rigdon might have imposed upon the new movement after 1830 and so says little about identifiable Rigdonisms in the Book of Mormon text. He concludes his thesis with these remarks:
A comparison of the fundamental doctrines of Mormons and Disciples, shows that with regard to: 1) The name of the Church; 2) The name of followers; 3) Creeds; 4) The Kingdom of God; 5) The Everlasting Gospel; 6) The Plan of Salvation; 7) Faith; 8) Repentance; 9) Obedience; 10) Mode of baptism; and, 11) Purpose of baptism; the identities were too great to be coincidental. In the items of: 1) The Holy Spirit; 2) The miraculous; 3) Communism; and 4) The Millennium; the Mormons varied from the Disciples, in just the ways that Rigdon varied.
Today few, if any, of the Disciples of Christ, Christian churches, or Churches of Christ, would admit that the theology of the Campbells and their associates has any value other than the expression of the beliefs of earnest, devout individuals. But these groups would freely admit the debt their thinking owes to these same individuals. Mormonism largely has the same debt, but denies its existence. Rigdon's own statement that, "The Book of Mormon has revealed the secrets of Cambellism and unfolded the end of the system," is significant.... The likenesses and differences between... Disciples and Mormons... cannot be accounted for upon the grounds of accident or special revelation.
In defense against the Rigdon origin of Mormon theology, Mormon writers tend to concentrate upon the weaknesses, of the Spaulding theory, while largely ignoring its strong points. Practically without exception, they completely ignore Rigdon's foreknowledge of the Book of Mormon... Without any necessary dependence upon the Spaulding theory, it seems logical to conclude that the parallelism between the Disciples and Mormonism can be explained only in the light of a transference from the former to the latter, through the mediumship of Sidney Rigdon.
It is not the intent of this reviewer to compile an exhaustive list of sources favoring a pre-1830 connection between Sidney Rigdon and incipient Mormonism. It is enough to present this excursus and show that numerous students of Mormon origins have taken the matter seriously enough to write extensively on the subject. Their contributions in this regard have never been compiled and studied by capable scholars, much less used as the basis for new research studies. No definitive listing of Book of Mormon doctrinal affinities with Campbellism or Rigdonism has ever been produced. George Arbaugh's highly preliminary source criticism has never been expanded upon. The assertions of Clark Braden and William H. Whitsitt, saying that only Sidney Rigdon could have written certain portions of the Mormon book remain unanswered. It is likely that Dr. Givens browsed through a great deal of this sort of thing and felt that it was not worth mentioning in his book. Still, his simplistic statements about how and why the Rigdon authorship claims were first voiced are of little use to the serious student and they should be revised in any subsequent editions of By the Hand of Mormon his distinguished publisher, Oxford University Press, may care to place in front of a discriminating readership.
Solomon Spalding -- the Never-Ending Story
On page 160 of his book Dr. Givens takes up the Solomon Spalding claims for Book of Mormon authorship, beginning with this statement: "The first to allege publicly the Spaulding connection was Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, who had just been excommunicated from the Mormon church for 'unchristianlike' conduct toward some young women." This erroneous oversimplification betrays Givens' desire to deal with and dispose of the Spalding claims in a single page, as though they only warrant 1/320th of the space he takes up with his discussion of what the Book of Mormon is and means. Recalling that the Spalding claims were the leading contender among explanations for Book of Mormon origins for well over one hundred years, that they formed the backbone for thousands of pages of reports published on the subject, and were long acknowledged by leading Mormon apologists as the only ("all other hypothesis have long since been committed to limbo") non-LDS explanation of the book worthy of their rebuttals, Dr. Givens' allocation of but four paragraphs to the topic seems to be stingy in the extreme. But then, perhaps Givens feels that he has covered this ground in an earlier book, and that by citing Dr. Lester Bush's 1977 Dialogue article, he excuses himself from much further consideration of the whole unhappy affair.
As luck would have it, however, Dr. Bush's 1977 article is not "a thorough treatment of the Spaulding [sic] hypothesis," nor was D. P. Hurlbut the first person "to allege publicly the Spaulding connection." Bush's article is well worth reading but it should be treated as a very incomplete, one-sided example of modern Mormon apologetics containing a number of substantial factual errors. Furthermore, the originator of the "Spalding Connection" was undoubtedly Dr. Nehemiah King, who was aided and abetted in his publicizing these allegations by a number of his neighbors living in and around what is today Conneaut, Ohio. For decades LDS and RLDS writers have argued that D. P. Hurlbut concocted the Spalding authorship claims out of some vague recollections having nothing to do with Mormonism. This argument is a fallacious one and it will eventually be overturned and buried by informed reporting of a more honest sort.
Givens can at least be credited with avoiding the "vague recollections having nothing to do with Mormonism" ploy; he says that in 1833 D. P. Hurlbut "heard that a Reverend Solomon Spaulding had written an unpublished novel with striking similarities to the Book of Mormon, entitled 'Manuscript Found.'" This much, at least, is correct. Hurlbut, the Mormon missionary, very likely first encountered the Spalding authorship claims in or near what is now Albion, Erie Co., Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter he was indeed excommunicated, though for what reason remains debatable. Ostensibly it was for engaging in a pre-marital affair with a Miss Huldah Barnes of that same county; however, Samuel F. Whitney (brother of Bishop Newel K. Whitney) testified that the original LDS "charges against Hurlbut... were not as [Orson Hyde] testified" to in the 1834 Chardon trial.
Beating up the Messengers -- the Conneaut Witnesses
The writer next says that the ex-Mormon went about "Tracking down former friends and family of Spaulding [sic]..." More likely he first happened upon the brother and sister-in-law of Solomon Spalding while he was operating as an LDS missionary in Crawford Co., Pennsylvania, took statements from the couple, and only several weeks later went about "tracking down" anybody who might have known the late, would-be writer. Indeed, a daughter of John N. Miller, one of Hurlbut's deponents, stated that her father introduced him to most of the other witnesses whose statements were published by E. D. Howe the following year. If we can believe Mr. Howe, Hurlbut collected more than the "eight affidavits" Givens refers to, but Howe only chose to publish a portion of Hurlbut's collection. Not all of the "affidavits" (as Givens calls the eight statements) spoke of Spalding's writings containing "a Jewish migration to America;" neither did they all identify "Nephi, Lehi, Laban and Moroni" as being Spalding's fictional characters. Only one deponent mentioned that he recalled "the locale of Zarahemla" as being a place name in the "Manuscript Found." The content of these eight statements is nowhere near so homogeneous as Dr. Givens tries to convince his readers. The current reviewer has studied the assertions made in the eight 1833 statements, in considerable depth, and has yet to find a personal or historical remark that can be argued as being non-factual.
For example, in her 1833 statement, Spalding's sister-in-law states that he wrote an "historical novel founded upon the first settlers of America... [whose] tremendous battles... covered the ground with the slain; and their being buried in large heaps was the cause of the numerous mounds in the country. -- Some of these people he represented as being very large." Some years later another eye-witness, the Rev. Abner Jackson, said much the same thing: "Spaulding read much of his manuscript to my father... the old fortifications and earth mounds, containing so many kinds of relics and human bones, and some of them so large, altogether convinced him that they were a larger race and more enlightened and civilized than are found among the Indians..." Spalding's adopted daughter testifies to this same fact: "There were some round mounds of earth near our house... and I vividly remember how excited he became when he heard that they had exhumed some human bones, portions of gigantic skeletons, and various relics. He talked with my mother of these discoveries in the mound, and was writing every day as the work progressed." All of this checks out: there were ancient mounds near Spalding's home in Ohio; the local settlers did open several of these burial sites; and very large human bones were discovered in some of them.
Similar multiple, external attestations can be offered in support of most of the other non-contested assertions contained in the old eye-witness statements. In this respect they are verifiably true accounts. If the deponents' remarks not specifically pertaining to the authorship of the Book of Mormon are factual, why should anybody assume that their other published assertions do not also hold many truths? As it turns out, however, the accurate recollections of Spalding's being influenced by local skeleton discoveries, to write about ancient huge people, are of no exceptional use in proving he wrote the Book of Mormon story -- for the Oberlin manuscript also tells of Nephite-like earthen mounds raised over the battlefield slain -- and of nephilim-like warriors of mighty stature.
Givens next says: "Also similar, they said, was the plotline of two competing factions, one of which eventually perished in internecine warfare." Again, while a few of the statement providers did speak of this plot element, not all of them did. Givens is equally careless in forming another of his sentences: "Hurlbut located Spaulding's widow in Otsego County, New York, where he also managed to find, among Spaulding's effects, the manuscript in question." In fact, D. P. Hurlbut traveled to Onondaga Co., New York, and there learned that the widow was then living in Monson, Massachusetts. After reaching that distant town he was informed by the widow that her late husband's writings were stored in Hartwick, Otsego Co., New York, from which place Hurlbut subsequently took an unknown quantity of Spalding's holographs. Almost certainly he did recover "the manuscript in question," but that was not the sum total of his 1833 appropriation in Otsego Co. For example, while rummaging through Spalding's writings in Hartwick, Hurlbut appropriated a specimen of the man's old letters and a copy of one of his business agreements. The person who handed these documents over to Hurlbut obtained no receipt and the full contents of Hurlbut's satchel, as he left Hartwick, remains unknown.
Givens proceeds to describe the Solomon Spalding story now on file at Oberlin College as being the only Spalding document Hurlbut brought back with him to Ohio. This is a patent misstatement of the available evidence. Numerous persons reportedly saw D. P. Hurlbut exhibit the Book of Mormon's literary twin in and around Kirtland, Ohio, at the end of 1833 -- enough at least to later convince a high official in the Reorganized LDS Church that Hurlbut had shown all of them something they thought was the same sort of "Manuscript Found" described in the eight statements published by E. D. Howe eleven months later. Obviously Dr. Givens came away from his examination of these old reports from self-admitted eye-witnesses like John C. Dowen, James A. Briggs, Charles Gover, W. R. Hine, Jacob Sherman, etc. fully unimpressed with their value or validity; at least he did not deem their collective testimony important enough to merit a footnote beside his citation of Dr. Lester Bush's vaunted essay.
The next problematic words from Givens are these: "With the two main contentions of the affidavits discredited (shared names and 'leading incidents' between the two works), one would have expected the theory to die a quiet death. It did not." From this unsupported assertion his readers might fairly assume that when D. P. Hurlbut returned to Ohio aand exhibited what he said was a Spalding manuscript, that he then and there effectively demonstrated to his audiences that it discredited the very statements he had collected in support of the Spalding-Rigdon claims -- the statements he eventually turned over to E. D. Howe for publication. What nonsense! This is what comes from Givens' ignoring the various statements of people who recalled seeing the "Manuscript Found" in Hurlbut's possession.
As though intentionally adding insult to injury, Givens goes on to say: "Hurlbut sold his source materials to Eber D. Howe, who rehearsed the hypothesis in his extensive critique of Mormonism that he published in 1834... He suggested that the manuscript found in the New York trunk was not the same one described in the affidavits and elaborated the theory by introducing another element -- the complicity of Sidney Rigdon." It is not unreasonable to presume that no more maliciously incorrect telling of the story could be manufactured than this piece of work Dr. Givens hands his unsuspecting readers. Only the first clause is at all accurate. Once E. D. Howe had some portion of Hurlbut's collection in his possession he employed a local accountant to compile Mormonism Unvailed for him. Before Howe put the last form of that small volume through the press he (and/or his compiler, Mr. Esak Rosa) put into type eight of Hurlbut's statements and followed that doumentary selection with a brief elucidation of the Spalding authorship claims previously summarized in Howe's newspaper. There was practically no "hypothesis" for him to "rehearse." If there is anything like a "hypothesis" in Howe's work, it is contained in the title-page of that book. Very little of that "hypothesis" is "rehearsed" in the "extensive critique of Mormonism" published throughout the book, other than allegations of Rigdon's duplicity in accepting and promoting Mormonism in Ohio. All of the authorship claims are confined to the final chapter of Howe's book, and even that chapter is largely taken up with the statements of the eight Conneaut witnesses.
The fact should not be lost sight of, that, for the most part Howe simply sets down in type what others have told him, admitting in that final chapter of his book, that the results of the authorship investigation may appear inconclusive. Most important, Mr. Howe does not "suggest" that the manuscript Hurlbut found in New York and brought to his printing office "was not the same one described in the affidavits." Instead, he states that when shown the one Spalding manuscript Hurlbut turned over to him, some of the witnesses whose statements he had on hand said it was notthe Spalding novel they had spoken of in those statements. In other words, Eber D. Howe did not invent some suggestion that Hurlbut only found one manuscript and that the one that was found was not the one resembling the Book of Mormon. Instead, Howe reports D. P. Hurlbut's later allegations -- that the trunk in Hartwick contained only a single manuscript, and does not report Hurlbut's earlier allegations -- that he indeed had recovered the mysterious "Manuscript Found." Why Howe reported what he did remains unknown, but perhaps it was the only account of the matter that reached his ears. If blame in this instance should be laid at anybody's feet, it is on the doorstep of D. P. Hurlbut, who changed his story in this regard more than once.
A Pungent Red Herring -- the "Oberlin" Manuscript
On page 288 of his book Mr. Howe puts it this way: "This old M. S. [sometimes called "Manuscript Story, and today on file at Oberlin College] has been shown to several of the foregoing witnesses, who recognise it as Spalding's, he having told them that he had altered his first plan of writing, by going farther back with dates, and writing in the old scripture style, in order that it might appear more ancient. They say that it bears no resemblance to the 'Manuscript Found.'"
The discrepency between what the eight witnesses said in their 1833 statements and what Howe described reading in the manuscript Hurlbut turned over to him is clearly and concisely explained by one of those eight witnesses, the Hon. Aaron Wright. He says: "Hurlbut is now at my store I have examined the writings which he has obtained from [said] Spaldings widowe I recognise them to be the
Now, Dr. Givens may argue that Aaron Wright was telling lies and that he never really saw "the manuscript" he referred to in his "statement before alluded to," but that does not excuse him from dumping the culpability upon E. D. Howe, for "suggesting" the clear testimony of the witnesses themselves. They say that the manuscript Howe received from Hurlbut was not the one they originally testified about, pure and simple.
But Givens' inventiveness does not end here. He also says that Howe "elaborated the theory by introducing another element -- the complicity of Sidney Rigdon." One can only wonder by what process Mr. Howe introduced Rigdon's name and "elaborated the theory," when Rigdon's name had already, for many months, been linked to authorshipof the Book of Mormon. The careful reader will recall that D. P. Hurlbut had made this same sort of allegation about Rigdon's involvement, in a New York newspaper, weeks before Mr. Howe received a portion of his research materials. And exactly what is "the theory" the good professor here makes reference to? If he means to say that the testimony of the eight witnesses is "a theory," that is patently incorrect. And if he means to say that the presumed association of Rigdon's name with authorship of the Book of Mormon is only a "theory," why then does he promote the notion that "the theory" was elaborated by the addition of "another element," namely the "complicity of Sidney Rigdon"? Something is rotten here and it is not confined to the State of Denmark.
Following some cant statements relating how the "Mormon writers," over the course of several decades, well refuted "the flimsy case" presented by Solomon Spalding's family and associates, "point by point," Dr. Givens states that "in 1884, the Spaulding manuscript, long thought lost or destroyed, surfaced again and was positively identified as the one first recovered by Hurlbut," as though this fact were some great and wondrous revelation. Of course the manuscript discovered in Honolulu in 1884 "was positively identified as the one first recovered by Hurlbut." It is the same document Hurlbut handed to Howe. It is the same document that at least one early eye-witness (Hurlbut's lawyer) recalled seeing in D. P. Hurlbut's possession at the end of 1833 -- alongside the "Manuscript Found!" And it is the same document that most or all of the eight witnesses said was not the Spalding holograph they testified about in their statements. Where is the wonder in any of this? At least Dr. Givens is here honest enough to avoid claiming that the manuscript now on file at Oberlin College is the only one ever recovered or displayed by D. P. Hurlbut; and for that he deserves some commendation. His Mormon friends and their predecessors have seldom been so forthright as to admit as much.
The careful investigator of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims -- if not already blinded by pious pre-judgment -- must allow for the probability that D. P. Hurlbut brought back to Kirtland at least two different Spalding manuscript stories at the end of 1833. One of these ended up at Oberlin College. What happened to the other manuscript is debatable. That there is considerable evidence of its existence is not debatable. The testimony of Hurlbut's lawyer and the testimony of members of the Spalding family might be introduced, at this point, as providing one account of what may have happened to the Book of Mormon's literary twin in 1834, but Dr. Givens has obviously not explored such explanations and their content falls somewhat outside the scope of what he does address in his book.
Burying the Evidence?
As to the judgment that Mrs. Fawn M. Brodie "gave the Spaulding [sic] theory a proper burial," the jury is still out and "time will tell." As already clarified, the testimony of Solomon Spalding's old neighbors and family members does not amount to any particular "theory." There have been a number of Spalding authorship "theories" put forth by various people over the past 170 years, so it is difficult to say just which one of them it was that Mrs. Brodie so effectively "buried" in 1945. Even so, Dr. Givens' final words in this sentence are troubling. Is he claiming that the semi-scholarly methods used by Mrs. Brodie in researching and writing her book resulted in a "proper" disposal of the Spalding authorship claims? Or, is the Richmond academic here inflicting his own judgment-call upon a multitude of unwary readers? Hopefully he is not saying that he deems it the "proper" act of the objective historian to "bury" the Spalding claims, no matter the evidence that might be assembled in their behalf. If that is what he is advocating -- and if that is what the historians of Mormonism continue to accept -- then the cost will be reputable scholarship and perhaps even truth itself.
Having disposed of Solomon Spalding, Sidney Rigdon, and piles of credible evidence, in one fell swoop, Dr. Givens proceeds to credit Mrs. Brodie with reviving "a more viable candidate" for Book of Mormon origins -- the Rev. Ethan Smith. This is not the place to present a detailed critique of this second great blunder on Givens' part, but it may be worthwhile to point out (as David Persuitte has done so well) that a proper consideration of the Ethan Smith theory for Book of Mormon authorship in no way precludes the possible contributions of Solomon Spalding and Sidney Rigdon to that same text. Ethan Smith and Solomon Spalding both attended Dartmouth College (as did Hyrum Smith, who, a generation later, was a student at the College's "charity school") and became Congregational clergymen at about the same time within the limited bounds of New England. According to Ethan's grandson, the two clergymen knew each other and a manuscript story resembling the content of the Book of Mormon passed between them. Spalding had close relatives living only a few hundred yards from the Smith residence in Sharon, Vermont, and his wife died in Belchertown, Massachusetts, the boyhood home of Ethan Smith. In addition to this, Spalding reportedly left a "lost tribes" manuscript behind in Middleton, Vermont, when he moved from New England to a new home in central New York.
The village of Middleton was subsequently the scene of the infamous "Wood Scrape," in which Oliver Cowdery's father played a marginal role. Middleton, a town founded by the Spalding family, was within walking distance of Ethan Smith's church in neighboring Poultney -- the congregation of which was attended by members of Oliver's family. And, as if this were not enough, Oliver's great uncle endorsed several of Ethan Smith's theological books and conducted Ethan Smith's marriage -- in that same town where Spalding's widow breathed her last breath. The possible interconnections between Solomon Spalding, Ethan Smith, the Cowdery family and the Joseph Smith, Sr. family have yet to be charted out, let alone explored. Certainly it is not enough for the modern student of Mormonism to point a finger in the direction of Ethan Smith and assume that this much, alone, will make Spalding, Rigdon, Cowdery, Pratt, or any of the other "usual suspects" vanish in a puff of smoke.
Much of what has just been said will come as little surprise to informed Reorganized LDS, in whose church publications Spalding's purported links to Ethan Smith were first debated back when Elder B. H. Roberts was barely out of short pants -- and whose readers were introduced to Ethan Smith's "Israelite Indian" notions back when the events of the American Civil War were still a recent memory. But, if most RLDS may not be shocked by anything so far reported on this web-page, they are equally unlikely to be inspired by anything so ordinary as claims for a non-Nephite authorship for a book generally placed on the shelf and left to molder in benign neglect. The current writer and student of Mormon history can only pray that this will not forever be the case. He also can only hope that the historical misrepresentations published in books like the one written by Dr. Givens, will not be seized upon by some of his fellow "Communicants of Christ," in hopes of excusing ourselves from never having gotten around to giving Sidney Rigdon, Solomon Spalding and Ethan Smith the close and interconnected scrutiny they and their known writings all so clearly deserve.
Dale R. Broadhurst
updated Feb. 22, 2003, Jan. 2, 2007