As stated in my last article, in my next several posts I will be exploring the text of different books that critics claim to be the origin for The Book of Mormon. In this article I’m going to explore the similarities between The Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith.

What is View of the Hebrews?

View of the Hebrews is a nonfiction work, written by a man named Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith) and it was published in 1823. Ethan Smith was a United States Congregationalist minister, who argued that the Native Americans were descended from the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.

The argument that The Book of Mormon plagiarizes Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews was not first made until seventy-two years after The Book of Mormon was published. (The theory was proposed by a man named I. Woodridge Riley in his book The Founder of Mormonism.) The question then is: If the connection between both books was so obvious, why did it take critics seven decades to discover it?

Another piece of interest that I’d like to point out is that Joseph Smith himself talked about this book in his own newspaper titled Times and Seasons. On June 1, 1842, he quoted View of the Hebrews in support of The Book of Mormon when he said:

“If such may have been the fact, that a part of the Ten Tribes came over to America, in the way we have supposed, leaving the cold regions of Assareth behind them in quest of a milder climate, it would be natural to look for tokens of the presence of Jews of some sort, along countries adjacent to the Atlantic. In order to this, we shall here make an extract from an able work: written exclusively on the subject of the Ten Tribes having come from Asia by the way of the Bherings Strait, by the Rev. Ethan Smith, Pultney, Vt., who relates as follows: ‘Joseph Merrick, Esq., a highly respectable character in the church at Pittsfield, gave the following account: That in 1815, he was leaving some ground under and near an old wood shed, standing on a place of his, situated on (Indian Hill)…[Joseph then discusses the supposed phylacteries found among the Amerindians, citing View of the Hebrews p. 220, 223.]”

Why would a con man give direct attention to the work from which he supposedly derived his ideas? And why, after he did give direction attention to this work, did it take seventy-two years for these eager critics of the Church to point out their correlations?

One such eager critic, Fawn Brodie, acknowledged obvious differences between the two books: “Thus, where View of the Hebrews was just bad scholarship, the Book of Mormon was highly original and imaginative fiction” [Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 48]. Tad R. Callister (a law-man and member of the Church) humorously pointed out that “Evidently, Brodie claims that in some mysterious, inexplicable way, Joseph Smith transformed a sow’s ear (View of the Hebrews) into a silk purse (The Book of Mormon), hardly a rousing endorsement for an alleged act of plagiarism” [Callister, A Case for the Book of Mormon, 23].

But, again, I am not here to argue what critics were thinking when they proposed this act of plagiarism. I am here to compare both texts and allow you to decide for yourself without you having to read both books in their entirety. Although, I must say, of the list of books I gave in my last post, this one has by far been my favorite to read.

Please Note: Ethan Smith’s object in writing his book was to show that the Native Americans originated from Israel. The Book of Mormon begins with a family from Israel who travels over to this continent. Naturally, if both books are true, there could be some similarities as they both propose to be about people who lived on this continent anciently. My research is not to show that the books are completely different. My research is to discover if Joseph Smith plagiarized Ethan Smith’s work. Respectively, the word “plagiarized” means to take the work or idea of someone else and pass it off as one’s own. With that being said, I shall proceed…

 

Similarities Between View of the Hebrews and The Book of Mormon 

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 12 Alma 49:3
Signal vengeance was taken on Joppa, which had in part been rebuilt, after it had been by Cestius reduced to ashes.  Behold, I said that the city of Ammonihah had been rebuilt. I say unto you, yea, that it was in part rebuilt; and because the Lamanites had destroyed it once because of the iniquity of the people, they supposed that it would again become an easy prey for them. 

This was the first phrase that caught my attention because The Book of Mormon has nearly the exact same phrase. But three similar words in the same order hardly give any backbone to the theory of plagiarism.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 30 Ether 2:5
“But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never man dwelt; that they might there keep their statutes which they never kept …in their own land…” And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel. 

Here is another phrase that is very similar. The idea is the same but the word choice is different.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 32 Title Page of the Book of Mormon
They [the Indians] tell you of the confusion of languages once when people were building a great high place; and of the longevity of the ancestors… An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven-
Page 48 Ether 1:33
The Indian added, to Dr. Beatty, that “a long time ago the people went to build a high place; that while they were building, they lost their language, and could not understand each other.” Which Jared came forth with his brother and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered.

I actually loved finding these specific similarities (and there are others that I did not include due to space in this post). In the Introduction to The Book of Mormon (which was not directly translated as was the Title Page) we read specifically that The Book of Mormon “is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas.” It also says that all the people spoken of in The Book of Mormon were destroyed except for a single group of people known as the Lamanites and that “they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” So, naturally, as I mentioned before, if The Book of Mormon is true there will be similarities from View of the Hebrews such as this one.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 33  Mormon 5:19-20
…they shall seek his word and will from their priests, and from their religious traditions; but shall not find it; but shall remain in their roving wretched state, till the distant period of their recovery from their exilement shall arrive And behold, the Lord hath reserved their blessings, which they might have received in the land, for the Gentiles who shall possess the land. But behold, it shall come to pass that they shall be drive and scattered by the Gentiles, and behold, then will the Lord remember the covenant which he made unto Abraham and unto all the house of Israel.
Page 54
After some conversation, his wife, and old woman, told us, that when she was a small child, the old people used to say that good people would come to instruct the Cherokees at some future period; and that perhaps she and others of her age would live to see the day. And now she thought that, perhaps, we and the other missionaries had come to give them that instruction.
Page 104  Mormon 9:36
Here is the final Hebrew restoration, after the time of their doubly long corrective rejection for their sins shall have expired. The voice in the wilderness then follows, as the great means of this restoration. [p.257] And behold, these things which we have desired concerning our brethren, yea, even their restoration to the knowledge of Christ, are according to the prayers of all the saints who have dwelt in the land.

This outlook of hope which prevails among the American Indians is throughout Ethan Smith’s book. Similarly, the idea that the Lamanites will eventually receive again the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ is also throughout The Book of Mormon.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 42 Alma 42:9
The immortality of the soul was every where admitted among the Indian tribes. Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.

This teaching is published widely in the Book of Mormon (see 2 Nephi 9:13, Mosiah 2:28, Mosiah 2:38, Alma 12:20, Helaman 3:30) and again similarities in teachings and traditions of these American Indians helps to prove, not disprove, the authenticity of The Book of Mormon.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 51 Alma 16:5
…the western Indians, have their high priest, who pretends to great intimacy with the Great Spirit, and to be able to foretel [sic] future events …now Zoram and his two sons, knowing that Alma was high priest over the church, and having heard that he had the spirit of prophecy, therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites.

While these ideas in both books are very similar, by definition a High Priest is the one being who can enter the Holy of Holies (a place in the Israelite temples never mentioned in the Book of Mormon) to converse with the Lord.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 54 Alma 3:26
An old native approaching him with a basket of summer fruit, said… “If you are men subject to mortality like ourselves, you cannot be unapprized that after this lie, there is another, in which a very different portion is allotted to good and bad men. If therefore you expect to die, and believe with us that every one is to be rewarded in a future state according to his conduct in the presence, you will do not hurt to those who do none to you.” [p. 133-p. 134] And in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world, that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one.

Ethan Smith also explains this same idea on page 67 when he says that the Indians believed in “a future state of existence, and of future rewards and punishments”. He goes on to explain that the conduct of the Indians is founded on “a perfect conviction that the cultivation and observance of good and virtuous actions in this life, will in the next entitle them to the perpetual enjoyment of ease and happiness -where they will again be restored to the favour and enjoy the immediate presence, counsel and protection of the Great Spirit; while dereliction from it –will as assuredly entail on them endless afflictions.” Again, this idea is not new nor is it exclusive to either of these books. The idea of future enjoyment or future punishment gives half of the earthly inhabitants today a reason for moral conduct and it has been this way since the beginning of time. 

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 55 Helaman 12:3
an old Indian said; “My dear companion; thou hast hitherto encouraged us. Wilt thou now quite give up? Remember that evil days are better than good days. For when we suffer much, we do not sin; and sin will be driven out of us by suffering. But good days cause men to sin; and God cannot extend his mercy to such. But when it goes evil with us, God has compassion on us.” And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.

The ideas in these passages are vaguely similar. Mostly I wanted an excuse to share the thoughts of this “old Indian” from Ethan Smith’s book. How poetic a sentiment!

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 55 3 Nephi 27:33
An old Indian king, Ockanickon, who died 1681…. he said, as he was about to die; “There are two ways; a broad, and a straight way. The worst and the greatest number go in the broad way; the best and the fewest in the straight way.” And it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he said unto his disciples: Enter in at the strait gate; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work.

This teaching is also found in the New Testament in Matthew 7 where the Savior teaching the same thing. This seems to be a common theme in the Christian world.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 65 2 Nephi 9:13
They all agreed in the belief of the immortality o the soul. This consolatory truth is deeply rooted, and in a manner innate with them. -They hold that man is composed of two substances essentially different; the corruptible body and the soul, incorporeal and eternal. O how great the plan of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again…

The verse I pulled from The Book of Mormon might not be the best, but this teaching is taught plentifully within its pages.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 70 Introduction
The probability then is this; that the ten tribes, arriving in this continent with some knowledge of the acts of civilized life; finding themselves in a vast wilderness filled with the best game, inviting them to chase; most of them fell into a wandering idle hunting life. Different clans parted from each other, lost each other, and formed separate tribes. Most of them formed a habit of this idle mode of living, and were pleased with it. More sensible parts of this people associated together, to improve their knowledge of the arts; and probably continued thus for ages. For these the noted relics of civilization discovered in the west and south were furnished. But the savage tribes prevailed; and in process of time their savage jealousies and rage annihilated their more civilized brethren. And thus, as a holy vindictive Providence would have it, and according to the ancient denunciations, all were left in an “outcast” savage state. This accounts for their loss of the knowledge of letters, of the art of navigation, and of the use of iron. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indian.

A few times Ethan Smith gives an overview of the ancient history of these Native American Indians. He says, on the same page, the following:

“These partially civilized people became extinct. What account can be given of this, but that the savages extirpated them, after long and dismal wars? And nothing appears more probable than that they were the better part of the Israelites who came to this continent, who for a long time retained their knowledge of the mechanic and civil arts; while the greater part of their brethren became savage and wild. -No other hypothesis occurs to mind, which appears by any means so probable” [page 70].

And later he reiterates:

“It is highly probable that the more civilized part of the tribes of Israel, after they settled in America, became wholly separated from the hunting and savage tribes of their brethren; that the latter lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family with themselves; that the more civilized part continued for many centuries; that tremendous wars were frequent between them and their savage brethren, till the former became extinct” [p. 173].

I love these excerpts from Ethan Smith. These paragraphs seems to sum up the entire backdrop for the Book of Mormon. I love this, because if the Book of Mormon were true (which I believe that it is) then the history of the Native Americans would support what Joseph stated in the Introduction that the Lamanites are among the ancestors of the American Indians.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 76 Alma 48:8
Relative to the ancient forts and tumult, the writer of the Archaeology says; “These military works, –these walls and ditches cost so much labour in their structure; those numerous and sometimes tasty mounds, which owe their origin to a people far more civilized than our Indians, but far less so than Europeans; -are interesting on many accounts to the antiquarian, to the philosopher, and the divine. Especially when we consider the immense extent of country which they cover; the great labour which they cost their authors; the acquaintance with the useful arts which that people had, when compared with our present race of Indians; the grandeur of many of the works themselves and the total absence of all historical records, or even traditionary accounts, respecting them. They were once forts, cemeteries, temples, altars, camps, towns, villages, race grounds, and other places of amusement, habitations of chieftains, videttes, watch towers, and monuments. Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.

The passage I chose from The Book of Mormon doesn’t quite capture all that is being pulled from Ethan Smith’s findings. The ancient American Indians were so civilized that they built forts, temples, altars, camps, towns, villages, even race grounds and places of amusement, etc., many of which are talked about in the Book of Mormon.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 90 Mormon 9:33
An old Indian informed him that his fathers in this country had not long since had a book which they had for a long time preserved. But having lost the knowledge of reading it, they concluded it would be of no further use to them; and they buried it with an Indian chief. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language

This phrase from View of the Hebrews actually made me giddy. Even reading over it again is making me excited for The Book of Mormon. Also, on page 107 of View of the Hebrews we find this sentence: “Whence their ideas that their ancestors once had the book of God; and then were happy; but that they lost it; and then became miserable; but that they will have this book again at some time.” Now, I am not attempting to say that the American Indians here are referring specifically to the golden plates that Joseph Smith translated, we have no way of knowing. But the idea that the Indians knew of a book that was written in a different language and that was sacred enough to preserve and then to bury with their chief is in itself a witness that The Book of Mormon could be true. The Book of Mormon was written in what was called Reformed Egyptian -a language that no one could understand. The practice of burying records is found throughout its pages (4 Nephi 1:48; Mormon 1:2; Mormon 6:6; Mormon 8:4; Ether 15:11). If one could take Ethan Smith at his word, that American Indians buried records in a language they did not understand, then one could believe that The Book of Mormon is indeed true.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
Page 102 Helaman 12:1
The God of Abraham is a God of judgment; while blessed are all they that put their trust in him. …we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him. 

This idea is not new nor is it exclusive to Ethan Smith or Joseph Smith.

 

View of the Hebrews The Book of Mormon
One and only one God
Kept from idolatry —–
God is Yohewah, Ale, Yah —–
God made man from earth
God made good and bad spirits
Ancestors once had the book of God
They will have the book again at some time
Their ancestors once worked miracles
Their ancestors once foretold future events
Tradition of offering first ripe fruits —–
Built temples unto God
Temples contained holy of holies —–
Succession of high priests
Priests perform purifications and anointing —–
Priests make yearly atonement —–
Three annual feasts —–
Males appear three times annually in temple —–
Places of refuge for avengers of blood —–
Keep and venerate a sacred ark —–
Cannot eat the hollow of the animal thigh —–
Right of circumcision
Idea of a Jubilee —–
Longevity of the ancients —–
Tower of Babel
Religious dances and music —–
Purifying themselves with bitter vegetables —–
Fasting
Purifying themselves before going to war —–
The dead sleep and go to their fathers
Washing and anointing dead; mourning dead; singing around corpse Yahewah’s name. —–
Separations of women —–
Taking their shoes from off their feet on solemn occasions —–
In mourning lay hands on mouth, in dust —–
Ancient father and twelve sons

I constructed this chart mainly from page 107 of View of the Hebrews and then check-marked if those same elements were to be found in The Book of Mormon. Out of these 34 elements, only 14 were found to be in common with both books. That’s a little more than one third in common. 

 

Did Joseph Plagiarize View of the Hebrews?

In seeking to answer honestly the question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize View of the Hebrews? I have constructed the following list:

If Joseph Smith used View of the Hebrews to write The Book of Mormon:

  • Joseph would have learned from Ethan Smith that the Indians’ language was the same as the Hebrew and would have had to become, on his own, a master in the Hebrew language as The Book of Mormon is filled with complex Hebrew writing styles, none of which are found or mentioned in View of the Hebrews.
  • He would had to have constructed a backstory that represented in any degree many of the aspects discussed by Ethan Smith in his book (i.e. temples, high priests, monarchy, mining copper, working metals, costly clothing, etc.).
  • Joseph would have had to choose carefully which aspects from Ethan Smith’s book he did NOT wish to include (i.e. mosaic feasts, sacred arks, holy of holies, purifications with vegetables, etc.).
  • Joseph would have had to ignore every statement made in Ethan’s book about the Indians coming to this continent by way of the Beering Strait

 

In a talk given by Tad R. Callister, who received his masters degree in law at the New York University, he says the following:

“I too have read View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. Suffice it to say, these two books have totally different objectives and writing styles. For example, the Book of Mormon’s principal focus is to testify of Jesus Christ and His doctrine. Accordingly, the historical setting is not the focus, but it is rather the background music that gives context and emphasis to the doctrine. The principal focus, however, for View of the Hebrews is to historically connect the Native Americans to the ancient Hebrews. In addition, View of the Hebrews is a series of independent quotes and purported evidences to prove its theory. On the other hand, the Book of Mormon is a cohesive narrative- a story of families and prophets who struggled to live God’s word. The purpose and style of these two books is most disparate. Any honest reader can determine that for himself” [The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given? 2016].

I propose that Joseph Smith did not plagiarize View of the Hebrews. The two books have similarities, it is true, but the elements, writing styles, and overall aims are vastly different. If Joseph Smith were going to borrow material to help him fabricate The Book of Mormon, there were other sources other than Ethan Smith’s book that he could have used. Everything that is in common between both books could have easily been borrowed from the Bible or from prevailing beliefs at that time. Nothing points, in any sense, to the idea that Joseph Smith used View of the Hebrews to construct The Book of Mormon. I wonder if the reason critics steered away from View of the Hebrews as the original source for The Book of Mormon for so long was because it so well supports rather than contradicts its content.

To those seeking to understand the true origin of The Book of Mormon, I hope this has helped. If the question of plagiarism is still weighting on your mind, I hope that you will stay tuned for my next article where we shall review The Late War, Between the United States and Great Britain by Gilbert J. Hunt.

 

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