Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?
Introduction to Dale R. Broadhurst's Spalding Saga
The above query will probably be seen by some readers as irrelevant -- without any meaning or application
in today's world. One might just as well ask who wrote the Koran or the Tibetan Book of the Dead. People
who do not actively participate in one of the various the religions that promote such writings, as
conveying a special metaphysical message or supernatural "truth," can easily dismiss the question. While,
on the other hand, those people who are caught up in a religious belief system, can usually safely ignore
the subject altogether. After all, most religions are in the business of supplying the collateral answers
regarding their misty origins, before their adherents even think to make such inquiries.
THE GREAT "BOOK OF MORMON" SHAM
Copyright © 1993
One of the most influential and fastest growing of the world's religious sects is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. Also called "Mormons," this semi-Christian cult is well known for its proselytizing activities, its virtual stranglehold on Utah politics and its shrewd financial dealings, which have made it a force to be reckoned with.
What most people, including virtually all Mormons, don't know however, is that a strong body of historical evidence now exists in support of the position that the church's first sacred text, The Book of Mormon, is nothing more than an exceptionally clever fraud perpetrated by the very founder of the Church himself.
Joseph Smith's Claim of Angelic VisitationsAccording to traditional accounts, the process which ultimately led to the publication of The Book of Mormon began in 1823, when an angel allegedly visited then 18-year-old Church founder Joseph Smith and explained to him that the American Indians were a remnant of Israel. In this vision, Smith learned that a sacred history of their wanderings had been preserved and lay hidden beneath a hill near Smith's home, south of Palmyra, New York.
In 1827, after repeated communications with his angel, Smith claimed to have disinterred these "historical records" which, he alleged, took the form of hieroglyphics engraved on golden-colored metallic plates bound together to make a book. This six inch thick "Golden Bible" was reportedly accompanied by an instrument consisting of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow, like glasses in a pair of spectacles. It was this latter device, called "the Urim and the Thummim," which allegedly enabled Smith to translate the hieroglyphics. The results were spoken aloud, usually from a place of concealment, and dutifully written down by his cousin and Church co-founder, Oliver Cowdery, along with a few other trusted associates. When this process was complete, Smith is said to have returned the plates and "translator" device to their original source. Naturally no one has seen them since.
The Missing History of the Ancient Americans?According to the story they told, there were three separate immigrations of Israelites to the New World. The first were the Jaredites, who founded a "flourishing nation" in North America, only to be annihilated by civil war about 590 B. C. E. Next came the Lehites who arrived via the Pacific at about the same time the Jaredites were busy exterminating themselves on the other side of the Americas. Following the death of Lehi, his people split into two factions, one following a son named Nephi and the rest another son named Laman (to be known thenceforth as Nephites and Lamanites).
The third migration, the Mulekites, left Jerusalem eleven years after the Lehites. These eventually merged with the Nephites and went on to populate much of the Americas and to construct great cities, while the Lamanites fell into a nomadic life, suffered God's displeasure and were cursed with dark skin. It was from these people with their "fallen ways" that the American Indian tribes were descended.
In the end, the Lamanites warred against the Nephites and ultimately destroyed them in a great battle 1,100 years before Columbus "rediscovered" the continent. It was during this time of impending destruction that Smith's angel, Moroni, in his earthly incarnation, set out to compile their history upon the golden tablets. The entire "history" makes for an exceedingly complex tale, and Mormon apologists have long argued that Joseph Smith, with his scantiness of formal education, could not possibly have invented it himself.
Or -- A Fictional Epic by a Modern Writer?Odds are he didn't. He simply "borrowed" it, with the aid of several friends, from its original creator, one Solomon Spalding, a well-educated ex-minister and writer of fictional fantasies.
Aside from the fact that he is almost certainly the real writer of The Book of Mormon, Mr. Spalding's life offers little other claim to fame. He was born in Connecticut in 1761, served briefly in the Revolutionary army, graduated from Dartmouth in 1785 and was married ten years later. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Cherry Valley, New York, where he supervised a noted private academy and then ran a retail store for some years, until 1809, when he moved to New Salem (Conneaut), Ohio, to manage (unsuccessfully) a land office speculation and a small iron foundry.
While in Ohio, Spalding became fascinated with local antiquities and Indian lore, conducted research into the subject and began to concoct fanciful tales of Indian history and origin, both for childlike amusement and with an eye towards eventually completing and publishing novel-length manuscripts. As chapters to these tales were completed, he would read the serials aloud to his curious friends and neighbors.
The Fictional Epic is Readied for PublicationBy 1812, when Spalding moved from New Salem to Pittsburgh, he had completed a lengthy, semi-religious history which he entitled "The Manuscript Found." This "romance," as some called it, was written in Biblical style and sounded somewhat similar to the King James translation of the Old Testament. According to those who were familiar with it, the book was based on the idea that the North American Indians were descendants of the "lost tribes" of Israel. It gave an imaginary account of their journey from Jerusalem by land and sea until they arrived in America under command of "Lehi" and "Nephi," and it made mention of a people called the "Lamanites." Two of the principal characters in the book were "Mormon" and his son, "Moroni." The "Manuscript Found" also contained so many recurrences of the phrase "And it came to pass" that some of Spalding's friends and neighbors began to call him "Old Come to Pass."
In any case, it was this book that Solomon Spalding presented to the Pittsburgh publishing firm of R. & J. Patterson shortly after his move to that city. Mr. Spalding, however, was never able to complete the necessary financial arrangements for its publication, and the final draft of "The Manuscript Found" remained on a shelf in the Pittsburgh print shop. Then Spalding died, not far from Pittsburgh, in 1816.
A Copy of the Manuscript Falls into Mischievous HandsWhile at the print shop, the manuscript came to the attention of one Sidney Rigdon, whose close friend, J. H. Lambdin, was then in the Pattersons' employ. According to the later investigations of one of the Pattersons, Rigdon had free access to the work, took a great interest in it and either made or obtained a copy of the story.
Rigdon subsequently become the pastor of Pittsburgh's First Baptist Church, was not long thereafter forced out of his ministry because of doctrinal disputes and eventually left town to become a circuit-riding "Reformed Baptist" preacher in Eastern Ohio. There, in about the fall of 1826, he met Joseph Smith's cousin Oliver Cowdery, who, upon learning that Sidney Rigdon possessed what appeared to be a religious manuscript about the ancient Americans, arranged for Rigdon to meet Smith himself the following spring. These meetings resulted in a scheme among the three men to prepare and publish Rigdon's (Spalding's) fictional history as a latter day scripture -- The Book of Mormon.
Nobody now knows what finally became of Spalding's original manuscript, but one thing is certain: when the so-called Mormon Bible was published in 1830, its narrative followed precisely the outline of Spalding's story. The plot was essentially the same and the proper nouns Mormon, Nephi, Lehi and Lamanites were the same. According to the recollection of several people who had read Spalding's manuscript, in many instances his exact language was retained, and the only substantial change was the insertion of numerous doctrinal passages and certain religious material which did not appear in the original.
Efforts to Expose the Mormon DeceptionAs early as 1833, one D. P. Hurlbut, a Mormon defector, denounced both Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon after an extensive investigation which led him to interview many of both Spalding's and Smith's former friends and neighbors. In 1839, Spalding's widow, Matilda Spalding Davison (then remarried) also claimed that Rigdon and Smith had pirated her late husband's work and turned it into the Book of Mormon. When Rigdon, who was then living next door to Joseph Smith at the Mormon settlement of Commerce (Nauvoo), Illinois, vigorously denied having ever heard of Spalding, a one-time fellow Baptist minister from Pittsburgh, Dr. John Winters, added his voice to the fray. Winters recalled entering Rigdon's study one day in 1825 to find him poring over a strange manuscript. When he casually inquired as to its subject, Rigdon reportedly answered, "A Presbyterian minister, Spalding, whose health had faded, brought this to the printer to see if it would pay to publish it. It is a romance of the Bible."
Spalding's adopted daughter, Matilda S. McKinstry, also condemned Smith's fraud. She explicitly stated that her father had written a number of stories and manuscripts, and that one of them had contained Book of Mormon names, such as Mormon, Moroni, Nephi and Lamanite.
To the above voices may be added that of a vocal member of the Patterson family: Robert Patterson, Jr., son of the Pittsburgh publisher, eventually become the editor of The Presbyterian Banner, and continued to denounce this religious-literary fraud for many years. Investigators and writers like James T. Cobb, A. Theodore Schroeder, and Charles A. Shook carried the same condemnation well into the 20th century.
Where Things Stand TodayMore recently, in the 1990s, conclusive evidence was uncovered proving beyond question that Rigdon not only frequented Pittsburgh during the years when Solomon Spalding lived there, but that he and Spalding actually received their mail at the same tiny post office. Further investigation by contemporary researchers has revealed that one of Oliver Cowdery's elder brothers was a near neighbor of the Rev. Sidney Rigdon in Ohio, well before either Oliver or Sidney became Mormons.
The typical Latter Day response against all of this is perhaps best summed up in the words of Mormon apologist Sidney B. Sperry, who sneers in Answers to the Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967): "We occasionally hear some critic who claims that The Book of Mormon is based, at least in part, on... [a] Spalding manuscript... now lost.... Let them first produce the manuscript in question, then we shall be glad to consider their claims." Parley P. Pratt said exactly the same thing in the 1830s; in the apologists' eyes nothing has changed.
Of course it goes without saying that the exact same argument could be applied to Joseph Smith and his claims about Plates of Gold.
Spring 1993 issue of Far-Out
* Adapted from "The Great Book of Mormon Sham" by B. H. Shaffer (pseud.), Far-Out magazine, I:3 (Spring 1993), pp. 24-27; published by LFP, Inc., Larry Flynt, Publisher; William L. Moore & Michael DiGregorio Executive Editors; copyright 1993, LFP, Inc. Revised & updated 2002, W.M. Published with permission.)
William L. Moore has written numerous articles, editorials, and other works of investigative reporting. Mr. Moore has for many years investigated the subjects of Solomon Spalding, reports concerning his writings, and the histories of early Mormons like Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery. He continues to compile and analyze historical information on these topics; for example, see his recent on-line article, "The Curious Ancestry of Wayne L. Cowdrey
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