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The Book of Mormon II

by M.S.C., S.T.D. Leslie Rumble

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    Document Information

  • Descriptive Title:
    The Book of Mormon - Part Two
    Description:
    In this second part of a two part series on Mormonism, Father Rumble deals with the origin of the Book of Mormon.
  • Larger Work:
    Homiletic & Pastoral Review
  • Pages: 338 – 345
  • Publisher & Date:
    Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York, NY, January 1960

We are told that there is no possible explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon except that given by Joseph Smith himself, namely, that the angel Moroni revealed to him the location of the buried plates, and that he was only the "translator" and not the "author" of the work.

Discarding as untenable the earlier theories that Joseph Smith simply plagiarized the so-called Spaulding manuscript and that he was assisted by the ex-Campbellite preacher Sidney Rigdon, the question to be solved is whether it was possible for him by his own natural powers to have conceived and written such a book.

We could here argue briefly as Mormons themselves would have to do in regard to Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures. Christian Scientists say that her book must be divinely-inspired because she could not have conceived and written such a work by her own unaided natural powers. Others, however, refusing to attribute the absurd and self-contradictory contents of the book to God, insist that the book itself is evidence of her ability to write it.

In the same way, we are justified in taking the Book of Mormon and concluding from it to Joseph Smith's ability to dictate such a work to his scribes.

Sources of the Story

The book was not solely a product of his imagination. There were more than enough ideas ready at hand for him to draw upon as he went along.

The main theme of his narrative is to be found in Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews; or the Ten Tribes of Israel in America, published in 1823, four years before Joseph claimed to have unearthed the golden plates. Ethan Smith, a Vermont clergyman, maintained that the ancient Americans were Jewish in origin, that they had built up a great civilization, that they had their own inspired prophets, and that they were destined by God to gather the last remnants of Israel in the latter days, all being converted to Christianity. He gave long citations from Isaiah, and placed great reliance upon the prophecy that the "stick of Judah" and the "stick of Joseph" would eventually be united.35

In developing this story there was room for many incidents invented by Joseph himself, but these were chiefly of various adventures and wars which are not beyond the capacity of any highly-imaginative youth of his years. Many of his incidents are clearly borrowed from the Bible, such as Aminadi's deciphering of the handwriting on a wall,36 the dancing of the daughter of Jared in order to secure the beheading of Omer,37 and the sudden conversion of Alma the younger like another Saul on the road to Damascus.38

Interwoven with these various episodes and adventures are long transcriptions taken directly from the King James' Bible, with occasional slight variations of the wording. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge estimates these as "about 300 passages, namely, large portions of Isaiah, the entire Sermon on the Mount (according to Matthew), and a few verses from St. Paul."39 The sections of Isaiah were mainly those that had been used by Ethan Smith in his View of the Hebrews.

That Joseph was thoroughly familiar with the King James' Bible is admitted by Mormons themselves. His mother records how in his teens he refused to attend Methodist camp-meetings, saying, "I can take my Bible and go into the woods and learn more in two hours than you can learn in two years, if you should go all the time."40

Many descriptive passages and speeches put on the lips of various characters throughout the book reflect the religious controversies and agitations of the times. A wave of intensified anti-Catholicism was sweeping through New England even as 1 Nephi, 13 & 14, was being penned, with its violent denunciation of the Catholic Church. In 1826 an ex-freemason, William Morgan, was murdered, and was said to have been killed by his former fellow-Masons for revealing the secrets of the Order. One can see how the widespread fears and political unrest to which this gave rise inspired the thought of the oath-bound Gadianton movement, pledged to secret machinations against the Nephites.41

Referring to the influence of the current religious teachings of various denominations, Hasting's Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics says, "The speech of Nephi contains quotations from the 'Westminster Confession of faith,' and the speech of Lehi the heretical tenets charged against the Presbytery of Geneva, N. Y., in whose boundaries Joseph himself lived. The book is also interspersed with the catch-words of the Methodist camp-meeting exhorter, its last section being a palpable imitation of a Methodist Book of Discipline."42

Joseph Smith had not much schooling; but that he was "ignorant and unsophisticated" cannot be sustained. He read a great deal, had a retentive memory, was an enthralling conversationalist, and had a gift of imaginative fantasy which caused him to describe the most ordinary events with colorful exaggerations.43

Speed of Composition

Mormons argue that even if the conception of such a work was not beyond his capacity, it would certainly not have been naturally possible for him to dictate a book of over 300,000 words in seventy-five working days. While readily admitting, however, that the composition of the book in so short a time was a feat of perseverance, and that the speed was remarkable even allowing for the fact that some 27,000 words were dictated directly from the Bible, we must again say that what he accomplished is merely evidence that he had the natural ability to do it.

An ordinary St. Louis, Missouri, housewife, Mrs. John Curran, a devotee of "automatic writing," produced at enormous speed poetry, proverbs, prayers, conversation, and even full-length novels. At times she would write more than one novel at a time, a few hundred words of one, then of another, never forgetting, even after a lapse of weeks, where to start.44

It has been argued that a recent translation of the Book of Mormon into a foreign tongue took nine months of hard work, and that it must have been much harder to write the original. But that does not follow. To translate Edgar Wallace's 80,000 word novel The Devil Man, into a foreign language would mean months of work, yet he wrote it between a Friday night and the following Monday morning, in less than sixty hours, telling Sir Patrick Hastings, who was staying with him at the time, that the feat was "nothing extraordinary."45 Edgar Wallace could plan new novels seven at a time.

One can legitimately argue to a man's natural gifts from what he has actually accomplished, and this applies to Joseph Smith even as to other men.

"Reformed Egyptian" Pretence

But if Joseph thought out for himself all that he dictated to his scribes, what is to be said of the Mormon claim that, when shown copies of them, learned linguists pronounced the engraved characters on the plates to be genuine examples of "reformed Egyptian" hieroglyphics?

The claim is simply to be rejected as untrue. The one recognized scholar whose name can be rightly quoted in this connection was Professor Charles Anthon, of Columbia College, N.Y., and he indignantly repudiated the verdict Mormons attribute to him.

Martin Harris, who provided the greater part of the money for the printing of the Book of Mormon, persuaded Joseph Smith to draw for him at least a copy of some of the characters on the plates. Joseph drew some hieroglyphic figures, declaring them "reformed Egyptian," which the Nephite prophet Mormon had chosen instead of Hebrew because it took less space. Armed with this copy, Harris visited Professor Anthon, and reported him as saying that the characters were genuine.

On hearing of this, Professor Anthon, in a letter dated Feb. 17, 1834, wrote: "The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be 'reformed Egyptian' is perfectly false." He added that the whole tale of the golden plates was intended to be either "a hoax upon the learned," or "a scheme to cheat the farmer (Harris) of his money." "I must beg you as a personal favor," he wrote to Eber D. Howe, "to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned by these wretched fanatics."46

It was a sheer pretense on Joseph Smith's part that there were any hieroglyphics at all. An enlightening incident is described by Henry Caswall, a teacher of Greek in a St. Louis College. In 1842 he visited Joseph Smith at Nauvoo and showed him a copy of the Psalms in Greek, only to receive from Smith the assurance: "This book is very valuable. It is a dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphics!"47

The "golden plates" having been taken away from this world by the angel Moroni, there is, of course, no way now in which to check them. But a later writing, the so-called Book of Abraham, affords absolute proof that Joseph Smith knowingly and willfully perpetrated a fraud in its regard.

Joseph Smith bought an ancient roll of papyrus from a traveling showman, Michael H. Chandler, who visited Kirtland, Ohio, in 1833, exhibiting Egyptian mummies and other curios. Smith declared the roll to be a holy document, written by the hand of Abraham himself. He produced what he claimed to be a translation of it, which is still published by the Mormons in The Pearl of Great Price together with three facsimiles of drawings taken from it.

All outstanding Egyptologists to whom the papyrus and drawings have been shown agree that the so-called Book of Abraham has nothing to do with Abraham and nothing like the meaning Smith attributed to them. They are ordinary and commonplace representations of Egyptian funeral rites. The Egyptologists consulted include the American scholars J. H. Breasted, A. Mace, and E. J. Banks; the English experts A. H. Sayce and W. M. Flinders Petrie; and the German A. Wiedemann of Bonn University.48

So overwhelmingly has the Book of Abraham been discredited that the Re-organized Church of Latter-day Saints refuses to acknowledge it as a divinely-inspired work. The mystery is that, having recognized Joseph Smith's claims to be fraudulent in this case, the members of the Reorganized Church can continue to accept him as a prophet sent by God.

Harmony with the Bible

It is urged by Mormons that the Bible surely is true, and that the Book of Mormon is in agreement with the Bible "in all related matters."49 But the agreement is altogether too close, hundreds of exact verbal transcriptions, mistakes included, having been reproduced from the King James' Bible which was not published until 1611 A.D. Joseph Smith could not possibly have got from "reformed Egyptian" inscriptions engraved on plates buried in 420 A.D. exact sentences of Scripture first given to the world over a thousand years later in the King James' English Version!

For example, we read in the King James' Bible, Isaiah, 9:1, "When at first he lightly afflicted the land of Nebulun and the land of Naphtali; and afterwards did more grievously afflict her by the way of sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations."

In the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, 19:1, we read: "When at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations."

The expression in the King James' Bible "did more grievously afflict her" is erroneous and should read, as in the Revised Version, "hath he made it glorious." The prediction was one of future glory, not of further affliction, a prediction of Galilee's great blessing deriving from the life and teaching of the Messiah, the sense in which St. Matthew interpreted it.50 Yet, quite unaware of the inaccuracy of the 1611 A.D. King James' Version, Joseph Smith brazenly pretended that he was translating from Egyptian hieroglyphics dating from 420 A.D. Incidentally, he added a further error of his own by turning "the way of the sea" into "the way of the Red Sea." The "way of the sea" was the trade route from Damascus to the Mediterranean, passing through Galilee westward from the Jordan. Isaiah could not possibly have intended any allusion to the Red Sea.

Instances such as this could be multiplied, as with the use of the word "Jehovah" for God, which, with the miraculous help of his "seer-stones," Urim and Thummin, Joseph Smith found inscribed on the golden plates.51 The form "Jehovah" could not possibly have existed in 420 A.D. since it arose from a misreading of Hebrew vowel points which were not invented until the sixth century A.D. Bruce R. McConkie naively tells us, on this subject, that "the name Jehovah is thought by scholars to be a false reconstruction of the incommunicable name. From latter-day revelation, however, we learn that Jehovah is the English form of the actual name by which the Lord Jesus was known anciently (D. & C., 110:3; Abra., 2:8)."52 Scholars know that the form Jehovah is a false reconstruction.

It has been further argued by Mormons that if Joseph Smith found that the King James' Version rendered correctly what was engraver in "reformed Egyptian" on the plates and used it, he would only be "doing what other translators commonly do."53 But Joseph Smith was not just like other translators. James E. Talmage tells us that "the translation . . . was effected by the power of God," and was "not to be dependent upon the wisdom or learning of man; its translator was not versed in linguistics; his qualifications were of a different and of a more efficient order."54

In other words, "Urim and Thummin" miraculously and infallibly provided Joseph Smith with the English translation of the Egyptian characters, and he had no need of painfully working it out with a King James' Bible beside him, gratefully making use of its assistance wherever it coincided with the ancient hieroglyphs. It follows that if erroneous translations in the King James' Bible did correspond with what was on the plates, then the plates themselves were in error.

But there were no "golden plates" save in the inventive imagination of Joseph Smith himself and in the self-persuasion of his witnesses.

"Book of Mormon" Predicted!

Did not the Bible, however, predict the Book of Mormon and the Restored Church established by Joseph Smith? Mormons say so. But their mishandling of Sacred Scripture in this regard is too arbitrary and irresponsible to warrant really serious consideration.

They can see in Jacob's blessing of Joseph as "a fruitful bough . . . whose branches run over the wall,"55 not a prophesy of well-being for Joseph and his sons Ephraim and Manasseh with their descendants in Palestine, but a prediction that the descendants of Joseph would "run over the wall" by crossing the ocean in 600 B.C. to America!

The "marvellous work and a wonder" foretold by Isaiah56 is for them not the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God as our Divine Teacher and Redeemer — which Isaiah really had in mind — but the discovery of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith and his establishing of the Church of the Latter-day Saints in 1830!

They quote Psalm 85:11, "Truth shall spring out of the earth," and point triumphantly to Joseph Smith's claim that he dug up his golden plates out of the ground.

Ezekiel's prophecy57 that the "stick of Judah" and the "stick of Joseph" will be united, referring to the single kingdom the exiles would form on their return to Jerusalem from captivity, but still more to the spiritual unity of the messianic kingdom to be formed in the future by Christ and the members of His Church, becomes for them a prediction that the Bible and the Book of Mormon will be united to form one single body of divinely-inspired scriptures.

One could play interminably at scriptural interpretation of this kind, reading into the Old Testament prophesies what is simply not there, but which one might like to be there. Serious biblical scholars, however, cannot but treat such fanciful conjectures as merely another example of human folly, refusing to regard them as deserving of the time and patience necessary for a detailed discussion of them.

Confirmed by Science

If scriptural grounds do not impress us, we are given the assurance by Mormon writers that history, ethnology, anthropology, and other branches of science will themselves confirm the truth of their Book.

That Book tells us, as we have seen, that America was first settled by the Jaredites who came from Mesopotamia at the time of the Tower of Babel dispersion, and who occupied the land for some 1,800 years. They had died out by 600 B.C. when Lehi and his company of Jewish migrants came from Jerusalem, the descendants of these developing into the segregated nations of Nephites and Lamanites, named after two of Lehi's sons. The Nephites finally perished about 400 A.D., the Lamanites continuing in a degenerate condition as Red Indians.

In endeavoring to enlist the support of science on behalf of this account, Mormons offer a bewildering array of citations from experts in various branches of knowledge, whether relevant or not; and they betray a curious mixture of confidence and diffidence.

We are told that the Book of Mormon is not historical in the modern sense of the word and that references to cultural, economic, and social life are quite accidental to the main theme. Lowell L. Bennion does not hesitate to say that "there is no sure external proof by which one can with certainty invalidate or substantiate the Book of Mormon story."58

It is admitted that it is quite futile to try to work out geographical details of the migrations to and settlements in America. One might ask why archaeological research, which has been so successful in locating sites mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, should signally fail where the Book of Mormon is concerned. It is strange, too, that the Jews themselves know nothing of the Nephite and Lamanite branches of Israel in America, having only the "divine revelation" in the Book of Mormon on which to depend for this information!

Ethnology

Particular difficulties arise, however, in the field of anthropology and ethnology. Authorities in these sciences reject the account in the Book of Mormon from this point of view as sheer nonsense.

The Jaredites, who are said to have arrived in America about 1,850 years before the Jerusalem group came in 600 B.C., apparently found no other inhabitants in the country.59 But they would have had to come ten times earlier than that to account for fossil remains of man in America dating from ten to twenty thousand years ago.

Again, according to the Book of Mormon, existing Indians are all descendants of the Lamanites and are sprung from a small contingent of the Lost Tribes of Israel. They are, therefore, Semites.60 Their dark color, moreover, is explained by solely religious factor. Their pigmented skin was a divinely-inflicted punishment of their wickedness, and conversion of the Lamanites to the Nephite religion was even rewarded by a sudden restoration of a white complexion.61

But the racial origin of the American Indian has to be sought in Asia. "The findings of anthropometry bear out this inference," writes Professor Alfred L. Kroeber, anthropologist of the University of California. "The Indian belongs obviously to the Mongoloid division of the human species."62 He declares it commonly accepted by anthropologists that the American Indian came from Asia via the Bering Straits.

Anachronisms

One final matter deserves at least passing mention. In answer to the argument that if Joseph Smith composed the Book of Mormon himself he could scarcely have avoided falling into anachronisms (attributing things of later ages to more ancient times), the reply is that he did just that.

He makes Nephi kill Laban with a sword of "most precious steel,"63 although steel was not known in those days; he introduces the mariner's compass64 centuries before the compass was invented; he includes in his golden plates, engraved before 420 A.D., an expression clearly borrowed from Shakespeare's "undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns,"65 although the plates were buried over a thousand years before Shakespeare was born.

But perhaps the most notable instance is that in which he describes the Nephites as having encountered horses in America when they arrived in 600 B.C.66 There were no horses in the country at that time. Horses were introduced into America at the time of the Spanish conquest in the fifteenth century A.D.

It is true that scientists have discovered fossil remains of horses in America, but these pre-date the time of Columbus by some 10,000 years at least. Professor James A. Scott Watson, of Oxford University, writes as follows: "Horses survived in America throughout the Pleistocene period, but at the end of that epoch the whole tribe died out and the continent was not repopulated until the time of the Spanish occupation . . . We can only guess at the cause of the extermination of the horse."67

The Pleistocene period came to an end at least 10,000 years B.C., and from then till the coming of the Spanish, who brought horses with them, there were no living horses in America. If Joseph Smith insisted on making his Nephites meet with horses on their arrival, he should have made them land on America's shores in the Pleistocene period, before 10,000 B.C., and not in 600 B.C.

Conclusion

However sincerely present-day Mormons may be convinced of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, a close study of its origin and a critical analysis of its contents make acceptance of it impossible, unless one is prepared to ignore reason and take refuge in sheer credulity.

From the religious point of view things are more formidable still. For in order to hold that the true Church was restored by Joseph Smith in 1830, Mormons have to teach that there was a complete apostasy of all Christians from Christ before that date, and that can be done only by denying the teaching of the New Testament in which they inconsistently profess continued belief together with belief in their Book of Mormon.

Christ Himself said: "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell (or forces of evil) shall not prevail against it."68 It is too much to ask one who really believes in the divinity of Christ to grant that the gates of hell did prevail against it. Moreover, since Christ said to His Church in the persons of His Apostles, "I will be with you all days even till the end of the world,"69 it cannot be — whatever trials and difficulties the Church may have had to encounter, whether from within or without — that Christ ever deserted the Church He founded, or that His Church ever abandoned Him.

That Church is the original and Catholic Church, the Church of all the centuries from the time of Christ and the Apostles through to the present day. No one who understands the revelation given by Christ Our Lord and enshrined in the pages of the New Testament can believe that this Church hopelessly failed, that a "New Dispensation" became necessary, and that this "New Dispensation" has been given to the world in Mormonism, proclaimed by Joseph Smith in 1830, and professed by his Latter-day Saints.


Endnotes

35. Ezekiel, 37:17.

36. Alma, 10:2.

37. Ether, 8:10.

38. Mosiah, 27:11-16.

39. Vol 8, p. 12.

40. Biographical Sketches Lucy Mack Smith, p. 101.

41. Helaman, c. 6.

42. Vol. XI, p. 85.

43. Joseph Smith's addiction to romantic embellishments was well described in "The St. Louis Globe Democrat," Feb. 2, 1897, by Daniel Hendrix, a typesetter for the Book of Mormon.

44. The Sixth Sense: An Inquiry into Extra-Sensory Perception, by Rosalind Heywood, London, 1959.

45. Edgar Wallace, by Margaret Lane, pp. 355-6.

46. Mormonism Unveiled, by E. D. Howe, p. 270.

47. The City of the Mormons, or Three Days at Nauvoo, by Henry Caswall, London, 1842, pp. 34, 43.

48. This subject is fully treated in Joseph Smith Jr. as a Translator, by F. S. Spalding, Salt Lake City, 1912; and in The Mystery of Mormonism, by Stuart Martin, 1920.

49. Articles of Faith, Talmage, p. 273.

50. Matt., 4:14-16.

51. 2 Nephi, 22:2.

52. Mormon Doctrine. 1958, pp. 711-12.

53. The Book of Mormon, by Franklin S. Harris, Jr., p. 50.

54. Articles of Faith, p. 267.

55. Gen., 49:22.

56. Is., 29:1-14.

57. Ezek., 37:15-20.

58. An Introduction to the Gospel, 1958, p. 115.

59. Ether, 6:13.

60. 1 Nephi, 10:13.

61. 3 Nephi, 2:15-16.

62. Article "North America," in Encyclopedia Britannica, 1947.

63. 1 Nephi, 4:9.

64. Alma, 37:38-40.

65. 2 Nephi, 1:14 ; "Hamlet," Act. III, sc. 1.

66. 1 Nephi, 18:25.

67. Article "Horse," in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1947.

68. Matt., 16:18.

69. Matt., 28:20.


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