And long they’ve lived by hunting,
If the modern reader concludes that the LDS (Latter Day Saints) Book of Mormon is but an artifact of 1830’s Americana, is there any worth to it at all? I say yes, and in this paper I will attempt to show why I believe that the Mormons' text can help answer a number of questions posed by past writers. For example: Was there a pre-Columbian higher civilization north of what is now Mexico? Was it indigenous or imported? Where does the legend of an ancient "lost book" fit into America's past? Can any such lost book help explain some of the variety in American Indian traditions, appearance, or genetics? Why did some early Indians refuse to live in the "dark and bloody land" of Kentucky? The list goes on and on.
Might the Book of Mormon be something other than what it purports to be, and yet still preserve vague recollections of America's forgotten past? Before I outline my main conclusions in this regard, I'll need to first address Mormon claims regarding their sacred book. I do this not out of any wish to offend that people's beliefs and traditions, but out of my deep desire to present an alternative, Indian view of that book's stories and their probable origins.
From the very beginning, advocates of the Book of Mormon have asserted that its antiquity can be demonstrated by archaeological evidence. Rev. David Marks, one of the earliest writers to notice this strange volume, said in 1831:
"When I was in Ohio, I had quite a curiosity to know the origin of the numerous mounds and remains of ancient fortifications that abound in that section of the country... Having been told that the 'Book of Mormon' gave a history of them, and of their authors...I wished to read it... and I read two hundred and fifty pages; but was greatly disappointed... From all the circumstances, I thought it probably had been written originally by an infidel, to see how much he could impose on the credulity of men."
But the Mormon book does not stop with its supposed identification of the prehistoric Ohio Valley earthworks builders; it also purports to reveal who extermined that mound-building race. As early as 1830, Mormon missionaries were teaching that the people guilty of this alleged mass genocide of God's chosen race, were none other than the American Indians (who are themselves said to be devolved Israelites):
"This new Revelation [the Book of Mormon], they say is especially designed for the benefit, or rather for the christianizing of the Aborigines of America; who, as they affirm, are a part of the tribe of Manasseh, and whose ancestors landed on the coast of Chili 600 years before the coming of Christ, and from them descended all the Indians of America." [emphasis added]
Orson Pratt, one of the top leaders of Mormondom, was still teaching these same allegations several months later, when he and his missionary companion preached at the Venango County courthouse in Franklin, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 11, 1832:
"We are commanded by the Lord to declare his will to effect his intended purpose.... Six hundred years before Christ a certain prophet called Lehi went out to declare and promulgate the prophecies to come; he came across the water into South America... there they [Lehi's people] were divided into two parties; one wise, the other foolish; the latter were therefore cursed with yellow skins; which is supposed to mean the Indians of the Rocky Mountains... The greater part of the people were... destroyed 400 years after Christ. The last battle that was fought among these parties was on the very ground where the plates were found... at Manchester. -- The plates state that we shall drive back the Indians to the South and West: with a promise, however, to be brought back in the fulness of time."
Are these sorts of professions and accusations really "God's truth" about where American antiquities came from? Do the pages of the Book of Mormon really really provide evidence of its great antiquity? Were the fallen remnant of God's chosen people really massacred in a final, great battle fought at Manchester, New York more than fourteen centuries before the book's 1830 publication? Do the Book of Mormon's stories really date from the days of Noah's flood, and from the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and from the crucifixion of Jesus -- or are the book's stories based upon events significantly more recent than LDS assertions make them out to be?
"Gold Bible Hill," Manchester, NY -- Scene of a Massacre?
Who was Joseph Smith, Jr.? -- was he a religious impostor; a self-announced prophet gone astray; or was he truly what he proclaimed himself to be? If a close study of the Book of Mormon can shed useful light upon these questions it may indeed possess golden value.
Setting the Context
Since the Book of Mormon purports to describe pre-Columbian American societies, perhaps the first question it should be able to answer, is: Who are the native tribes of the "New" World? How did they come to inhabit the vast stretches of two continents? Why were they so unlike the Old World peoples, when first "discovered" by the ocean-crossing European explorers? Two centuries ago there was a great deal of speculation in regard to these very same questions. Scholars on both sides of the Atlantic pondered such matters very seriously. After all, if the inhabitants of the Americas were not somehow accounted for, as descendants of the biblical Adam and Eve, they might not be human at all! And the Holy Bible might prove to be an incomplete or imperfect record of human history!
There were many theoretical explanations as to who (or even what) American Indians were. Those natural historians and antiquarians who reported upon the New World's archaeological remains saw evidence in North America that it had once been home to a high level of civilization -- to cultures nearly comparable to those of the Valley of Mexico and MesoAmerica. Some speculative writers could not bring themselves to admit that even the highly organized pre-Columbian societies of Latin America could have possibly developed all by themselves, in a world totally detached from Europe, Asia and Africa, however. Surely, they thought, the American Indians could not have originated the impressive antiquities and social orders of the seemingly vanished early inhabitants. Whatever was admirable, artistic or civilized in the New World must somehow have been imported from across the sea. And, once the Pope in Rome had declared that the western hemisphere tribes were truly "people" with savable souls, some reasonable explanation had to be given for their Old World origins, as well.
Any two unrelated tribal human societies will naturally share some cultural traits, even if they have never interacted. It is therefore not surprising that some early investigators began to see what they felt were striking parallels between the American Indians and certain biblical peoples. The Bible was the most ancient historical record commonly available to investigators, two or three centuries ago, and its old stories of "Hebrews" (the Israelites and later the Jews) appeared to offer ready sources for everything from New World languages to New World cities. Seeing the accidental cultural similarities of matrilineal clan descent and monotheism, prohibition of intercourse during menstruation, arranged marriage, seclusion of mother and infant during the first month after childbirth, prayer when the killing of an animal for food, harvest celebrations, etc., more than a few European-Americans became convinced that the Indians were the devolved "lost tribes of Israel" or were "degenerate Jews." Numerous articles and books were written, published and widely read, which attempted to prove this strange theory. The Book of Mormon is one of those writings: more than that, it was designed as a quasi-scriptural "proof text," which would put an end to all the Indian origins speculations once and for all. Assuming that to be true, how then did the seminal idea for the Book of Mormon first begin to develop?
A Lame Theory Run Amok
Indian legends of an old war between the native Americans and a band of evil white people, in which many of the whites chose to become Indians and the remainder were killed off, entered into some origins theories. The presence in some Indian tribes, of religious beliefs and customs resembling those of Christianity became better known after the Bible and its miraculous stories had been introduced to the American tribes. The figurative language of Indian responses to the Bible, such as “We once had that Book, but lost it,” were evidently misunderstood by some Christians. To this very day, the seal of Dartmouth College (a school established to Christianize and "civilize" the northeastern tribes), depicts two Indian students carrying their book to the school, while the Holy Bible shines its light upon the scene. While such paternalistic symbolism may have been progressive in its time, it generally fails to comprehend native American spirituality.
A correspondent of the Georgia Cherokee Phoenix, who had read some recently published speculation on Israelite origins for native Americans, offered this response in 1829, a year before the Book of Mormon was published:
"I noticed in a late number of your paper a selection from the Monthly Review, containing an extract from Worsley's view of the American Indians, in which he gives a summary view of his argument in favor of the proposition that they are descendants of the long lost ten tribes of Israel. Several statements are there made, as of general application to the Indians, which, being inserted in the "Cherokee Phoenix," if they stand uncontradicted, will be inferred to be true as applicable to the Cherokees. It is doubtless best that the truth should be known, that those, who pursue the inquiry respecting the origin of the Indians, may build their conclusions on only real facts..."
The writer closed his critical letter by asking for more "information on the subject." It is perhaps notable that none of the Phoenix's Indian readers stepped forward in support of the "Hebrew Indians" speculation. And why not? The only reasonable answer is that they had not yet had the opportunity to study European history, geography, and culture, so as to be able to respond effectively to such theories. The Native Americans of that day also knew they had little physical evidence with which to substantiate their oral traditions of prehistoric events.
For forgotten reasons which still elude any good explanation, many of the European-Americans who came to the New World equated light skin with mental or social superiority. This racist notion was extended to the quaint belief, expressed as fact in the 1809 Natural and Civil History of Vermont, that when Indians were Christianized and taught European culture, their hair and skin would naturally take on "civilized" Caucasian tones. Those tribes already having light coloration were explained away as descendants of lost Welshmen or as a devolved remnant of the conjectured "white mound-builders" of America's pre-history.
The 1830 Palmyra edition of the Book of Mormon
At this point, the Book of Mormon shows its intrinsic worth, by preserving within its pages exactly these same racist misconceptions of twenty decades past. When the first promoters of the book arrived in Ohio, in 1830, a local newspaper recorded the oddity thusly:
"They [Mormon missionaries] are now on their way to the Western Indians, for whose benefit the new Revelation was especially designed. The Indians, as fast as they are converted are to become white men....The sagacious Indian, when he sees, that in spite of their incantations, he is an Indian still, will not suffer himself to be any further befooled."
This old racist conceit -- that Indians become lighter-skinned after repentance and an LDS baptism -- is forever sealed within the Mormon book, even though many modern Latter Day Saints have forgotten the strange doctrine (as they have also seemingly forgotten their recent ancestors' expectations that Indian children adopted or fostered in the LDS Indian Placement Program would experience lightened skin pigmentation).
But the religion based upon the 19th century misconceptions preserved within the Book of Mormon does not reserve its racist precepts for the Indians alone. Despite its paternalistic expressions of concern for the welfare of the Jewish people, and despite its obvious borrowings from biblical Judaism, Mormonism is basically an anti-Semitic religion. That pronouncement may sound harsh to the ears of modern Latter Day Saints, but there are several solid reasons for a careful investigator of Mormonism coming to just that conclusion. The "golden bible's" 2 Nephi 10 and 2 Nephi 25 contain some obviously anti-Semitic passages. Mormon leaders and teachers have long claimed that American Indians are degenerate Jews. The fiction of the "wicked Lamanites" can be seen as an insult to Jews as well as to Indians -- or is it a racist excuse to continue past injustices against American Indians? Deriving their indefensible notions from the Book of Mormon, the early Latter Day Saints referred to the native tribesmen as "cousin Lemuel." Lemuel, in the Mormon book, joins with his Manassehite brother Laman, to propagate a nasty, brutal and lazy race of devolved Israelites, whom God curses with a "skin of blackness," so that the righteous descendants of Nephi (another Manasseh Israelite) and of Mulek (a Jew) can spot the cursed apostates at a distance and avoid "mingling" with them. And of course the “Hamitic” curse pronounced by early Mormons weighed just as heavily upon our brethren of African descent.
Given the behavior of many LDS people toward Indians over the years, and the above referenced passages, it is clearly the third option (a racist excuse) that has prevailed among "the Saints." Their more thoughtful members may deny or disown such a viewpoint, but the Book of Mormon and history tell a different story. Perry Armstrong made this point clear around 1900, when he wrote The Sauks and the Black Hawk War. The LDS claim that Indians are the lost people of Laman and Lemuel (united with certain wicked Nephites and Mulekites who were also eventually cursed with the "skin of blackness") -- tribes of backslidden former Israelites and Jews, whose main purpose is to facilitate a latter day Manifest Destiny, in which racially superior "Ephraimites" (Mormons of northern European ancestry) lord it over their lesser cousins (Indians and Jews) in the "gathering of Israel." Furthermore, it has been clearly shown (Southerton, 2004) that American Indians are NOT "degenerate Jews" -- there is no Semitic ancestry nor genetics (DNA) among American Indians (unless it has come through recent intermarriage). In modern times some Latter Day Saints have begun to admit that not every Indian is an Israelite. Perhaps that is about all the "progress" that can be expected from a belief system that takes the Book of Mormon as being literal history. This change in LDS beliefs is perhaps a step upward from the old Mormon notion, that the plains Indians would come to the aid of "cousin Ephraim" in raging amongst the U. S. Government troops, and other "wicked Gentiles," as "young lions" amid flocks of prey. Except for a handful of misguided converts at the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, American Indians have shown themselves "sagacious" enough to avoid being "befooled" into serving as the Saints' cannon fodder in apocalyptic battles against North America's non-Mormon whites (see Smith's Dec. 1834 "Civil War revelation," 3 Nephi 21:12-13, and LDS D&C 87).
J. Smith preaches the Book of Mormon to "Cousin Lemuel"
Going Beyond the Book's Stories
Some LDS apologists assert that most of the events described in the Book of Mormon happened in MesoAmerica, with the notable native civilizations of that region -- or, perhaps alongside those pre-Columbian cultures but isolated from them in some inexplicable way. As far back as the days of the half-charlatan, half-scientist, Constantine S. Rafinesque, some theorists have argued that the seeds for the great MesoAmerican civilizations were planted by West Africans. Mormons have long been intrigued with such Rafinesque-style explanations, with some of their writers claiming his interpretation of Mayan/"Lybian" glyphs as proof for the Book of Mormon's alleged "reformed Egyptian characters." In more recent years, some Mormon writers have supported the theory that the Central American Olmecs were Hamitic Jaredites from the Book of Mormon stories. The Mexican legend of Quetzalcoatl, as described by Gallencamp (1959) has been superficially explained by Chapman (1973). This is said to be evidence that one of the missionary monks of St. Brendan made a significant mark in the history of Mexico around 600 A.D. Other theorists, reaching back to the time of Von Humboldt and Ethan Smith, have seen Quetzalcoatl as having been the Welsh Madoc, Moses, the Apostle Thomas, or as Jesus Christ himself (a view long popular among the Latter Day Saints). Solomon Spalding, who seems to have inadvertantly contributed to the Book of Mormon stories, once wrote a shorter novel, in which the most important character is a wondrous, light-skinned visitor to America's prehistoric inhabitants -- a founder of a new religion and of a new social order, whose name is "Baska." Like the legendary pre-Columbian god-men "Bochica," "Viracocha," and "Cuculcan," Spalding's imitation of Quetzalcoatl one day mysteriously leaves the Americas, never to be seen again.
Other than the Saints' time-line for the stories told in the Book of Mormon, there are no significant correlations between the events and places spoken of in the Book of Mormon and MesoAmerican reality. No reputable modern archaeologist or anthropologist, who is not already a Mormon, agrees with the supposed history, ethnicity and technology provided by that book for pre-Columbian America. Rather, the book itself imposes a fictional, non-historical scenario upon the native Americans which is insulting to Indians and Jews alike.
Was there any pre-Columbian New World contact with Europe (other than old traditions such as Prince Madoc and St. Brendan’s missionary monks)? Simon Southerton’s recent biological research may be helpful here: as he shows, American Indians have the strongest DNA resemblance to east Asians -- this conclusion is substantiated by physical and linguistic evidence. Archaeological evidence and DNA research indicate that the American Indians have been on the western continents for more than 15,000 years. According to Southerton, there is also an "X" genetic lineage which shares its origin with certain western European peoples. It is a rare sub-type, found primarily among Algonquin people in the Northeastern part of North America. I propose that because it is rare, data that suggest it is also ancient might be skewed by small sample size and attenuation through mixing with the DNA of Asian origin.
My suggestion is that those particular American Indian ancestors (of the X lineage) came to the Americas about 1000 years ago, only a little more recently than the Inuit peoples. Who were those ancestors? Obviously, the most likely, reasonable, lasting, and logical answer would be Scandinavians (the Vikings). This conclusion seems especially justified in consideration of non-Iroquoian tribes living in the Great Lakes area (and to the north and east of that area). There have been rumors in the white population for hundreds of years that the Vikings made significant explorations and "lost" settlements in North America. Thomas Jefferson had questions about this, and initiated a primitive linguistics survey, using word-lists in European languages and Indian languages. He found that the most frequent cognates were between the Indian languages and Russian, a language related to Old Norse. Verified Viking remains have been found in eastern coastal Canada and there is no reason to assume that some of these Scandinavian wanderers did not venture farther south and farther inland -- seeking not only adventure, but new homes as well.
Fanciful depiction of a prehistoric Viking-Indian encounter
© 1947 King Features Syndicate -- (Harold R. Foster, illustrator)
My thesis does not rule out the possibility of a prior European migration to North America, late in the last "ice age." Some writers have pointed out that an ice age people in western Europe, referred to as the "Solutrean culture" may well have ventured in small boats along the southern edge of glaciers and pack ice, all the way westward to what is now New England or further south. The genetic makeup of the Solutrean (perhaps part of the European "RI-b haplogroup") may be related to that of American tribes like the Ojibwa. The Solutrean theory is attractive, in that it provides a seemingly necessary lengthy period of independent development of the "X" genetic lineage in North America. On the other hand, it is a problematic theory, because it has little or no archaeological evidence to back it up. Scandinavian people are generally of the "I haplogroup," and those peoples may also have contributed their DNA to America's "X" genetic lineage. The "jury is still out" in regard to any firm decision among these possibilities.
If, as I suspect, current calibrations of the time required for independent DNA evolution in the New World are erroneously skewed, the Viking explanation may yet provide the best origin for lineage "X." At any rate, neither "X" nor any other American DNA lines came from Middle Eastern peoples -- they are not "Jewish" and they are not "Israelite." If any "Israelite" DNA ever reached pre-Columbian America, it died out almost immediately, leaving no traces among the ancient or modern Indians. How poorly this fact matches the traditional Book of Mormon picture, given in that volume's 3 Nephi and 4 Nephi -- in which all the Western Hemisphere population known to the writer is good, white and Christian. The "true religion" of the book is so powerful that it sweeps across two continents, converting every single person and making everybody light-skinned. Educated Mormons are beginning to realize how false this portrayal has always been, and some are backing away from it. But the picture remains, untouched (save for a few modern word alterations), in the Book of Mormon.
Three Possible Migration Routes During Last Ice Age
Some American Indians have denied the Viking explanation, because they knew that certain whites would exploit it (due to prevalent racism) and use it to divide the tribes. The white man might not believe it, either -- because the Northmen who had stayed in America assimilated so thoroughly with earlier populations as to become indistinguishable from them. There are many hints and leads on a previous invasion from Europe in Eckert (1992), who creatively wove together from primarily white sources the story of Tecumseh. Some of these non-Indian sources were probably the same gang of river pirates mentioned later in this paper. The famous Indian leader Tecumseh attempted to organize a resistance against the contibuing European invasion of his own day. However, his coming from the Shawnee nation, one of the surviving tribes most profoundly affected by white immigration, brought to the surface too many lingering hostilities among some other tribes (such as the Lakota) for them to join his cause. Tecumseh and his allies were convinced that, because an Indian alliance once drove off an invasion of the Shemanse ("long knives" -- the Shawnee word for white man -- referring to their swords), that the same defense could again be successfully mounted. As things turned out, Tecumseh's hopes were dashed and the tide of European-Americans continued to roll westward.
There are numerous Indian traditions concerning ancient war alliances and it becomes difficult to separate truth from fantasy in these old stories. For example, the Tuscarora historian David Cusick wrote in 1827 about an old war between "the confederacy" of "the northern nations" and the forces of "the Emperor" from the "Golden City." Not many years later, the story of the prehistoric extermination of the Eries, by an alliance of five Iroquois tribes was recorded from the lips of Blacksnake, and other "venerable chiefs of the Senecas." Similar tales were told of alliance wars of extermination conducted against the "Allegewi" and other mysterious peoples of the past. Somewhere, in the mixture these many similar traditions may survive a few faded memories of a struggle against pre-Columbian Europeans -- but not against the Book of Mormon's white Hebrews. The exterminated Nephites of that pseudo-history were not the source of Indian war traditions; instead, the fictional, extinct Nephites were plaigiarized from Indian accounts and from pre-1830 speculation about the "mound-builders." See Roger G. Kennedy's 1994 book, Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization, for an excellent documentation of this subject.
Could the Book of Mormon be based upon a muddled account of the Viking invasion of North America, re-written by racists who were eager to disprove it, understanding that an ancient Viking invasion implicitly refuted much of the developing Doctrine of Manifest Destiny? This suggestion may sound too implausible for some readers to consider. However, it is what some people have believed all along, but have been unwilling to share, for a number of reasons, including fear of a Mormon backlash. Notice the subtle Indian reference to shame this semi-humorous report from the year 1844:
"An old Indian, having attended a Mormon meeting and heard one of its advocates extol Mormonism, was requested to give his opinion of its merits. He began by detailing the great good that had been done by the Bible, God being its author; and, said he, the devil seeing this, determined to have a bible of his own also; but on examination, he felt ashamed of his work, and hid it in Ontario county, N. Y. But Joe Smith dug it up, and published it as a Revelation from God."
New Possibilities: the Psycho-social Context
When the Europeans arrived in North America, many came with the idea that the land was free for the taking. They believed that they had a right to claim vast territories, for their nations and for themselves, because most Indians did not use the land intensively and did not adhere to the concept of individual land ownership. The Indians were, to many of these newcomers, an inferior and primitive people: pagans, perhaps even inhuman worshippers of demons. Many of the European immigrants believed that they had the right of ownership and lordship, based on the belief that would later be called "Manifest Destiny." That is, it was their providential fortune to take over lands and peoples, making the original Americans their subjects. In Latin America countless native Americans were forced into lifelong slavery. Not every arrival from Europe saw the situation in these stark terms, of course -- there was the occasional, more moderate William Penn or Roger Williams -- but the vast majority of newcomers seem to have been perfectly willing to displace the native tribes and to subdue them (through conversion to Christianity, the spread of disease, or open force, when necessary). The doctrines of Mormonism continued this Old World view, with a few subtle differences. A close look at early Mormon teachings and actions will show that they considered themselves to be the "true Israel," a chosen people, destined to subdue or destroy "the wicked Gentiles," and to act as leaders for subservient Jews and Indians. Some investigators of Latter Day Saint history might even go so far as to accuse that people of forced conversions through fraud and psychological manipulation.
The Mormons -- the new "chosen race" -- offered even the most lowly individuals the possibility of becoming modern "Saints," led by God's one true spokesman, and destined to rule over a soon-to-come millennial paradise in the Americas. The potential convert who rejected the Book of Mormon and its message was told that he or she was damned to an eternity in hell: later on, Mormon theologizing would divide up the afterlife into somewhat less hellish abodes for non-converts. On the other hand, the individual who was ready to convert (in order to become white, righteous, and saved) was welcomed with open arms. The mesage? "White is good; dark is bad" (3 Nephi 2:14-15, 5:20, 6:12-14, Alma 13:23, Alma 23:15-18, 1 Nephi 8, 1 Nephi 12:21-23, 2 Nephi 5:20-26, Jacob 3:5-9).
Joseph Smith, in his early years, was apparently only marginally literate, but in close contact with various friends, whom he could count upon to further his aims. He was, no doubt, supremely self-confident and personally charismatic -- some said hypnotic -- in his ability to influence and control many of his followers. By means that will probably never be fully uncovered, this young "prophet" assembled the raw materials from which to compile the finished Book of Mormon. Part of this raw material was obviously taken from the Christian Bible, with a few additions from apocryphal books. In these sources Smith found his justification in claiming all of the western hemisphere as a land promised to the Israelite Ephraim (and to a lesser degree to Ephraim's brother Manasseh). All Smith needed to do, to establish his claim of supreme prophetic leadership, was to convince people that the biblical promises to Ephraim and Manessah were to be fulfilled in the Americas -- and that he and his Mormonite followers were the true "Ephraim."
Perhaps Joseph Smith obtained a "backbone" for his Book of Mormon in the lost writings of Solomon Spalding -- the reported writer of a manuscript novel based on the idea that Indians somehow came from ancient Israel or Judah. If so, the literary skeleton for a "degenerate Jews" story needed only to be fleshed out with claims that God's "one true church" had been restored, with Smith as its Ephraimite prophet -- a church which brought back all of the authority and miraculous powers spoken of in the Book of Acts, along with the judgments and blessings outlined in the Book of Revelation. The necessary theology was nothing new: Christian primitivists, seekers and restorationists had long since established the revolutionary tenets that would uphold such a "restored apostolic church." The Ohio Campbellites' "baptism for the remission of sins" could be joined with the New England Cochranites' laying on of hands to bestow the "Holy Ghost." Smith's own authority to head up the new church could be pre-written into the pages of his new "golden bible." How much of all this Smith truly believed himself, and how much he obtained, pre-packaged from other, more experienced church leaders like the Rev. Sidney Rigdon of Ohio, matters very little. What does matter is that the new church's doctrines were inserted into the Book of Mormon and that enough converts accepted the book, for the new religious movement to become established and begin to grow.
Joseph Smith, reportedly given to fantasy, egomania, a need to control others and desperate for money, complied with somebody's suggestion, that he be the oracle of the new church, and he happily agreed to assume almost unlimited power over the converts in the new organization. His contributions to the text of the Mormons' first book of scripture were sometimes obscure and ambiguous; it is unlikely that he wrote much more of the book's story, than what was necessary to join the various sources into a semi-logical whole. One possible example of this occurs in Ether 10:20: "A great city by a narrow neck of land by the place where the sea divides the land." This can be read as either the area between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, or Panama or the Strait of Belle Isle, between Labrador and Newfoundland Island. However, it appears to me more than likely that Smith never fully comprehended the geography of hos own book. If that geography was consistent when it came to him, someone's manipulation of the text seems to have left it an unrecognizable muddle.
Early Photographs of a sea-going Inuit "umiak" and "kayaks"
Another probable example of multiple conflicting authorship may be found in Ether 2:17, which distinctly describes a kayak. Later in the story, the craft is described as something truly bizarre. In examining such accounts the modern reader may come away with the feeling that Smith did not understand certain parts of his own book -- say, the difference between a barque and a barge, or what "the length of tree" was supposed to mean. It is possible that Joseph had a source describing some ancient Viking invasion. However, the Book of Mormon appears to have became a confused jumble because Joseph was also mindful of the then current notion, that the Indians were of Jewish heritage, and due also to the semi-literate compiler's need to engage in extensive plagiarism. Describing a Viking invasion as having been a Jewish phenomenon also had the advantage of providing the first Mormons with claims to the biblical "blessings of Ephraim," the prophesied "gathering of Israel" in America (rather than in Palestine), and to the potentially useful servitude of Manasseh (a.k.a. "Cousin Lemuel").
If Joseph Smith made use of pre-existing writings left behind by Solomon Spalding, it is equally possible that Spalding himself was aware of English translations of old Norse sagas -- and of evidence of a pre-Columbian presence in North America. In 1809 Spalding relocated to what is now Conneaut, Ohio, a place littered with "mound-builder" artifacts and the site of a very unusual cemetery. This very old extensive burying ground was laid out in a rectangular pattern, unknown in any original Indian culture. The buried dead were large people whose remains did not match those of any known American tribe. A second, similar cemetery was discovered in Spalding's time, nearby at Ashtabula. A strangely inscribed rock, bearing traces of Roman letters was also discovered in that locality. So also were small primitive iron smelting furnaces. The area was so rich in "bog iron ore" that Solomon Spalding himself built a more modern iron furnace on the banks of Conneaut Creek. See Arlington Mallery's 1951 Lost America, for a well-argued thesis attributing these iron furnaces to long-forgotten Celtic and/or Viking settlers. Modern archaeologists tend to discount such "diffusionist" explanations for pre-Columbian ironworking in North America, but Spalding was likely aware of speculation in his day, for early European penetration of the St. Lawrence Valley and the fringes of the Great Lakes. Even so, it appears that Solomon Spalding had intentions of showing the Indians to be of Jewish stock in his lost writings. Perhaps Spalding also carried on a mental argument, as to which explanation of the Indians would be most saleable in a fictional history. Other evidence of the back-and-forth struggle between these two competing explanations will appear in my chapter-by-chapter review of the Mormon book below.
By "struggle" I do not mean to say that the various authors were contemporaries: Solomon died when Joseph Smith was yet a boy. The Book of Mormon, borrowing from several sources conflicting sources, contains many inconsistencies. Thus, it is often read like a projective test, in which each reader interprets meanings from the context of his/her own cultural heritage and pre-conceived notions. This literary battle of ideas, between the book's original sources, is one of the causes for Latter Day Saint doctrinal splintering and probable future acceleration of this splintering process. In the final product, the Book of Mormon came out based upon Jewish tradition -- and, as Vogel (2005) points out in his Joseph Smith biography, with some input from Smith family tradition. None of this necessarily excludes important traces Indian lore (and perhaps even fragments of Norse sagas) from the book's pages.
On its title page the book purports to be a message to the Indians and the Jews (and such unknowing Ephraimites who are yet numbered with the Gentiles). As such, Smith must have been looking forward to the day when his "golden bible" would be presented to Indians eager to accept it as their ancestors' traditions. With a band of zealous "Israelite" followers, perhaps Smith even envisioned moving to the Missouri; capturing the Santa Fe trade; extending his power to the California coast and beyond. Certainly there were news reports published during the 1830s and early 1840s, in which writers and editors expressed their concerns about a sort of Mormon "Manifest Destiny," (before that term became a popular excuse for Americans annexing Mexican land and displacing hundreds of thousands of native people).
For the reader who knows where to look, there are echoes of Shawnee tradition and history in the Book of Mormon. The Ammonites (Alma 27:27-30) are respected as peaceable people -- Quaker pacifists, some writers have called them. The Shawnee (along with the closely related Delaware) had early contact with pacifist Mennonites (Sharp, 2001). The Delaware were an unwarlike people long before "Last of the Mohicans" was ever dreamed of. The Moravians Christianized and assisted Indians in reputable ways Jesus himself might have approved of. Not all native Americans were scalp-hunting Pawnee warriors. The Book of Mormon appears to have a dim knowledge of these things. The story of hiding silver in a spring, and losing it, appears both in the Book of Mormon, Mormon 1:1 and in Shawnee legend -- there is perhaps some connection. The Book of Mormon's Gadianton robbers sound rather similar to a band of river pirates who plagued the Shawnee and gave them a worse reputation than they deserved. This story has echoes in Helamon 6 and 7, as well as in other Book of Mormon passages. The refusal of the U.S. government to deal with criminal acts (in many places and at different times) against Indians certainly makes the U.S. government appear criminal in those instances. Allen Eckert, in his noteworthy A Sorrow in our Hearts: The Life of Tecumseh, makes a comment about Black Hoof’s band that "went white." It is possible that the Joseph Smith, Sr. family obtained part of their heritage from this band, thorugh intermarriage or from their having lived in close proximity to those people.
The Nephite warrior Teancum, who appears in Alma 50 to 62, is clearly modeled after Tecumseh, although his Book of Mormon exploits draw upon the biblical David, an Indian warrior in Southey's "Madoc" and tidbits from classical epics. The protagonists, Amalickiah and brother Ammoron, are also possibly modeled after Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, who was a survivor of a head injury. The Book of Mormon's stories of Lamanites and king men sound much like British-Indian cooperation during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. There are too many other echoes of Indian history and tradition for anybody to attribute the similarities to pure chance. Some of them probably came from the pen of Spalding (who saw the aftermath of British-Indian military cooperation in Cherry Valley, New York and who lived under the threat of similar violence at Salem, Ohio at the beginning of the War of 1812) -- other bits and pieces may have entered the text, as Smith attempted to make it more interesting to potential Indian converts.
Records yet exist telling of one or more Viking invasions of the New World, but modern historians have limited access to them, just like they have limited access to certain Mormon records. The few fragments available may, however, help confirm that the movement of Northmen into the Western Hemisphere was more extensive than contemporary scholars might imagine. From Nabokov (1978) immediately upon landing in Nova Scotia, Thorwald Erikson’s sailors killed eight skraelings (p. 19) and he was himself killed. Vikings and Indians who met along the North American coast quickly began trading knives and axes for pelts (p. 38). Indian legends also help confirm the forgotten Viking invasion, and tribes in the Great Lakes area possess physical evidence for such an invasion. The LDS church is no more likely to be given access to these relics than are the LDS to grant permission for their most scared rituals to be shown on national television.
Important American-Viking archaeological evidence has been discovered and scientifically examined in recent years. Can this be lined up with anything in the Book of Mormon? If it can, then the ultimate irony may be that the people whom Joseph Smith's book calls stiff-necked Jews were modeled after "Aryan," pagan Vikings, following a tradition that long included raping, pillaging, and killing in the name of Northerner superiority. Of course the Scandinavian warriors did not limit their wrath to transoceanic skraelings. They pillaged each other and their southern Christian neighbors (before becoming Christians themselves). Perhaps, as in early 20th century Europe, some of these half-converts later apostatized: they retained a Viking lifestyle, hidden under their leaders' Christian profession. These Northern people long resisted the encroachment of Christianity, calling it a weak mode of life, encumbered with ethics that were alien to Scandinavia. The basic Christian morals called for non-violent adaptation in the face of oppression, kindness and generosity for those who are less fortunate and the deification of a leader who chose crucifixion rather than fighting his persecutors. Another irony may be found in 1940's Nazi hope for a pro-German Scandinavian uprising in America's Great Lakes region: they had already appeared -- though their presence may be difficult for some to recognize -- in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon presents the claim that its Lamanites and Nephites were originally one people. They became two peoples through disobedience and due to God's supposed disfavor, the Lamanites became dark and evil, while the Nephites were white and good. In this fictional division of peoples, the basis is set for the view that the "Lamanite" Indians (unless they convert to Mormonism) have no right to the American "promised land," because they long ago gave it up by choosing to be God's enemies. The alleged property rights of the fair-skinned Nephites were renewed for later European immigrants (Mosiah 10:12-20). In the Mormon explanation of history, these white newcomers would also be divided -- into converts to Mormonism (Ephraimites) and non-converts (wicked Gentiles). Therefore, Indians have no right to complain of their mistreatment, unless they leave their friends, family and clan, to accept Mormonism and serve the LDS priesthood. Yet another great irony arose for Joseph Smith at that very point -- the native Americans were wise enough not to convert. A book written to win their servitude to the Mormon cause failed in its original purpose: hardly any Indians (or Jews) have ever become Mormons. The great "mission to the Lamanites" set afoot by Joseph Smith at the end of 1830 proved to be a terribly embarrassing failure.
Joseph Smith preaches Book of Mormon to Cousin Lemuel
Some Further Discussion
In the following overview, I will go through the Book of Mormon, and present some theories which link the "history" provided there, to what I perceive to have been a Viking "invasion" c. 980-1430 A.D. Although this story and its time period have been largely forgotten or overlooked in modern times, in my mind, the Book of Mormon is clearly NOT an account of events from a dim past stretching back to Jerusalem in 600 B. C. My interpretation is only what I see in the Book of Mormon, based on my cultural heritage and preconceived notions -- when I relate the events to particular events outside the BOM, I am only being speculative, unless I've noted otherwise. It is my intent to bring forward the best and worst of that book thus substantiating my belief in multiple authorship through contrast in content, particularly as it deals with the concept of racism. My intent is not to make an attack upon contemporary Latter Day Saints, but to outline one reader's "interpretation" of the so-called "Nephite record." Those who do not have a copy of the book close at hand, may wish to consult the current Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints version of the text, here: Project Gutenberg's Book of Mormon
In 1 Nephi 3 and the following chapters, the story of Erik the Red may come to mind, to any reader has studied Viking history. In both sources the main character kills another man, must flee into exile, and chooses to go with his family to a previously unknown land in the Western Hemisphere. The gist of the Viking account had been published in newspapers during Joseph's younger days. The story given in the Book of Mormon likely relies upon Ethan Smith's having begun his own 1823 book on Israelite Indian origins with a story of the subsequent fall of Jerusalem. Of course any knowledgeable Bible scholar could appropriate that initial setting from the biblical text -- where a few members of the "lost" ten Israelite tribes reportedly linger near Jerusalem, as late as King Josiah's reign, only a few years prior to the city's initial conquest and destruction by the Neo-Babylonians.
In 1 Nephi 8, the biblical story of Adam and Eve is recast without its original characters. However, in the revised, dream-story, the eating of a fabulous fruit, by my perception, is portrayed as being a good thing. Two of the dreamer's sons (Laman and Lemuel) refuse to eat of the fruit, foreshadowing their coming exclusion from the dreaming prophet's righteous family. In later passages these two rebellious sons end up fathering the Indian peoples: in the process they and their multitude of descendants become increasingly sinful and are "cursed" with a "skin of blackness." The fruit eaten in the dream, by the righteous portion of the prophet's family, was "white, to exceed all the whiteness" in the world. The Book of Mormon's message is a clear one: the whiter a thing is, the better it is. Those people who will not affirm this precept become God's dark and evil enemies.
1st Nephi's Chapter 13 preserves a rant against the Roman Catholic Church. It reflects attitudes common in the United States during the early 1800s -- and especially so among New York Protestants when Catholic laborers, hired to work on the Erie Canal, first poured into the western regions of that state. Part of the genesis for this is attack in the Mormon book lies in the previous valiant efforts of the Catholic "BlackRobes" to spread Christianity among the North American tribes. These Jesuit missionaries were well aware that Greenland had once been a Scandinavian Christian country, with a Bishop appointed in Rome. It appears that they also knew something about early Viking explorations westward and of tribes with partial Northman ancestry. To claim their own Manifest Destiny, as the God-appointed masters of the Americas, the first Mormons had to somehow obscure and negate this earlier Catholic missionary activity. Thus the Book of Mormon turns the Roman Catholics into the "Great and Abominable Church," which had "perverted the right ways of the Lord" and "kept back" from the Indians biblical truths about their being the "remnant of the house of Israel." All of this, in the Mormon book, opens the way for LDS missionaries to tell the Indians that they had been lied to, and that they should leave any "Gentile" church they might belong to -- in order to have their "curse of a skin of blackness" lightened by God's miraculous power. This is in curious contrast to an historic Roman Catholic practice of protecting their Indian converts from racism by refering to them as “black Irish” and, at the same time, encouraging them to retain much of their unique cultural heritage.
The book of 1st Nephi closes with the arrival of Lehi's ship in the Americas -- where Jaredite tame goats and castrated bulls yet linger "in the forests." But those previous inhabitants have destroyed themselves, leaving the "land of promise" vacant for its new Israelite settlers. The book of 2nd Nephi continues the story, telling what happens to these Old World pilgrims in their paradisical "land of promise. In 2 Nephi Chapter 5, the previously telegraphed fate of Laman and Lemuel "comes to pass" and God darkens their skins as a genetically transmitted punishment for their sins. There are some biblical parallels in this story, with the curse God set upon Cain. In Joseph Smith's 1830s rewriting of the King James Bible, he embellished the Cain story, creating even closer parallels with the Book of Mormon's genetically transmitted "skin of blackness." Mormons have long realized that none of America's native tribesmen have such a dark pigmentation and have sometimes explained away the discrepancy by speculating that pre-Columbian Americans were darker than their descendants of historical times.
Official LDS depiction of men with a "skin of blackness"
A more likely explanation is that the writer(s) of the Book of Mormon simply believed what was symbolized in Lehi's dream (as discussed above) -- the lighter anything is, the better it is. "Righteous" Ephraimites must have the skin coloration of an Arctic Circle Norwegian; angels are even whiter; "celestialized" gods, who have no blood in their veins, have the color of driven snow. In such an obscene fantasy of racial characteristics, the vast majority of human beings on this planet, in Mormon terms, possess a "skin of blackness."
In 2 Nephi, Zion (post-Columbian America) is depicted as favored by God -- any nation that fights America, no matter its reason, will suffer divine punishment. These Book of Mormon precepts naturally lead to a racist nationalism that frightfully resembles the tenets of the old Teutonic Knights, the National Socialists, and the American Ku Klux Klan. In terms of the anthropology set forth in the Book of Mormon, such policy is wrong only because Indians, Mestizos and Polynesians are unknowing "Israelites," and not because all human beings share a God-given equality.
In Jacob Chapter 1, Joseph Smith clarifies his terminology. This clarification will later fall apart, repeatedly, as the book's plot becomes more convoluted. Enemies (intrinsically bad people), are called "Lamanites," dark people, of various nations -- even if they have righteous parents, their wickedness turns them dark, savage and slothful in short order. Friends (intrinsically good people), are called "Nephites," no matter their ancestry. In Jacob 1, a people seemingly patterned upon the Vikings are depicted as hungering after gold and silver, and become increasingly racist. Jacob 3 is a particularly racist chapter. Jarom 8 characterizes the Nephites as being prosperous because they are good white people.
In Omni 1, what I interpret as later Northman immigrants arrive upon the scene, and find that the language and culture of earlier arrivals at fabulous Zarahelma had changed. In Omni 5 (c. 1320 in my interpretation of the chronology), the Northlander Christians predominate among the Nephites, and remaining non-Christian Vikings are killed off. In Omni 14, there is the story of a battle in the Land North, called the "Land of Desolation." One possible interpretation of the geography would place this Book of Mormon land north of the Strait of Belle Isle. The survivors in the story then apparently returned to the settlement of Zarahelma, possibly somewhere on the St. Lawrence River, in the area which is now Southern Ontario, or even in the vicinity of Niagara Falls. See the speculative Book of Mormon geographies of writers Phyllis Carol Olive, Delbert W. Curtis, Vernal Holley and Byron Marchant for their variations on the Great Lakes-centered scenario previously championed by early Mormons such as Apostle Orson Pratt.
In Mosiah 1:2-4, there is an attempt by the writer to preserve some elements of the Norse language, both written and oral. In Mosiah 8:8, people looking for the settlement of Zarahelma (probably later Northman arrivals), come across the evidence of a ruined civilization felled by a great battle (possibly from a time very early in the ongoing Viking invasion). Later, in Mosiah 10:17-12:8, as previously discussed, there occurs an extremely racist justification for war against the Indians. Mosiah 21:26, in confusion characteristic of the BOM, is essentially a repeat of Mosiah 8:8. Mosiah 22:12 describes the obsession with gold and silver characteristic of European conquerors like Cortez, Pizzaro, Coronado, etc. This theme repeats itself multiple times throughout the book, and in ways as reminiscent of Viking pillage as of Conquistador history. Mosiah 24:4 reports a spread of what I see as the Old Norse language -- this idea is partly confirmed by Thomas Jefferson’s old linguistic survey. In the unfolding story, Lamanites (Indians) learn the ways of the invaders, the use of swords and iron, and seemingly the use of domesticated animals, such as chariot-pulling horses. There is some indication of early horses in Northeastern America, brought by the Northmen and reported by Menzies, in 1421, the Year the Chinese discovered America, in his discussion of a fantastic theory that a Chinese expedition was in that area at that time.
The discovery of antique Chinese ship anchors, recovered off the coast of California, have recently promoted further speculation along these same lines, though without the element of a Chinese introduction of pre-Columbian horses. Menzies' discussion of a Chinese expedition is very reasonable; however, the possibility that they reached areas bordering the Atlantic, and carried horses on their ships all that distance, is truly implausible. Other information provided by Menzies in his book appears to be more applicable to discovering the Book of Mormon's origins, however.
In Alma 3:4, additional racial confusion crops up with the writer's re-establishment of the dark-is-bad and white-is-good precepts. Alma 4:6 contains a criticism of Northman materialism, and Alma 10:18-24 has a corresponding pseudo-prophecy of punishment from God. At Alma 13:23, the text is again brought into line with the old racist theme, as its author re-establishes the notion that "white is right." In Alma 17:14, the Viking and Indian roles appear to be reversed, as Lamanites are described as robbing and plundering the Nephites for gold and silver: what use a savage, slothful people would have for precious metals is not elucidated. Earlier cross-cultural trade of iron for silver and gold perhaps evolved into such robbing and plundering behavior, in some cases. In the "real world," outside of the Book of Mormon, Indian allies of contending European armies evidently fell into such practices.
Alma 22:19 provides a substantial amount of geographical information, but it is unclear how consistant it may be with the geography indicated in other parts of the book. Generally a Great Lakes location for Book of Mormon events "fits" the book's underlying story, though not always its overt narrative. One interpretation of the Alma text is that Cahokian culture became known to the Viking invaders and they traveled westward to depose its king. Such a postulated event might have even been acceptable to the people living around the great Cahokia ceremonial center, because of a northward diffusion of the Mexican legend of Quetzacoatl. There were significant trade and cultural exchange between the North American Mississippian culture and the Valley of Mexico, an intercourse that even Solomon Spalding, residing in Ohio, seems to have been aware of, when he wrote chapter 5 of his "Roman story." Another interpretation of the Alma text is that it relies upon accounts of Desoto's explorations among the mound-building Mississippians. In Alma 22:30-33, the Land of Desolation is described and matches the treeless land north of the Strait of Belle Isle, as well as some deforested areas north of Lake Erie. In the former area, the early Vikings, at the first landing, killed off the native Beothuk and cut down the sparse tree cover for timber and firewood needed in their Greenland settlements. In Alma 23, the racial confusion of the writer(s) again crops up, but the captors in the story again straighten out the issue. There it is made clear that Lamanite’s skin color changes when they convert to an incipient, pre-Jesus sort of Christianity. In Alma 25:4,8, and 12, there is a consistent theme of punishment of people for the sins of their ancestors, eventually established as Mormon doctrine but later officially abandoned.
Alma 31 indicates that the "Land South" was an Indian stronghold. This scenario perhaps refers to what is now the southern United States and adjacent Mexico. This fits in with present-day knowledge of the Mississippian people and pre-Columbian Mexicans -- they were relatively wealthy (Alma 31:13-14, & 28), and were connected (allied?) by trade routes, maize agriculture, and other cultural affinities. These peoples would have been a great prize for pre-Columbian invaders, as well as for the later Spanish (who knew perfectly well where they were going). The traditions of the Cherokee may also preserve fragments of this forgotten history.
Alma 43 describes the disadvantage the Indians had in extended warfare with European invaders. By the end of the book, the Indians knew enough about the enemy to form great alliances against them, especially since masses of the Christian Vikings had begun to assimilate with the native tribes. The pure-blood Northmen, with the discovery of valuable gold and silver, available to the victors, no doubt reasserted their old Viking character. Alma 43:13-14 contains a pseudo-prophecy that the Northmen, who were progressively assimilating into the Indian population, would become extinct because of the sin of "mingling" (that is, interracial sexual relations). The land in the area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence evidently became a place of refuge for pure-blooded Viking remnant. Alma 47:23-24 is largely a repeat of 22:19, where a Northman deposes a native ruler -- perhaps the king of Cahokia, or the Natchez "Great Sun?" or the emperor of the "Golden City" -- and takes the queen as his wife. There is a resonance here with a legend of Cherokee fighting against the Cahokians, who reportedly had a white king. This altered kingship deteriorates quickly in the legend, leading to the destruction of the Cahokian culture.
Fanciful Encounter of ocean-crossing Vikings and pre-Columbian Mexicans
© 1936, King Features Syndicate -- Clarence Gray, illustrator
In Alma 48, the Northmen become more evil. By this time, Indians and Viking defectors have the knowledge and technology to defeat their enemy. By Alma 62, the great city (Cahokia ceremonial center?) falls, precipitating the retaliatory end of the Northlander invasion by the Aztecs or other Mexican tribes. In Alma 63:5-10, the pure-blooded Vikings, presumably with their haul of silver and gold, build ships and leave, having been cornered into the land Northward, also called the land of Desolation, north of the Strait of Belle Isle. According to my interpretation, the year would have been c. 1420, (following multiple statements of scholars reporting from Scandinavian sources).
In the midst of these developments, in Alma 63:14, a rebellion occurs among the Vikings. Many of them desert to the Indian side and begin to foment Indian anger and more warfare. In Menzies’ book, a factory on Ellismere Island, probably used only during the summer, is described. Given the intensity of the protest and the following final war. I suggest the use of Indian slave labor during the summer to melt down the gold and silver for shipment to Europe, with the abandonment of any survivors every fall. Helaman 3:16 discussed the reasons for the downfall of the Viking invaders, positing the mixing of the races as an ostensible cause. I suggest hybrid vigor of the mixed Indians, and inbreeding among the pureblood Northmen might be a more logical conclusion. Ultimately, however, it was gold and silver hunger, and racism.
Helaman 3:4-6 and 10-11, along with Helaman 4:24 address the attack on the ecology of the land of Desolation. People built houses of stone because they had no wood; they were logging in other areas for firewood and lumber for roofing and shipbuilding. Helaman 3:16 is yet another racist passage. However, with the deterioration and apostasy of the Viking culture, there would no longer be any particular reason to present explanations of skin-color changes. Although the recently introduced theme of the Gadianton robbers runs through this part of the story, the writer(s) may have been attempting to draw an analogy between the fate of the Viking invaders and the United States government. The Indians in the Book of Mormon's story take measures against the Gadianton robbers (who also have an Indian background), but the "Nephite" government ignores the situation. As a result, the Nephite government and the Gadianton robbers eventually merge to become the same entity.
Helaman 5:3 reports many whites leaving for the Land North; also reported in Alma 63:4. In Helaman 4:5-7 the whites are apparently driven out of St. Lawrence River valley and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In Helaman 7:21, there is gold and silver fever among the European invaders again. Helaman 10:3 reports that the Northmen are plundering and murdering, because of their desire for gold and silver. Helaman 11:1 reports four years of famine and the Vikings repent, for a while. Helaman 11:24-25 appear to again show writer(s) confusion over which group of pre-Columbians is good and which is bad. However, the plot here begins to be too realistic for the reader to ascribe differences in behavior to skin color. In Helaman 12:18-21 there may be a referral back to the previously mentioned legend of the Shawnee silver. It is lost, leave it there, it is cursed. At this point in his compilation, Joseph Smith may have been thinking about his father's family's situation and its relationship to the band who were apparently exiled from the Shawnee. Helaman 19:24-26: here the Northmen are outnumbered and humbled; they received these consequences because their behavior was not "Christian." In Helaman 13, an Indian prophet rises up, and preaches to the Nephite-Vikings, telling them to give up their racism and materialism. He warns them that if they do not, bad things will happen to them. Many repent, but others become angry, and he flees. Here the Book of Mormon story may rely upon events centered around the brother of Tecumseh, or an Onondaga medicine man, or some other historical native American "prophet."
With the book of 2 Nephi, the story is back on track with its old racist theme. LDS depictions of visiting Jesus generally show him as a blue-eyed, blond-haired Arayan, dressed in the purest white garments. At this point the text again waxes anti-Semitic, depicting a god-man who looks like he just came from Nordic Valhalla and not from Jewish Jerusalem. In 3 Nephi 2:14-15 there is more talk of skin color change; however, later in the same chapter confusion again arises as to which people are good and which are bad. In 3 Nephi 3:6-10, the pure-blooded Northmen are given an ultimatum to surrender and join with the Indians, or die. In 3 Nephi 3:23-25 the ecology north of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is devastated. In 3 Nephi 4:1 there is war between the Northmen of mixed-blood and those of full-blood. In 3 Nephi 5, the Vikings repent, again only briefly. The Book of Mormon narrator appears to claim himself a lineal descendant of Eric the Red in 3 Nephi 5:20. In 3 Nephi 6, the Northmen continue to degenerate in their lust for gold and silver fever, and in their racism.
Fourth Nephi is basically a short summary of events stretching over a long period of time. It took Joseph Smith some effort to develop a workable chronology for this section of the story. In V. 20 the spread of Christianity among the all tribes is recounted, (in the year 1136 of my interpretation). Verses 10, 20, 24 and 43 present a common thread of racism. Verse 25 (about 1253 in my count), states that there was a return to the old European concept of individual ownership of property. The uniformity of a continent-wide, single race and religion begins to break down. Evidently the bad people are again cursed with a dark skin (though perhaps not so "black" as in the past). The Gadianton robbers (year 1352, V. 45) could have been new immigrants -- and they may be modeled on the river pirates of the 1800’s, with a few touches of 1820s anti-Masonry thrown in. The situation in the Americas goes downhill throughout in the 1300’s, and by 1400 the people's fate was sealed. How a cross-continent fall into wickedness occurs so uniformly, the Book of Mormon does not even attempt to account for. Just as the story in 3rd Nephi was modeled upon popular expectations of a coming Christian millennium, so also the story in 4th Nephi was modeled upon the first Mormons' perception of a universal apostasy. It is not only the blessed white Nephites who turn away from the religion of Jesus -- the entire world either rejects that faith, or falls into a wicked perversion of it. This is a dismal view of what eventually follows a truncated millennium (in the Americas at least) and appears to provide little reason for anybody to accept Christianity. Is this yet another hint of the story's pagan Scandinavian underpinnings?
Mormon 1:18: The story told here again sounds much like the old Shawnee story of hiding silver in a spring, but it went down too far and was lost (a slippery treasure, moving about under the earth's surface). In Mormon 2:28-29 a treaty granted the rejuvenated Northlanders gives them all the land north of Belle Isle (my interpretation). There they become isolated and a short peace follows. In 3:8, the year 362 (1414 by my calculations), there is renewed warfare, sparked by the defection of more reconstituted Vikings to the post-millennial Lamanites (see also Alma 63:14). In Mormon Ch. 4 the whites are swept off like the dew and forced to leave in ships. By 1425 (in my calculations) all that were going to depart had gone, presumably leaving the remaining whites to fight it out with the mixed, adopted, and full-blooded Indians. Mormon 5 records a residual war against remaining Northmen, probably greatly exaggerated
With the Book of Ether the writer inserts a "flashback" as a sort of appendix to the story. Here the setting is said to be during the early days of human history, long before the rise of Israelites, Nephites, etc. Ether 2:16 presents a very distinctly describes a kayak. Yet, a few verses later, the description is obscured by a description of a craft that would not float. In Ether 6:5-12, the passage to the continent went very well, even though the water was rough. According to Indian legends, shortly after the Northmen left, a group of people arrived, and were assimilated into tribes deep within the Great Lakes area. Given such a perspective, the underlying story of this book is clearly placed in its appropriate sequence and is not an appendix. However, the overt or superficial story told here is said to be of great antiquity. One possible explanation for the confusion may be that Joseph Smith plagiarized this part of the Book of Mormon from an independent story by Solomon Spalding, without understanding the story very well. Of all the pages in the Book of Mormon, several dozen near the end of this particular book are reported (by Dale Broadhurst and others) to most resemble the known prose of Solomon Spalding.
The Book of Mormon probably originally ended with the Book of Ether. Its last book, Moroni, reads something like parts of 2 Nephi, but it is obviously a "tacked-on" addition. Basically the book is an instruction manual on how to operate the early Mormon church. Some scholars feel that its content reflects the unique religious concerns of the Campbellite minister, Rev. Sidney Rigdon, c. 1827-1828. In Moroni 9:5 the writer comes clean -- apparently feeling guilty over the monstrosity here created in the name of God. It may be important to note here, that the existence of the Navajo and "Pueblo" Indians was just beginning to be reported in the American newspapers a few years before the Book of Mormon's 1830 publication. A view quickly sprang up among the readers in the east, that western "cliff-dwellers" and Athabaskan shepherds possessed a high degree if civilization -- indeed, the "Pueblo" Indians were "civilized" in the dictionary sense of the term -- they built permanent cities. My interpretation of the book tells me that Moroni is not solely a religious manual, written by a maverick Cambellite clergyman. Part of Moroni reads like the description of a siege of the old western Anasazi people, who evidently had taken in some white Christians. The siege, perhaps conducted from the south, by Mexican tribes, in revenge for what had occurred at Cahokia, ended in starvation cannibalism.
In Moroni 9:9-10 the text describes similar conditions at the Greenland colony, where Indian skraeling slaves were raped by their masters. When the Northmen left, they abandoned the slaves, and possibly the mixed people as well. By the time they were rescued (by the Inuit) and taken to North America in kayaks, they too had been forced into starvation cannibalism. This story is been supported by Indian legends, and is touched upon in Ether 2:6. There were worse horrors (see my discussion of Alma 63:14, above).
From my perspective, has become obvious to me, Joseph Smith’s back-and-forth switching from being a compiler of Shawnee traditions, to being a racist, anti-Indian, that he was struggling with his conscience and an Indian identity, while assisting in the final compilation of the Book of Mormon. By the end of Joseph's life, Thomas Sharp, a journalist in Hancock County, Illinois, was calling him an anti-Christ. Winneshiek, a respected spiritual leader from Prophetstown on the Rock (River), listened to him, laughed, and told him that he was crazy. Fr. John George Alleman, a Catholic priest who passed through Nauvoo -- who had many opportunities to observe what was going on -- called him a scoundrel.
Surrounded by many racist whites, it is not surprising that Joseph Smith lost his earlier sense of purpose (and even his interest in the Book of Mormon, some scholars have argued). His evolution in this direction may seen in the incident of "the white Lamanite Zelph." Coming across an Indian skeleton and some signs of an old battle, on his way to Missouri in 1834, Joseph concocted a strange explanation for the remains. From my reading of accounts of that event, I believe he saw himself as if dead. An Indian alone, separated from his people by something more than just geography, is not an Indian. Like the Mennonites and other spiritual people, traditional Indians are community people. Joseph Smith, in his better moments, knew this, as exemplified in the "Zelph" incident. Seeing the isolated and forgotten bones, the Mormon prophet was compelled to put them into a fanciful context -- giving the dead man a name, a position among his people, and even the LDS blessing of a skin in the process of turning white. Thus, I see in the man Joseph Smith, the same ambivalence, mixed both with sympathy and racist hostility, as I see throughout the Book of Mormon. As the Nephite story draws to a close, that fallen people's white skin is no longer a mark of righteousness. Finally, near the end of his book (in Moroni 9) comes the common-sense, truly Christian denial of skin color as a measure of a person's character. Whether that important realization came directly from the heart of Joseph Smith, or whether from the influence of Rev. Rigdon or another of Smith's early associates, I cannot tell. The important thing is, that it comes at the end of a book brought forth and made ready for publication by Smith -- it thus bears his implicit stamp of approval.
The Latter Day Saint people will no doubt continue on for centuries to come, but the content of their problematic religion need not be set in stone. It is they themselves who so often speak of the possibilities of change -- of the revelation of new light and truth within their peculiar religious system. Given the recent changes within their sister church, the "Reorganized" Saints, it would be unreasonable for me to believe that old-fashioned Mormonism will last forever. As that old-time, problematic Mormonism fades away, people of Mormon cultural heritage might be well advised to review Moroni 9 now and then. History can repeats itself: can others see the special irony I detect there?
From my studies of the text, it has become, to me at least, that somewhere along the line there was an Indian who made significant contributions to the Book of Mormon. He or she was probably a well educated Shawnee. Today many people do not realize that there were literate, English-speaking Indians around when the Book of Mormon was written and published. Some of the first people the book was offered to were literate members of the Seneca tribe who lived just outside of Buffalo, New York. As already mentioned previously in this paper, Chief Elias Boudinot's Cherokee Phoenix ran articles in its pages, both in reference to the Israelite-Indian theory, and to the Mormons themselves, in the years immediately following the appearance of the Book of Mormon. If people could intelligently examine and consider such things, it should come as no great surprise that one such native American could have contributed to the Book of Mormon. There was no spiritualist "channeling," no otherworldly "angel," but an actual person who made significant contributions. Those contributions are part of what make the book believable (unfortunately so for those readers who believe its totally). Those same contributions -- in my humble opinion -- are also what continue to make the book worth reading. Joseph Smith probably had a close personal relationship with this person. He may have had some sense of guilt over the death of the Shawnee who contributed to the Book of Mormon. Possibly that contribution was as inadvertent as the posthumous input of Solomon Spalding. A collection of Indian traditions, and of faded Viking recollections, may have been put together for an entirely different purpose than creating the "golden bible.
As I've already said, I believe some evidence of these things can still be discerned in the incident of "the white Lamanite Zelph" -- and perhaps even in Smith's little known revelation permitting the first Mormons to take polygamous Indian brides. While these events depend upon the Book of Mormon for their context, they transcend that books false anthropology and frequent negative depictions of America's REAL first people.
Some day, people will not be judged by the color of their skin, or the texture of their hair, or the shape of their eyes. The survival of the human race depends upon mutual cooperation and mutual acceptance of our diversity. The natural and man-made disasters that threaten a fragile blue planet can only be met and overcome by a people no longer divided by baseless fears and petty egotism. Sooner or later the day will arrive when Martin Luther King's prophecy will be fulfilled. But these advances cannot come until the racist past of religions like Mormonism is abandoned. Here I am not being hostile towards the Latter Day Saints. In fact, I hope to see them become a role model for other religious communities yet enmeshed in false and divisive errors concerning human ethnicity, gender and social class.
I believe that there is great power in our understanding the "knowledge of good and evil" to be the knowledge of racism and its devisive effects upon our global society. Human beings are the only animal known to kill each other because of hereditary physical differences within our species: we are also the only animal possessed of sufficient consciousness to do something to correct that dangerous trait. I do not blame today's generation of Latter Day Saints for having accused the Indians of a continent-wide genocide of God's "chosen people." In many ways the early Mormons were no better and no worse than their non-Mormon neighbors and I have no reason not hold today's LDS responsible for old slanders of the Indians and the Jews, whether those slanders occurred within American society in general or in the pages of a book published in 1830. I choose, rather, to focus upon the genuine concern many Mormons have no doubt felt for their native American brethren through the years. That genuine concern, when divorced from false paternalism and racial arrogance can become a very good and positive beginning for a better future. We many not be brothers and sisters in the sense that the biblical Ephraim and Manasseh were of one family -- but we all belong to the human family.
This paper began as a record of my personal discoveries, made while studying the Book of Mormon. Through the assistance of a couple of other scholars, I've been able to expand the content and in some places alter its viewpoint just a little. I do not expect every reader to accept my "forgotten Viking invasion" theory as anything like established fact. What I do ask, is that readers attempt to suspend their various beliefs and disbeliefs while they read my words, and in the process, try to see the picture I've here painted through my eyes.
I ask of my readers, please do not get bogged down in trying to refute my ideas and methods. In an informal review of this paper, conducted by several members of the pro-LDS "FAIR Message Board," it was mentioned that my paper includes no critical apparatus and no point-by-point, documented defense of my ideas. It would be a difficult task for me to try and document the various uncompiled oral traditions I rely upon in forming many of my conclusions. I am aware of their potential weaknesses -- but I may also be aware of some of their strengths, that others might not readily perceive. Perhaps sources in Scandinavia will eventually become more open in sharing their records. Perhaps the LDS Church leaders will one day reveal why they have implicitly denied that Chief Keokuk’s Sac and Fox tribesmen lived on a reservation across the river from Nauvoo during the 1840’s, and that some of their descendants still live in the area (after all, these are the very people portrayed in the notable illustrations featured throughout this article). Perhaps they have some shame in acknowledging the issues I am raising. But perhaps the longstanding rift between the eastern tribes and the Latter Day Saints may begin to heal in the wake of my writing this article. A thousand arguments might be constructed against my theory. However, I feel it is stronger than the alternatives I've seen presented in the past. It is really not my purpose here to offer arguments and counter-arguments: it is my purpose to offer a new perspective and a new interpretation. I sincerely hope, readers of all backgrounds, that you can take what I offer, for whatever value you can: if you do, then I will have succeeded in my task.
Dedicated to the memory of Tecumseh, Winneshiek, Whirling Thunder, Vine Deloria, Jr., John Blahna, and all the other heroes who have gone before us. Remembering Joseph Smith, Jr. who courageously tried to tell our story -- perhaps before it was time -- but ended up by becoming a controversial problem for all Americans.
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Note: Corrections, minor additions and various links supplied by "Spalding Saga" editor, Dale R. Broadhurst, April, 2006.