- Dale R. Broadhurst's  SPALDING  RESEARCH  PROJECT -

The Dale R. Broadhurst
"Spalding Papers"

#15: Introduction to Book of Mormon Source Criticism

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The Book and the Manuscript

An Introduction to Book of Mormon Source Criticism

Dale R. Broadhurst

Independent Media Project Class Presentation Report
ED-376 (Media and Message in Christian Education)

February 27, 1980
  (revised April 2, 1980)

Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Spalding Research Project
Working Paper No. 15

Dale R. Broadhurst


The Book and the Manuscript

Introduction to the Web Version

This presentation was first made with live audio and a cannister full of 35mm color slides, in a graduate media seminar at Methodist Theological School in Ohio in 1980. A few days later a condensed version of the presentation was made at University Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. Neither audience contained any Latter Day Saints and none of the original auditors of the prepared reading were familiar with the content of the Book of Mormon in anything but the most general of terms. Given these limitations, the audiences were mostly receptive to the message of the my presentation and to the idea that the Book of Mormon was probably a product of the early nineteenth century American frontier.

There is no doubt that my talk about Book of Mormon textual sources being discernable in the "King James" Bible, the writings of Solomon Spalding, etc. would not have found so accepting an audience, had I made the same presentation to the rank and file RLDS or LDS Church members of central Ohio back in 1980. Nor, do I suppose, would the reception from that particular group be much more appreciative if the presentation were made to them today. Even so, I know quite well that many active Latter Day Saints privately question the standard explanation of the book being a genuine ancient history of the Americas. Many readers are aware of the fact that the Book of Mormon text depends upon the "King James" Bible, at least for flavor of language, if not indeed for narrative substance, at many points in its story. A number of scholarly works have been written elucidating this finding and most careful students of the text (no matter their views on its purported historicity) are aware that the book depends in several ways upon a published English translation of the Bible widely available in Joseph Smith, Jr.'s day.

The Book of Mormon's textual dependence upon other written sources is a much more controversial matter. Claims have been made for the incorporation of material from the pens of Ethan Smith and Solomon Spalding, but those assertions have never found much support among the Latter Day Saints. Whether or not one choses to believe that the writings of these two eccentric Congregational clergymen had some influence upon the compilation of the Book of Mormon text, that book can still be viewed in terms of how, how much, and where it resembles the known thoughts and language of those authors. In looking at the book from this perspective, it soon becomes clear to the careful reader that the Book of Mormon text varies in its resemblance to the writings of Solomon Spalding and Ethan Smith, and that those spans of variation often constitute discrete blocks of text, having definite beginning and ending points that often bear some significant relation to the story told in the book itself. At the very least, charting out these segments of text in the book may prove useful in understanding its internal structure, propositional content and probable purpose.

Another stratum of textual similarities becomes visible when the book is compared to the theology and religious phraseology of the followers of Alexander Campbell at the end of the 1820s. The Book of Mormon's linguistic and doctrinal overlap with the "Campbellism" of that period is a fairly well known phenomenon. Radical millenarian Campbellite Sidney Rigdon, after accepting the book as scripture, was told in an oracular message from Joseph Smith, Jr. that he (Rigdon) had already been preaching many of the tenets of Mormonism, but that he "knew it not."

In my 1980 presentation I ignored the possibility of textual dependance upon Ethan Smith and early Campbellism, and limited my project to explicating a book that derived a good deal of its text from biblical sources and, perhaps, from a source greatly resembling the known writings of Rev. Spalding. Were I to re-work my presentation today I would most certainly look at other possible textual sources, such as the writings of Jospehus, the KJV Apocrypha, the publications of Ethan Smith, and the theology of Campbellism/Rigdonism c. 1827-1829.

Dale R. Broadhurst
October 2000

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