If you have ever read the Book of Mormon or if you have never read the Book of Mormon, you have probably heard the theory that Joseph Smith plagiarized it. In this theory many critics have highlighted a handful of books which they claim are the original sources for The Book of Mormon. To combat this theory, I have taken (and am taking) the pains to study and review these books personally and then compare them to text of The Book of Mormon

It seems that there are several books that are spotlighted as the origins of the book in question. Among them are:

(1) The Solomon Spaulding Manuscript titled Manuscript, Found!

(2) View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith

(3) The Late War, Between the United States and Great Britain by Gilbert J. Hunt

(4) A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus by Washington Irving

(5) The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian

There are probably many others (like The Holy Bible, History of Mexico, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Westminster Confession, and Wonders of Nature) that I would like to eventually read and make similar comparisons. I have read many of these books already and hope to read all of them (life has been busy, so it might take some time), and I have carefully pulled out similarities to The Book of Mormon and have set them on display for you to see and decide for yourself if Joseph Smith did indeed plagiarize The Book of Mormon. 

I wish to say here that I did not chart every single similarity that I found. That would be like me trying to argue that one book is more like Harry Potter than another because the protagonist also wears glasses. News flash: 61% of the population wears glasses! This similarity therefore becomes moot and is no longer worth noting. I ran into many of these “glasses” similarities and pitched them because they were too common. For example: Spaulding’s main character points out his belief in heliocentrism on page 21 [of the linked source] which compares to the same belief stated in The Book of Mormon in Helaman 12:15, and since this theory was being embraced between the 15-1600’s I decided it wasn’t worth pointing out at all. I am therefore only presenting to you those passages that are unique and pose possible questions of debate. 

The first book I will be putting on display is the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript.

 

What is the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript?

In the early 1800s, a Connecticut man named Solomon Spaulding wrote a fictional story about ancient Romans who came to North America. Some critics of the Church have claimed that Joseph Smith used this manuscript to write the Book of Mormon. Spaulding’s Manuscript titled Manuscript, Found is, coincidentally, about a man who finds ancient scrolls hidden under a rock. 

Critics who have no association with the Church have disproved this theory time and again. Even a quick search from wikipedia says that “Contemporary Mormon apologetics state that the theory has been disproved and is discredited and argue that ‘few historians -whether friendly or hostile to the truth claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -believe that the historical data support the Spalding manuscript hypothesis.”

What I have yet to learn from critics is exactly how Joseph Smith would have gotten ahold of such a manuscript.

The story goes that a man by the name of Philastus Hurlbut (an excommunicated member and opponent to the Church) assumed that Joseph Smith was too illiterate to have produced The Book of Mormon by himself and therefore must have received some assistance. The theory claims that Sidney Rigdon stole the manuscript and helped Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery produce the Book of Mormon, which doesn’t really add up since Sidney Rigdon didn’t join the church until after the Church was organized. But I’m not here to argue how Joseph got ahold of the manuscript. I’m am here to show you what I found while reading the text.

 

Similarities Between The Solomon Spaulding Manuscript and The Book of Mormon

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 6 1 Nephi 18:15
After being driven five days with with incridable velocity before the furious <wind>, the storm abated in its violance -but still the strong wind blew strong in the strong <as I now beleive> in the same direction  And it came to pass that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea. And after we had been driven back upon the waters for the space of four days, my brethren began to see that the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish save that they should repent of their iniquities…

The only correlation here is that both parties were in boats and were driven by the winds, one five days the other four. To me, there is nothing really to compare. When one is sailing, one is likely to encounter storms. However, the similarities become slightly stronger as the stories continue, as demonstrated below:

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 6 1 Nephi 18:21
A voice from on high hath penetrated my soul & the inspiration of the Almighty hath bid me proclaim- Let your sails be wide spread & the gentle winds will soon waft you into a safe harbor – A Country where you will find hospitality.- And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land. 

Each of these passages speaks of communications with the Almighty, the storms ceasing, and going to a place better than where they are now. Though similarities exist, these passages prove nothing for the critics that argue that Joseph Smith plagiarized The Book of Mormon. One of my favorite comparisons is that Nephi, in the last verse, tells the reader that the Lord brought them forth to what he calls “the promised land”, while the protagonist of Manuscript, Found tells us a few pages later that God “bro’t us over mountain billows to this butt end of the world” [pg. 12]. Though I doubt he was trying to be funny, it seems humorous to compare Spaulding’s “butt end of the world” to Nephi’s “promised land”.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 16 2 Nephi 1:15
Hail ye favorite children of the great & good Spirit, who resides in the sun, who is the father of all living creatures & whose arms incircle us all around -who defends us from the malicious designs of that gr<e>at malignant Spirit that pours upon us all the evils we endure he gives us all our meat & our fish. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.

I liked this passage from Manuscript, Found. It’s poetic and beautiful though I am having trouble finding passages from The Book of Mormon that fit it specifically. Mosiah 2:21 is similar in that it says that “if ye should serve him [God] who has created you from the beginning” which is similar to Spaulding’s “who is the father of all living creatures.” Again in the same verse from The Book of Mormon it states that God is “preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that you may live and move and do” and later in verse 34 where it reads “ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are” are all similar to Spaulding’s “he gives us all our meat & our fish”, but none of these are so specific that one should think that Joseph plagiarized them. The image of God encircling us in His arms is not new and it is not singular to Spaulding’s manuscript.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 16 Alma 40:13-14
But wo unto you wicked, malicious, mischevous mortals -your lot will be cast in a dark, dreary, miry Swamp -where the malignant spirit will torment you with musquetoes & serpents & will give you nothing to eat but toads, frogs & snails …the spirits of the wicked …shall be cast into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.

Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.

I had to search pretty hard to find a verse that correlated at all for this passage. I mean, toads, frogs and snails? I think I’d take all of that compared to the weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and the fiery indignation of God’s wrath. 

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 23 Ether 9:19
Mammoons [informing us that] These were an Annimal of prodigious mangitude, even biger than the elephant, which the natives had tamed & domesticated -They were very segacious & docile & were employed in carying burthens & in drawing timber & in plowing their Land And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms. 

I probably didn’t need to pull out these passages. Joseph Smith never uses the word mammoth, but it seems like a widely accepted belief among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that this is indeed what Joseph Smith meant. But despite the fact that we have no idea what kinds of animals cureloms and cumoms are, the only real similarity in these passages is that both animals were useful. Spaulding goes into great detail about how the animals behaved and yet all The Book of Mormon says is that they were “useful unto man.”

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 29 Ether 7:9
By hammering & hardening their Iron they would convert it nearly into the consistence of Steal -& fit it for the purpose of edge tools Wherefore, he came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for those whom he had drawn away with him; and after he had armed them with swords he returned to the city…

Both books mention how the people made things out of steel (one tools, the other swords). If Joseph Smith did indeed plagiarize, he’s only taking snippets. There’s really not much to this. But I shall persist.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 33 Jacob 1:3
Records are kept of the transactions of their goverments. Their constitutions & laws are committed to writing – A sacred Roll in manuscript is preserved among the Records of their Emperors & kings, & are dispersed thro the impire For he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other plates, and that I should preserve these plates and hand them down unto my seed, from generation to generation.

I recognize that I may be stretching some of these. It’s hard to find verses in The Book of Mormon that fit well enough that it could be called a “match” at all, let alone an “exact match”. Both passages talk about the people preserving records (one of government, other the history of the people) and handing them down. 

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 35 Alma 23:2
…it has been the policy of all governments to encourage & protect some kind of Religion Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries. 

This idea really isn’t new. The freedom of speech and belief is a battle as old as time.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 37 2 Nephi 2:14-17
There is an inteligent omnipotent Being, who is self existant & infinitely good & benevolent- Matter eternally existed- He put forth his hand & formed it into such bodies as he pleased- He presides over the universe & has a perfect knowledge of all things… There is also another great inteligent Being who is self existent & possessed of great power but not of Omnipotence- He is filled with infinite malice against the good Being & exerts all his subtlety & pow[er] to ruin his works there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

…And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he become a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

These passages are very similar. They both talk about God being the Great Creator and how the Devil seeks evil before and against God. But again, these ideas are not new -good versus evil, God versus the Devil.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 39 Alma 39:12
Let Parents restrain the vices of their children & instruct their minds in useful knowledge- Contention & strife is is the Bane of Families & the destruction of domestic happiness And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;

If you’re a parent and believe in God, these passages won’t stand out as anything out of the ordinary. The ideas of being a godly parent are the same, but there is nothing that shouts plagiarism.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 39 3 Nephi 14:12
As the great author of being <our existence> is benevolent to all his ofspring so it becomes us to be benevolent to our fellow beings around us If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.

God is our Father, we ought to treat each other as His children. Again, this idea is not new. Also, if you’re versed in the Bible you’ll notice that he is quoting Matthew 7 from the New Testament. This happens often in The Book of Mormon just as it happens in the New Testament, when newer prophets quote older prophets.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 39 Helaman 12:7-8
As only a single particle from his substance constitutes our souls, how small, how diminitive must we appear in the view of Omniicence– We must therefore contemplate his attributes thro the medium of his works- & admire with profound reverance & adoration his wisdom goodness & power which are visible in the formation & arangement of all materiall bodies & spiritual beings O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. 

For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.

This was another poetic passage from Manuscript, Found! that had similar ideas as The Book of Mormon.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 58 Helman 6:7-8
These two empires continued to progress in their improvments <& population> & to rival each other in prosperity during the reign of Ten successive Emperors on the Throne of Sciota- Peace & harmony and friendly intercourse existed between them- No wars took place to disturb their tranquility except what arose from the surrounding Savages… And behold, there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. 

And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go withersoever they would …and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.

This passage has a little more backbone than the others, but not by much. Two groups of people who experience peace and free or friendly communications or dealings.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 67 Alma 53:3-4
Near every vilage or City they constructed forts or fortifications- These were generally of an oval form & of different dementions according to the number of inhabitants who lived in the Town.- The Ramparts or walls, were formed of dirt which was taken in front of the fort. A deep canal or trench would likewise be formed– This would still encrease the difficulty of surmounting the walls in front.- In addition to this they inserted sticks <pieces> of Timber on top of the Ramparts- These peices were about seven feet in length from the ground to top which was sharpned- The distance betwen each peice was about six inches- thro which they could shoot their arrows against an enimy. …and Teancum, by the orders of Moroni, caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful.

And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height.

 

When I came across this section in Spaulding’s book I had to stop. The similarities between these two books is striking. Yet, after only a few minutes of internet research, it seems that the idea of ancient indian fortifications is not new nor is it exclusive to these two books. For example, Samuel de Champlain, who was a French colonist, navigator, cartographer and soldier, published a book in 1604 titled Voyages that describes the American indians as having forts. Included in the book is this insightful illustration. Notice the wall, the sharpened timbers, the canal? Likewise the Stonington, Connecticut Deeds published in 1680 describes an “indian fence at quahquetoye”. In the book Ancestors and Descendants of Jonathan Abell who came from Connecticut and Settled in Schenectady County, New York, About 1812 they also describe an indian fence. Others like Jeremy Belknap and Henry Baker describe these ancient indian fences. Later researches like Ephriam Squier and Edwin Davis would also add to these findings of ancient fortifications. With Spaulding description it seems to make more sense to me that Spaulding used Champlain’s description rather than that Joseph used Spaulding’s description. The depiction of the sharpened timber and a canal are nowhere to be found in The Book of Mormon. 

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 89 Mosiah 8:13, 17
Hamack then arose & in his hand he held a stone which he pronounced transparent- Tho’ it was not transparent to common eyes.- Thro this <he> could view things present & things to come– could behold the dark intrigues & cabals of foreign courts- & behold <discover> hidden treasures, secluded from the eyes of other mortals. Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date… And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.

…a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things come to light

In my last post I wrote about seer stones and how they were common during Joseph Smith’s time. I won’t say much to this similarity because we already know that many people owned and believe in seer stones. Smith and Spaulding could have simply been taking from the common practice of their time.

 

Manuscript, Found The Book of Mormon
Page 109 Ether 15:23-27
…both armies proceeded to make provision to refresh themselvs, being nearly exhausted by the fate<a>gue fatigues of a most bloody Contest which had lasted nearly five hours. That day afforded them no time to bury their dead- The Sun did not tarry in his course but hid himself below the Horizon & darkness spread itself over the face of the earth.- The warriors with their spears in their hands extended themselvs upon the earth, and spent the night in rest & sleep– Next morning they arose with renovated vigor. Their tho’ts were immediatly turned to the sanguine field- Many warriors say they lie there, pier<c>ed with <mortal> wounds & covered with with blood- And on the morrow they fought again; and when the night came they had all fallen by the sword save it were fifty and two of the people of Coriantumr, and sixty and nine of the people of Shiz.

And it came to pass that they slept upon their swords that night, and on the morrow they fought again, and they contended in their might with their swords and with their shields, all that day.

…And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for death on the morrow. And they were large and mighty men as to the strength of men. 

And it came to pass that they fought for the space of three hours, and they fainted with the loss of blood. 

Really, only that the armies slept upon their weapons is similar and that seems to be a practical practice in the midst of war.

 

Differences Between the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript and The Book of Mormon

In these charts I have shown you only the similarities between these two books. There are, however, a great many differences.

Manuscript, Found has a lengthy love triangle between Princess Lamesa, Prince Elseon and the King of Sciota. The people in Spaulding’s book do not abide by the laws set forth by Moses while the people in The Book of Mormon adhere to it very strictly (which is the entire backbone for the theory that Joseph Smith used View of the Hebrews to plagiarize The Book of Mormon, but more on that later). And, if I am reading the story correctly, the Spaulding manuscript tells a story about a man who formed “a curious machine by which <& having seated himself upon it> he mounted into the Atmosphere & assended a great height- & having sailed a considerable distance <thro the air>, he decended slowly & received no damage” [pg. 40]. This same man goes on in fame because of his intelligence and eloquence with the people “all.. Pronouncing him to be the most extraordinary man in existence & generally beleived that he held conversation with celestial beings- & always acted under the influence of divine inspiration.- The people were very liberal in their donations, which enabled him to support his family in affluence” [pg. 40]. This story has no similarities to the Book of Mormon and reminds the reader more of an H. G. Wells novel than of Holy Scripture. Also, only once in Manuscript Found! (on page 11) does the protagonist mention anything about Jesus Christ (and this as a passing remark) while The Book of Mormon is filled with His name (on average every 1.5 verses). Another difference is that The Book of Mormon speaks often of specific dates and years while on the other hand Manuscript, Found! never seems to have a specific date in mind. Another difference that I found interesting is that the Original Manuscript for The Book of Mormon has minimal changes in it, while the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript is loaded with strikethroughs and scribbles. 

In truth, it would be difficult to write a novel about missionaries coming to the New World and have there not be similarities to a true book of scripture. It is true that both books have themes of faith in Christ, repentance, keeping the commandments and keeping the Sabbath day holy (although for Spaulding it was “on evry eighth day” [page 39] instead of the seven, as is taught in the Book of Mormon). Other themes like righteous obtaining happiness after death and the wicked being cast out to “dwel in darkness & are tormented with the keenest anguish” are present in both books. All of these ideas are reflected on page 37 of Spaulding’s book. Spaulding talks about judgment, resurrected bodies, and being saved -all of which are common teachings in the Christian world and are likewise present in The Book of Mormon. But to say that Joseph plagiarized these ideas is like saying J. K. Rowling plagiarized Harry Potter because it is about wizards, magic wands, and good versus evil -all of which are common themes in fantasy novels.

If there is anything i have missed or similarities that you wish me to highlight that I have not, please tell me. It is not my intention to leave anything out just because it is convenient to my beliefs. I wish to know as well as anyone if The Book of Mormon is the word of God or if it is simply the work of another man’s genius. That being said, I do believe that The Book of Mormon is the word of God. While reading Manuscript, Found! I told my husband that if Joseph Smith did indeed use the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript to write The Book of Mormon, then he sure did a much better job at writing than Spaulding did. The Book of Mormon is filled with beautiful passages, stories of faith, and Hebrew stylistic writing that is no where to be found in Manuscript, Found!

One critic of The Book of Mormon, Isaac Woodbridge Riley, wrote: “The commonly accepted Spaulding theory is insoluble from external evidence and disproved by internal evidence” [Riley, The Founder of Mormonism, 172]. In Tad R. Callister’s book A Case for the Book of Mormon he explained that when he was in his twenties the Church History Department was selling Manuscript, Found! for just a dollar. He ordered a copy and read over it, he said he “found no meaningful resemblance whatsoever between the two books. In spite of the foregoing, a few critics continue to beat this dead-horse theory hoping it will run, even though it has not had a heartbeat for over a century” [page 23].

To the sincere soul seeking to learn if The Book of Mormon is true, I hope this helps. To the critic wondering if Joseph Smith plagiarized the book, I also hope this helped. To those still doubting, stay tuned for my next article as we explore View of the Hebrews.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here