The Book of Mormon : Ancient or Modern?
From the Salt Lake City Messenger, November 1993, pp. 5-11. Used by permission.
Joseph Smith claimed that in 1823 an angel appeared to him and stated that gold plates were buried in a hill near his home. The angel explained that the plates contained "an account of the former inhabitants of this continent," and that they also contained "the fullness of the everlasting Gospel." Four years later Smith received the plates, and began "translating" them "by the power of God." The translation was published in 1830 under the title of The Book of Mormon. After translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church — a church that now has over eight million members.
Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt declared:
The Book of Mormon claims to be a divinely inspired record .... If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions ... if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it: if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it ...
If, after a rigid examination, it be found an imposition, it should be extensively published to the world as such: the evidences and arguments on which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated ... if investigation should prove the Book of Mormon true...the American and English nations ... should utterly reject both the Popish and Protestant ministry, together with all the churches which have been built up by them or that have sprung from them, as being entirely destitute of authority ... (Orson Pratt's Works, "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," Liverpool, pp.1-2).
Our study of the Book of Mormon has extended over a period of thirty years and has led us to conclude that it is not an ancient or divinely inspired record, but rather a product of the nineteenth century. Mormon apologists, of course, have resisted the evidence set forth in our books, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, and Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon. Although the church itself has been completely silent concerning our work, L. Ara Norwood, Matthew Roper, John A. Tvedtnes, and a few other Mormon apologists have recently assailed our work. We have been preparing a response to these critics that will be available soon.
In the book, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, vol.4, 1992, Matthew Roper maintains that some of the nineteenth-century sources we suggested as possible sources for the Book of Mormon are rather weak (see pages 176-192). For many years we have maintained that at the time Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Mormon there were a number of books that claimed the Indians were the descendants of the ancient Israelites — an idea that is strongly set forth in the Book of Mormon. Mr. Roper acknowledged that,
The Tanners correctly point out that the Book of Mormon appeared at a time when many people believed that the Indians were descendants of the lost ten tribes. Books by James Adair, Elias Boudinot, Ethan Smith, and others are fairly representative of the early nineteenth-century literature which supported such an idea. The Tanners suggest that the Book of Mormon was just one of many such books (pp.81-84). While it is true that general similarities or parallels can be drawn between these works and the Book of Mormon, I believe that the differences are far more significant. (Ibid., page 186)
A Striking Parallel
The reader will notice that in the quotation above Mr. Roper mentioned a book written by James Adair. This book, A History of the American Indians, was originally published in 1775. We have seen quotations from it in other books written in the nineteenth century, but never took the time to examine the book until we encountered a reprint published by Promontory press. While we noticed that Adair's book presented "Observations, and arguments, in proof of the American Indians being descended from the Jews," and a great deal concerning their customs and history, at first we did not see anything that was too impressive. Toward the end of the book, however, we made the startling discovery that it had a portion so similar to Joseph Smith's work that we could not escape the conclusion that either Joseph had the book in his hand or a quotation from it when he was writing the Book of Mormon. On pages 377-378, James Adair wrote the following about the Indians:
Through the whole continent, and in the remotest woods, are traces of their ancient warlike disposition. We frequently met with great mounds of earth, either of a circular, or oblong form, having a strong breast-work at a distance around them, made of the clay which had been dug up in forming the ditch on the inner side of the inclosed ground, and these were their forts of security against an enemy ... About 12 miles from the upper northern parts of the Choktah country, there stand ... two oblong mounds of earth...in an equal direction with each other ... A broad deep ditch inclosed those two fortress, and there they raised an high breast-work, to secure their houses from the invading enemy.
In the book of Alma, which is found in the Book of Mormon, we find some extremely important parallels to the writings of Adair in chapters 48,49,50 and 53:
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 ... the Nephites were taught ... never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy ... they had cast up dirt round to shield them from the arrows ... the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security...they knew not that Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security in all the land round about ... the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security ... because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about ... they (the Lamanites) began to dig down their banks of earth...that they might have an equal chance to fight ... instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead ... And (Moroni) caused them to erect fortifications that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land ... And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch: and they did cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers ... (Book of Mormon, Alma, 48:8, 14; 49:2, 5, 13, 18, 22; 50:10; 53:3-4).- 4).
Adair's book had the four words, "their forts of security." These identical words are found in the book of Alma! It is interesting to note that these words are used only once in the Book of Mormon, Alma 49:18, and never appear in the Bible. The three words "forts of security" are found in 49:13, but are never found any other place in the Book of Mormon or the Bible. The last two words ("of security") are never found together in the Bible and appear only seven times in the Book of Mormon. The word "breastwork" (written as "breast-work" in Adair's work) appears twice in each of the references cited above. The Bible never uses this word, and it appears only three times in the entire Book of Mormon. The other occurrence is in Mosiah 11:11 and has nothing to do with military matters. It was used concerning a pulpit.
The words "which had been dug" are found in both extracts. This word combination is never found in the Bible or in any other place in the Book of Mormon.
Both the Book of Mormon and Adair's book contain the word "the ditch." Joseph Smith used this word "ditch" three times in the section concerning the Nephite fortifications but never used them again in the rest of the Book of Mormon. Both quotations use the words "the inner." These two words were used again in Alma 62:21, but do not appear in any other part of the Book of Mormon.
We find the words "against an enemy" appear in both books. Joseph Smith only used them once in the Book of Mormon (Alma 14:14), and this combination never appears in the Bible. Adair uses the expression "mounds of earth." While Joseph Smith never used these exact words, he did refer to "banks of earth."
We find it extremely hard to believe that all of these similar word patterns could happen by chance. In addition to the material cited above, there are other similarities between the writings of James Adair and Joseph Smith. For example, the Book of Mormon claims that the ancient Jews who came to the New World were all "white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome ..." (2 Nephi 5:21). Those who rebelled, however, were cursed with a "sore cursing...the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them." Adair's book, likewise, talks of a change in skin color: "The Indian traditions says, that their forefathers in very remote ages came from a far distant country, where all the people were of one colour ..." (page 194).
The Book of Mormon states that before the ancient Nephites left Jerusalem, they had been instructed by the "Lord" to bring with them some "plates of brass" which had the sacred Jewish scriptures engraved upon them. (1 Nephi 3:3). The plates were carefully protected by the ancient religious leaders and were apparently buried in "the hill Cumorah" along with many other plates (Mormon 6:6). This idea of brass plates being buried could have come from James Adair's book. On pages 178-179, we find this information:
In the Tuccabatches ... are two brazen tables, and five of copper. They esteem them so sacred as to keep them constantly in their holy of holies ... Old Bracket, an Indian ... gave the following description of them, viz. they must only be handled by particular people .... He only remembered three more, which were buried with three of his family ...
On page 122 of Adair's book, we find the words, "for the space of three days and nights ..." This is very close to Alma 36:10, "for the space of three days and three nights ..." It is also noteworthy that while Joseph Smith uses the words "month" or "months" sixteen times in the Book of Mormon, in one instance he uses the term "moons" : " ... for the space of nine moons." (Omni 1:21). On page 125 of Adair's History of the American Indians we find the following " ... for the space of four moons..."
We are convinced that Joseph Smith read a number of books and articles about the Indians — especially books equating them with the ancient Israelites. His own mother, Lucy Smith, tells that Joseph Smith had a fervent interest in the ancient Indians before he received the plates from which he "translated" the Book of Mormon:
During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them. (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations, 1853, page 85).
Cloud of Darkness!
Robert Williams, of North Wales, discovered an important parallel between the Book of Mormon and the Preface of the King James Bible. The Preface, of course, was written by the translators and was dedicated to "The Most High And Mighty Prince James ... King of Great Britain, France, And Ireland, Defender Of The Faith, &c." While the translators used words and combinations of words in the Preface which are found in the text of the King James Version, they also used language which is not in the biblical text.
If it could be demonstrated that the Book of Mormon contains word combinations peculiar to the Preface, which was not published before 1611, it would cast serious doubt upon the claim that it was written in ancient times by the Nephites. Mr. Williams found other parallels to the Preface and asked us to use our computer to make a more complete search. After completing the research, we felt that there was a strong possibility that Joseph Smith borrowed from it. In the Preface we find the following:
... clouds of darkness would so have overshadowed this Land, that men should have been in doubt which way they were to walk...the appearance of Your Majesty, as of the Sun in his strength, instantly dispelled those supposed and surmised mists ... (The Holy Bible, Preface; as printed by the Mormon Church in 1979).
In the Book of Mormon we find two very strong parallels to this part of the Preface:
"... the cloud of darkness, which has overshadowed them, did not disperse ..." (Book of Mormon Helaman 5:31).
".., the cloud of darkness having been dispelled ..." (Ibid., Alma 19:6)
The reader will notice that there are some startling similarities: (1) The expression "clouds of darkness" or "cloud of darkness" is not found in the text of the Bible. (2) The word "overshadowed" does not appear in the Old Testament, and the New Testament cannot be appealed to as the source because the ancient Nephites did not have access to it. Joseph Smith, of course, did have the New Testament in his Bible. (3) The word "dispelled" is not found in the Bible and Joseph Smith never used it again in the Book of Mormon.
Another interesting parallel is that the statement in the Preface indicates that the appearance of King James, like "the Sun in his strength, instantly dispelled" the dark mists. The verse in Alma 19:6 was also written concerning a king whose name was Lamoni. It speaks of "the light which did light up his mind...yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled ...". The Preface speaks of both King James and Queen Elizabeth. Although Joseph Smith used the words king of kings 228 times in the book of Mosiah (the book that precedes Alma), he never mentioned a queen until the chapter in question, Alma 19, and while it appears a number of times in the book of Alma, it is not used in any of the other books found in the Book of Mormon, but is obviously taken from a prophecy in the Bible, Isaiah 49:23, and is not related to any queens living during the period covered by the Book of Mormon.
In our book, Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book if Mormon, we demonstrated that Joseph Smith had a tendency to plagiarize different expressions from the Bible and then use them over and over again. For example, the phrase "the lamb of God" appears only in the New Testament, John 1:29 and 36. The Mormon prophet latched onto these words and then used them twenty- eight times in the book of 1 Nephi alone! He soon grew weary of them, however, and they only appear six more times in the rest of the Book of Mormon. Smith's inclination to grab onto expressions and then repeat them is also evident in his use of "cloud of darkness." He began using this term in Alma 19:6, and then repeated it over and over in Helaman 5:28, 31, 34, 36, 40-43:
And it came to pass that they were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness...behold the cloud of darkness, which had overshadowed them, did not disperse ... the Lamanites could not flee because of the cloud of darkness which did overshadow them ... he saw through the cloud of darkness ... the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us? And Aminadab said ...You must repent...and when you shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you ... the cloud of darkness was dispersed. And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about ... by a pillar of fire.
After this repetitious section of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith never used the words "cloud of darkness" again; instead he used the words "mist of darkness" or "mists of darkness." It is interesting to note that the word "mists" (plural) is not found in the text of the Bible, but it does appear in the Preface of the King James Bible. It is, in fact, in the very paragraph which mentions "clouds of darkness."
In addition to the parallels mentioned above, in our computer examination of the Preface we found forty-five word parallels (ranging from two to four words in a row) which are not found in the text of the King James Version. While many of them could have come from Joseph Smith reading other books or conversations he had with different people, since the Preface is only two pages long, we think that this many parallels could prove to be significant. The following are just ten examples:
"rule and reign over" — "sacred word" — "because of the fruit thereof," — "eternal happiness," — "it, nay" — "the immediate" — "itself abroad in the" — "great hopes" — "most sacred" — "did never."
Most of the forty-five word combinations are found in the books Alma and Helaman — the very books which contain the parallel concerning the "cloud of darkness."
New Computer Study
On Oct. 7, 1979, the Provo Herald reported that some Mormon researchers at Brigham Young University had turned to a computer in an attempt to prove that the Book of Mormon is genuine:
Wordprint comparisons between the Book of Mormon and the unknown 19th century writings of Joseph Smith and Mr. Spalding show conclusively that neither of these persons, authored the book, the scientists say ... their research indicates that the book was authored by at least 24 different writers, and possibly more, whose styles bear no resemblance to that of Joseph Smith ... or other 19th century writers whom they examined ...
One of the tests went so far as to indicate that 'odds against a single author exceeded 100 billion to one,' the statisticians noted in the report.
In the Salt Lake City Messenger for Dec. 1979 we observed that the list of "24 Major Book of Mormon Authors Used in the Study," seems to be somewhat padded (see The New Era, Nov. 1979, p.11). For instance, we find Isaiah listed as one of the authors. Since Isaiah is a book in the Bible and since the Book of Mormon itself acknowledges that it is quoting from Isaiah, we do not feel that it should be included in this study. If the researchers are going to include Bible authors as part of the list of 'Book of Mormon Authors,' they might as well add Moses, Matthew and Malachi (see Book of Mormon, Mosiah 13; 3 Nephi 12-14; and 3 Nephi 24-25).
The BYU researchers stretched the matter even further by including the "Lord" as "quoted by Isaiah" as part of the "24 Major Book of Mormon Authors." Also included in this list is the "Lord," "Jesus" and the "Father." It would appear, then, that the researchers created four "Book of Mormon Authors" out of the Father and the Son! On page 11 of their study in The New Era, the researchers admit: "Since the term Lord can refer either to the Father or the Son, we separated the words attributed to the Lord from those attributed to the Father or to Christ." This list of "24 Major Book of Mormon Authors," therefore, appears to be overstated.
In the same newsletter we noted that we were in favor of computer studies with regard to the Book of Mormon and would especially like to see a study showing the parallels between the King James Version and the Book of Mormon. We indicated that a good computer study would probably reveal more than 24 different authors in the book. In fact, we felt that it would probably find words written by Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, David, Solomon, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah, Micah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, etc.
When we later did our computer research for the book, Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon, we demonstrated that there were many quotations from New Testament writers that had been plagiarized by the author of the Book of Mormon. These extracts were found in portions of the Book of Mormon that were supposed to have been written before the time of Christ. For example, we found a good deal of material lifted from the biblical books of Matthew, Revelation, John, Romans, Luke, Acts. 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, Mark and other New Testament books.
In Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, vol.3, page 170, Matthew Roper stated: "In their recent book, Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon, Jerald and Sandra Tanner have presented perhaps the most extensive list of alleged plagiarism ever assembled by hostile critics of the Book of Mormon."
Our computer research with regard to the Book of Mormon does not agree with that done by the BYU researchers. While it is clear that there has been extensive plagiarism in the Book of Mormon, we believe the evidence shows that one style of writing pervades the entire book, and it is the same style found in Joseph Smith's other scriptural works.
Even some Mormon scholars have questioned the work of the BYU apologists. John A. Tvedtness, a Hebrew scholar, who has taught at Brigham Young University Center for Near Eastern Studies, has publicly proclaimed that he does not accept the research. In a response to our work on the Book of Mormon, Tvedtness spoke of "the stylistic computer studies of the scriptures done at Brigham Young University and in Berkeley, California." He then frankly stated: "I have my own reasons for rejecting those studies, however, and hope to express them elsewhere." (lbid., page 229)
Recently another computer study of the Book of Mormon has come to our attention. It is entitled, "A Multivariate Technique for Authorship Attribution and its Application to the Analysis of Mormon Scripture and Related Texts." The research was done by David I. Holmes, a Senior Lecturer in Statistics at Bristol Polytechnic, and was published by Oxford University Press for the Association for History and Computing. In this article David Holmes explained that he used fourteen large blocks of text from the Book of Mormon (amounting to over 120,000 words), documents written or dictated by Joseph Smith between 1828 and 1833, three samples of approximately 10,000 words from the early revelations printed in the Doctrine and Covenants, text from the book of Isaiah and Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham. After Holmes finished his study, he was convinced that the claim of multiple authorship in the Book of Mormon was fallacious:
The most impressive statistical analysis carried out on the Book of Mormon is that undertaken by Larsen, Rencher and Layton.... The authors conclude that their results all strongly support multiple authorship of the Book of Mormon yet their whole case rests on the assumption that the frequency of occurrence of non-contextual function words is a stylistic discriminator. The article claims that there is no resemblance between the authors of the Book of Mormon and the nineteenth century authors sampled, but the case rests on usage of words such as 'unto, beyond, yea, forth, verily, lest and nay' which would all naturally be prominent in an archaic biblical-type style, but could hardly be expected to occur with the same frequency elsewhere, even in the early nineteenth century. Against this background, the aim of my research is to complement historical and scientific studies into the authenticity of the Book of Mormon by subjecting it and related Mormon scripture to stylometric analysis. In this paper it is understood that a particularly effective measure for purposes of discrimination between writers is the vocabulary richness of a text ...
We may summarize by noting that the analyses have shown that the Joseph Smith and Isaiah samples form distinct and separate cluster, whereas all other samples tend to cluster together ...
The formation of the clustering observed here, provides evidence of the utility of the multivariate technique advocated by this study ...
An important discovery is the fact that the samples of writings from the various prophets who purportedly wrote the Book of Mormon do not form prophet-by-prophets clusters. The dendrogram in Figure 2 shows that only the two samples from Alma display internal homogeneity... There appears to be no real difference between Alma's vocabulary richness and Mormon's vocabulary richness within the Book of Alma, a conclusion in direct contradiction to the findings of Larsen and the Brigham Young University team. This study has not found, therefore, any evidence of multiple authorship within the Book of Mormon itself. Variation within samples from the same prophet is generally as great as any variation between the prophets themselves.
Two of the three 'revelations' samples are also indistinguishable from the Book of Mormon prophets . . . . The dendrogams and principal components plots place the Book of Abraham text (AB) firmly in the main 'prophet' cluster , its nearest neighbor being sample R1 from Moroni. In terms of vocabulary richness, clearly the Book of Abraham is indistinguishable from the Book of Mormon prophets and from samples D2 and D3 of Joseph Smith's revelations ...
It is my conclusion, from the results of this research and the supporting historical evidence, that the Book of Mormon sprang from the 'prophet voice' of Joseph Smith himself, as did his revelations and the text of the Book of Abraham. We have seen that the style of his 'prophetic voice' as evidenced by the main cluster of the textual samples studied, differs from the style of his personal writings or dictations of a personal nature. (History and Computing, Vol.3, No.1, 1991, pages 14, 20-21)
David I. Holmes' statement that Joseph Smith's "prophetic voice" differs from that found in private writings is of course to be expected. In his scriptural writings he was trying to make the wording sound ancient. Wesley P. Walters observed:
In addition to borrowing biblical names and events, the Elizabethan style of the English King James Bible was adopted. Phrases from the Old and New Testament were frequently borrowed by Joseph Smith. Wording such as 'go the way of all the earth,' (Mos. 1:9 / Josh. 23:14), 'sackcloth and ashes' (Mos. 11:25 / Dan. 9:3), and 'applied your hearts to understanding' (Mos. 12:27 / Pr.2:2) are found throughout the book. Furthermore, even the material not derived from the Bible was cast into the King James style. Consequently there is a continual use of the 'thee', 'thou' and 'ye', as well as the archaic verb endings 'est' (second person singular) and 'eth' (third person singular). Since the Elizabethan style was not Joseph's natural idiom, he continually slipped out of this King James pattern and repeatedly confused the forms as well. Thus he lapsed from 'ye' (subject) to 'you' (object) as the subject of sentences (e.g. 'Mos. 2:19; 3:34; 4:24), jumped from plural ('ye') to singular ('thou') in the same sentence (Mos. 4:22) and moved from verbs without endings to ones with endings (e.g. 'yields ... putteth,' 3:19). (The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon, by Wesley P. Walters, 1990, page 30)
Our own computer study of the Book of Mormon has certainly not been as sophisticated as that of David I. Holmes, but we have reached similar conclusions. We approached the problem from a different angle. After noticing that the same phrases of two or more words appear time after time throughout Joseph Smith's scriptures, we used the computer to identify hundreds of these groups of words and feel that they provide powerful evidence that the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great price were all the product of one mind.
B. H. Roberts' Doubts
As unbelievable as it may seem to many members of the Mormon Church, the noted Mormon historian B. H. Roberts also came to believe that there was a strong possibility that Joseph Smith borrowed from books that were available to him at the time he wrote the Book of Mormon. Roberts, or course, was one of the greatest scholars the church has ever known. He not only prepared the "Introduction And Notes" for Joseph Smith's History of the Church, (seven volumes), but he also wrote the six-volume work, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also noted for his many works defending the Book of Mormon.
After studying Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, published in 1825, Roberts listed eighteen parallels between it and the Book of Mormon. He wrote two very significant manuscripts which were suppressed for many years because of the fear that the contents would prove harmful to the Mormon Church. Fortunately, we obtained copies of both manuscripts and printed photographs from them in 1979. In 1980 we photographically reproduced both manuscripts under the title Roberts' Secret Manuscripts Revealed. The manuscripts were later printed by the University of Illinois Press in a hard-back book entitled Studies of the Book of Mormon (1986). More recently, Signature Books in Salt Lake City has published a paperback edition (1992).
In his secret manuscripts B. H. Roberts acknowledged that Joseph Smith himself could have written the Book of Mormon from the information that was available to him at the time. The deeper B. H. Roberts delved into the relationship between the Book of Mormon and books by Ethan Smith and Josiah Priest, the more his faith in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon seemed to erode. In his second manuscript, "A Book of Mormon Study," B. H. Roberts really began to openly express his own personal doubts about the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In the extracts which follow the reader will see that B. H. Roberts was seriously disturbed by many things he found in the Book of Mormon:
One other subject remains to be considered in this division ... viz., — was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials as have been indicated in the preceding chapters ... That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question ....
In the light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, an imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are found in the 'common knowledge' of accepted American antiquities of the times, supplemented by such a work as Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is. (Studies of the Book of Mormon, pp.243,250)
If from all that has gone before in Part 1, the view be taken that the Book of Mormon is merely of human origin...if it be assumed that he is the author of it, then it could be said there is much internal evidence in the book itself to sustain such a view.
In the first place there is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history that points quite clearly to an underdeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency. (Ibid., page 251)
There were other Anti-Christs among the Nephites, but they were more military leaders than religious innovators ... they are all of one breed and brand; so nearly alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and undeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator. It is difficult to believe that they are the product of history, that they come upon the scene separated by long periods of time, and among a race which was the ancestral race of the red man of America. (Ibid., page 271)
These words did not come from the lips of an uninformed and biased "anti-Mormon" writer, but rather they are carefully worded pronouncements of the Mormon historian B.H. Roberts — believed by many to have been the greatest apologist the church has ever produced. While Professor Truman Madsen, of the church's Brigham Young University, has asserted that Roberts was merely using "the 'Devil's Advocate' approach to stimulate thought," a careful reading of the material leads one to the inescapable conclusion that he was in the process of losing faith in the historical claims of the Book of Mormon. Why else would B.H. Roberts have made the comment concerning Book of Mormon stories which we cited above?: "The evidence I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator. It is difficult to believed that they are the product of history ..."
In his earlier faith-promoting work, A New Witness for God, a three-volume work published in 1909, B.H. Roberts insisted that Joseph Smith did not have access to books from which he could create a "ground plan" for the Book of Mormon. In his secret writings, however, Roberts acknowledged that in A New Witness for God he:
did not take sufficiently into account the work of Josiah Priest ... Priest himself, indeed, published a book ... The Wonders of Nature and Providence, copyrighted by him June 2nd, 1824, and printed soon afterwards in Rochester, New York, only some twenty miles distant from Palmyra ... this book preceded the publication of the Book of Mormon by about six years. At the time I made for my New Witness the survey of the literature on American antiquities, traditions, origins, etc., available to Joseph Smith and his associates, this work of Priest's was unknown to me; as was also the work of Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews — except by report of it, and as being in my hands but a few minutes ... it is altogether probable that these two books ... were either possessed by Joseph Smith or certainly known by him ...
Moreover, on subjects widely discussed, and that deal in matters of widespread public interest, there is built up in the course of years, a community of knowledge of such subjects, usually referred to as 'matters of common knowledge' ... Such 'common knowledge' existed throughout New England and New York in relation to American Indian origins and cultures: and the prevailing ideas respecting the American Indians throughout the regions named were favorable to the notion that they were of knowledge, or that which was accepted as 'knowledge', and a person of vivid and constructive imaginative power in contact with it, there is little room for doubt that it might be possible for Joseph Smith to construct a theory of origin for his Book of Mormon in harmony with these prevailing notions; and more especially since this 'common knowledge' is set forth in almost handbook form in the little work of Ethan Smith ... It will appear in what is to follow that such 'common knowledge' did exist in New England, that Joseph Smith was in contact with it; that one book, at least, with which he was most likely acquainted, could well have furnished structural outlines for the Book of Mormon; and that Joseph Smith was possessed of such creative imaginative powers as would make it quite within the lines of possibility that the Book of Mormon could have been produced in that way. (Studies of the Book of Mormon, pages 152-54)
On page 192 of the same book, B. H. Roberts asked this question: "Could an investigator of the Book of Mormon be much blamed if he were to decide that Ethan Smith's book with its suggestion as to the division of his Israelites into two peoples; with its suggestion of 'tremendous wars between them'; and of the savages overcoming the civilized division led to the fashioning of chiefly these same things in the Book of Mormon?"
Roberts felt that "the likelihood of Joseph Smith coming in contact with Ethan Smith's book is not only very great, but amounts to a very close certainty" (page 235). Further on in the same chapter, B. H. Roberts made these observations:
But now to return ... to the main theme of this writing — viz., did Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or a half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith's story of the Book of Mormon's origin ...
The material in Ethan Smith's book is of a character and quantity to make a ground plan for the Book of Mormon ...
Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence? (pages 240, 242)
Those who are interested in knowing the truth about the Book of Mormon should read B. H. Roberts' Studies of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992).