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The Human Origins of the Book of Mormon — Part 2

The Human Origins of the Book of Mormon — Part 2

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The Same Origin: All Races from One Family; All Languages Corrupted from Hebrew

Not only does the Book of Mormon structure follow Ethan Smith’s book in its main outline, but even in its "particulars" there is parallelism. General Authority Roberts lists the eleven points of Ethan Smith’s arguments given on page 85 of his book, mainly "to call attention to the fact that from eight to five years before the Book of Mormon was published, there was in existence a book that contained an enumeration of particulars that enter into the Book of Mormon, and become its peculiar characteristics" (BMS, Pt. I, IX, 2, emphasis mine). The first of these points is that "the American natives have one origin." By this the Rev. Smith meant that all the natives of both North and South America are really "the children of one father and mother" (View, p. 88). In addition, they were viewed by him as having "the same language prevailing throughout, and that colored largely by the Hebrew, from which it sprang originally." However, the language had now greatly changed due to the lack of written materials and the lapse of time; by which suggestion Mr. Smith accounted for the diverse languages found throughout the native races of America. Historian Roberts finds all this "so in consonance with the Book of Mormon structural features that it may be said to be the very fabric of it." Furthermore, "since it is all found in Mr. Smith’s book, published before the Book of Mormon was, it may well be thought to have suggested these features of the Book of Mormon" (BMS, Pt. I, IX, 5).
 

"Is all this sober history .... Or is it a wonder-tale of an immature mind, unconscious of what a test he is laying on human credulity when asking men to accept this narrative as solemn history?"


In demonstration of his point, Roberts focuses on two features of the Book of Mormon which correspond with the above-mentioned details of Ethan Smith’s book. First, the Book of Mormon represents the Nephites as populating the entire continent of North and South America (Hela. 3:8) — at least this is the understanding of "the land northward" and "southward" as set forth by Orson Pratt, which Roberts defends as "the general understanding of the Mormon people" (Id., 6). The Nephites, therefore, were the source of all the inhabitants of the Americas in the same way as Ethan’s "ten tribes" were regarded as America’s progenitors. Secondly, Ethan Smith, in maintaining the Hebrew base of all North American Indian languages, accounts for the scarcity of words in their present languages that even remotely resemble Hebrew by stressing that the languages, through lack of writing, have become considerably altered. Roberts summarizes the Rev. Smith’s words on this point:

Any language in a savage state, destitute of all aid from letters, must roll and change. It is strange that after the lapse of 2,500 years, a single word should, among such people, be preserved the same (View, pp. 90, 93, emphasis Roberts’).

This is the same outlook and accompanying circumstances which obtain in the Book of Mormon, Roberts observes. The community led by Mulek, leaving Jerusalem only a few years after Nephi and speaking therefore the same Hebrew, but lacking written records, completely deteriorates in language. The result is that some 200 to 250 years later, when discovered by the Nephites here in America, their language had "become so corrupted" that the Nephites could not understand them. Going even beyond this, the Book of Mormon maintains that a change took place in language even where "letters" were present. The Nephites, in spite of preserving the art of writing, are depicted as having altered the Hebrew as well as modifying Egyptian into Reformed Egyptian (Mormon 9:31-34). All this leads Roberts to comment:

if the purpose of the author of the Book of Mormon ... was to place beyond the reach of modern knowledge the ancient language in which this book is said to have been written, and thereby place its translation...beyond the possibility of criticism, or detection of fraud, then no more adroit scheme could have been invented by the wit of man ... (BMS, Pt. I, IX, 10).

He concludes the chapter by noticing a further parallel to Ethan’s work. View of the Hebrews spends several pages trying to establish a connection between the dress of the Indian’s chief holy man and that of the Old Testament high priest. In this regard the Vermont clergyman cites evidence of a priestly garment like the ephod, and a breast plate reminiscent, the Rev. Smith says, of the ancient Urim. A burial site reported in his book yielded a "curious stone" joined to a "breast plate." Since Joseph Smith’s account of finding the plates of the Book of Mormon has two stones "set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breast plate" (emphasis mine), and this "curious instrument" Joseph called "Urim and Thummim," the Mormon historian remarks:

Can there be any doubt, but what the things said in Ethan Smith’s book, on the matter of "Urim and Thummim," "Breast Plates" and "curious stones" and "attachments to breast plates" — all published from eight to five years before the Book of Mormon was, are sufficient to suggest the Urim and Thummim as described by Joseph Smith? (Id., 13).

The Same Religion: Indians’ Ancestors Virtuous, Worshiped the Great Spirit but Degenerated into Idolatry

B. H. Roberts next turns to the concept of God as set forth in the Rev. Smith’s work. In order to help establish the Hebrew origin of the Indian tribes, Mr. Smith asserted that the Indians long before the coming of the white man worshiped only one God, whom they called the Great Spirit (View, p. 98). The subsequent worship of idols by them, accompanied by human sacrifice of prisoners taken in war, is regarded by the Rev. Smith as due to a "degeneracy" of recent years (Id., pp. 102-104). The learned Mormon historian corrects Mr. Smith’s misunderstanding on the matter by noting that "it is now known that idolatry together with the sacrificing of prisoners taken in war by them existed among many divisions of the American race" (BMS, Pt. I, X, 3). Paralleling Ethan Smith’s error, however, Roberts points out that the Book of Mormon attributes knowledge of the "Great Spirit" to the Nephites, and attributes a degeneration into idolatry to the Lamanites (Alma 17:15; 31:1), who "did take many prisoners, both women and children, and did offer them up as sacrifices unto their idol gods" (Mormon 4:13f., 21). Did Ethan Smith’s book "suggest to the author of the Book of Mormon these traits of idolatry and human sacrifice among its peoples?," Roberts asks.

Roberts raises the same question about the other traits of the early Americans common to View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. These traits included a concern for the poor as well as warnings against pride and riches (View, p. 104; 2 Ne. 9:30, 42; Jacob 2:19; Mos. 4:13, 16; Alma 1:30; 2 Ne. 28:12-16). Also the native Americans’ regard for the sanctity of marriage and the accompanying endorsement of monogamy are common to both books (View, p. 104; Jacob 2:22-28). Ethan Smith reports the Indians to be generally more virtuous than the white man of his day, being loving to their wives and children (View, p. 175), and in the same way the Book of Mormon reports that the Lamanites are better in their marriage fidelity and loving treatment of their wives and children than the Nephites (Jacob 3:5-7). Because of their commitment to this monogamous relationship, the Lord will not destroy these godless Lamanites, a guarantee he does not make to the Nephites (BMS, Pt. I, X, 7f.). "Can it be that it is a mere coincidence," asks B. H. Roberts, "that these special virtues of Jacob’s Lamanites, and Ethan Smith’s Indians should run so closely parallel in such a relationship?" (Id., 8).

The Same Scriptures: An Indian Lost "Book of God," Buried in "Indian Hill"

Roberts next introduces two structural details from View of the Hebrews, which he grants may not seem as important as some of the others he points out, by may, nevertheless, have been woven into the total fabric of the Book of Mormon. The first is the matter of an Indian lost "Book of God," which reportedly had been preserved among them for a long time. While they had this book they prospered, but they eventually lost favor with the Great Spirit and consequently suffered greatly at the hands of neighboring nations. God, however, took pity on them and brought them to the New World. The book was eventually lost or more likely was buried with some "high priest" or "keeper of the tradition." This book at some time they will have again and they will then be happy. The Rev. Smith seems to link this "Book of God" with certain Hebrew parchments reportedly found buried in "Indian Hill" near Pittsfield. Roberts finds a number of suggestions here that might have yielded material for the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon similarly claims that the Nephites brought the Scriptures to America with them (1 Ne. 13:20-42; 2 Ne. 29:1-14; chap. 30), and these records were kept and transmitted by their prophets ("the keepers of their traditions"?). Their descendants would again have these Scriptures, which for years had laid buried in an "Indian Hill" called Cumorah. This, incidentally, implies that the art of writing was know among the ancient inhabitants, and some passages from Ethan’s book even suggest that such writing was hieroglyphical in nature, like "Egyptian hieroglyphics." "Is there not enough suggestion here," asks Roberts, "to have Nephite records made in reformed Egyptian characters?" (BMS, Pt. I, XI, 6).

According to the statement of Montezuma, their written records informed them that they had migrated from a great distance. This migration theme is the second of the less important structural items which Roberts finds similar to the Mormon scripture. According to Ethan Smith, the migrating ancestors all originally "were one color," and they had migrated "eastward" to the New World. The Mormon leader reflects, "did this passage suggest also more than one color?" (emphasis Roberts’), that is, did it call forth the idea of the Lamanites being cursed with dark skin to account for the Indians’ russet color, while the Nephites retained their original white color? Did Ethan’s speculations also suggest the eastward direction of the Book of Mormon migration and their ultimately crossing "great waters" (Id., 8f.)? Roberts concludes that "if one was free from the notion that the Book of Mormon was of divine origin...he would say that these ocean migrations were conceived and worked out by one deeply ignorant of the problems involved in such a passage from the Old World to the New."

The Same Civil Arrangements: Military and Sacred Towers; Monarchy to Republican Government

Roberts, among further "particulars," notices (chap. XII) that the Book of Mormon mentions military defense towers (Mos. 11:12f.;20;7f; Alma 50:1-6). as well as sacred towers and "High Places" (Mos. 11:12f; Omni 1:12f.; Hela 7:10-14). Ethan Smith surprisingly mentions the same type of towers (View, pp.190ff.). Roberts ponders just what this fact would mean to proponents of the Book of Mormon if the situation were reversed. Suppose that View of the Hebrews were written and published five years after the Book of Mormon. Surely this would be seized by Mormons as evidence and "confirmation of ‘towers’ - military and sacred -, mentioned in the Book of Mormon!" Since the Rev. Smith’s book pre-dates the Book of Mormon, why then should the case not be just as strong for having "the material in Ethan Smith’s book suggesting what we now find in the Book of Mormon?," Roberts asks (BMS, Pt. I, XII, 6).

Roberts points out that in civil affairs both books see the early Americans as moving from a monarchy to a republic in their form of government. We might note in passing that the Book of Mormon reflects the pride of early nineteenth-century Americans in their republican form of goveernment, and it should be conceded that the emphasis might easily have come from that source. Nevertheless, there are some striking features common to both Ethan Smith’s and Joseph Smith’s books in this area. The Rev. Smith, to prove his point that the early inhabitants of America were once a civilized people, quoted von Humbolt’s observations about South America. They once had "theocratic forms of government" which allowed for despotism to prevail. However, some Mexican colonies "wearied of tyranny, gave themselves republican constitutions" (View, pp.181f.). Yet there was often a "union of the civil and ecclesiastical power in the same persons." Remarkable as it may seem, this same type of political structure is present in the Book of Mormon. The Nephites start their residence in the New World with a monarchy, but after 500 years change to a republican form, with judges chosen to rule "by the voice of the people." Yet these judges often combined ecclesiastical powers with their political ones. Alma was both "Chief Judge" and "High Priest" (Mos. 29:42), as were others (Hela. 3:37; 4:14; 5:1-11; 3 Ne. 3). Still another feature of their political life is also of interest. Ethan Smith points out that the change to "free constitutions" came "only after long popular struggles" (View, pp. 181f.). Mormon historian Roberts wonders whether this may have been "the reason the Nephite republic ... was given so stormy a career." Since Ethan believed that the native Americans "were descendants of a people who had experienced great vicissitudes in their social state," then perhaps "the experience given the Nephite republic demonstrates the truth of his [Ethan’s] statement" (BMS, Pt. I, XII, 9f.). Roberts also wonders in passing whether the early Central American concept of "the struggle between ... the good and bad principle by which the world is governed" (View, p. 185) might have suggested the speech in 2 Nephi 2:10-13, which stresses the necessity of there being "an opposition in all things." However, it is equally possible that Joseph picked up this idea during his early teens, when he joined the Palmyra debating society. Even if some of Ethan Smith’s parallels are mere coincidences, it is difficult to dismiss them all as such, and as their numbers grow it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore Ethan’s book as merely a likely structural source for the Book of Mormon.

The Same Christianity: The Gospel and the Christ Known in Ancient America

Roberts reaches the climax of his structural similarities between the two books when he turns to the question: "Did the ancient American Indians know of the Christ?" Ethan Smith had suggested as much when he quoted von Humbolt’s report concerning the early Catholic missionaries’ observations about the natives of Mexico. These natives persuaded the Spanish missionaries "that the Gospel had, in very remote times, been already preached in America" (View, p. 187, emphasis Roberts’). The Rev. Smith then added his own comment that "there is a far greater analogy between much of the religion of the Indians, and Christianity, than between that of any other heathen nation on earth and Christianity." Historian Roberts sees that this "might well have suggested to the author of the Book of Mormon the introduction of the Christ and of the Gospel among the ancient Americans" (BMS, Pt. I, XIII, 2). Ethan had additional material, however, which elaborated on this idea and "may have acted — in connection with incidents from the New Testament — as suggestions to the creation of the Book of Mormon Messiah" (Id., 3). Principally Roberts refers to Quetzalcoatl, the "Mexican Messiah." This "most mysterious being," Ethan reported, "was a bearded White man" (Id., 4, emphasis Roberts’), and the Mormon leader wonders whether this might not have influenced the Book of Mormon’s description of the virgin Mary as "exceeding fair and white" (emphasis Roberts’). "If Quetzalcoatl suggested a ‘white’ Messiah, it was of course fitting that his mother should be a virgin ‘exceedingly fair and white’" (Id.).

Quetzalcoatl was also reportedly a "high priest," a "legislator," and a leader of a religious sect who "inflicted upon themselves the most cruel penance." Interestingly, B. H. Roberts notes that the Book of Mormon Messiah is also a "high priest" and head of a religious order of priests (Alma 13), (though this could also have been developed from the priesthood of Christ taught in the New Testament’s book of Hebrews). In reality, Quetzalcoatl is now believed to have lived about A.D. 1000, too late to have any relationship with an alleged visit of Christ to America shortly after his resurrection. Nevertheless, since Ethan Smith does not report this detail, it would be quite easy for one to seize upon Ethan Smith’s references and expand them into the figure of the New World Messiah presented in the Book of Mormon. Roberts finds that, like the "Mexican Messiah," the Mormon Messiah is also a legislator, delivering "all that body of Christian legislation found in Matthew 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters" (3 Ne., chaps. 12-14). The Mormon Messiah insists that the church be called after him, and even this somewhat parallels the Mexican Messiah in "being the Chief of a religious sect." Roberts may here be overdrawing the parallels, and he admits that the infliction of penance is "out of character" with the Book of Mormon. Roberts may also be pressing too hard in paralleling Quetzalcoatl’s drinking of a beverage which stimulated a desire to travel, with Jesus having "drunk out of that bitter cup" (3 Ne., 11:10f.) and desiring to visit other lands to gather his other sheep (3 Ne. 15:1-3). In our view, such references, seem better accounted for as an expansion upon New Testament material. Nevertheless, it is interesting that the Rev. Smith reports that the "reign of Quetzalcoatl was a golden age," and a similar golden age follows the visit of the Mormon Messiah to America (4 Ne., 1:3-17). Furthermore, the Rev. Ethan Smith informed his readers that Quetzalcoalt, after abolishing sacrifice (except for vegetable offerings), disappeared mysteriously but promised to return and govern the people again. The Mormon Messiah similarly, after abolishing blood sacrifice (3 Ne. 15:4f.), promised likewise to return to "be in the midst" of them (3 Ne. 21:22-25; BMS, Pt. I, XIII, 12).

Roberts, in summarizing his case, does not think it necessary for the parallel material to be laid out in the same sequence in View of the Hebrews as in the Book of Mormon. He only regards it as necessary that (1) the book be available a sufficient time before the Book of Mormon, (2) there be a great likelihood of the author being in contact with such material, and (3) that there be sufficient resemblance to the earlier material. The first is absolutely certain, the second "amounts to a very close certainty." It is, in fact, "little short of miraculous if they did not know of Ethan Smith’s book," Roberts observes. The third point is left for the reader to judge for himself (BMS, Pt. I, XIII, 13). For his part, Roberts submits that the numerous similarities to Quetzalcoatl "supplies subject matter overwhelmingly sufficient to suggest the visit of the Christ to the Book of Mormon people and his career among them" (Id., 14).

Some Biblical Borrowings

Furthermore, historian Roberts holds that not everything need be supplied from View of the Hebrews. "There are other sources whence might come suggestions." Such a source is the Bible, from which the author could have obtained, for example, the Book of Mormon signs accompanying Christ’s birth. The appearance of the "new star" could easily be borrowed from Matthew 2:1-12, and the "day and a night, and a day as if it were one day, and there were no night" could have been suggested by Zechariah 14:6f., where "at evening time it shall be light." Similarly, the Book of Mormon events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ — "the germ of it" — could well be found in the New Testament itself (BMS, Pt. I, XIII, 16). "The items of the Book of Mormon story are practically all here ... it becomes a matter of expanding the several items to the required limits of the Book of Mormon story" (Id., 17). Thus, "with these things as suggestions ... and one of conceded vivid, and strong and constructive imaginative powers to work them all out, [it] need not be regarded as an unthinkable procedure and achievement" (Id.).

Several other apparent borrowings of biblical material "of like character" are set forth by Roberts, incidents that need only a "kind of elaboration, or enlargement." Such an incident is the promise to the three Nephites that they would never see death (3 Ne. 28), which is easily expanded, from John 21:20, 23. Roberts believes that "it is quite possible that the New Testament incident suggested the larger one in the Book of Mormon" (BMS, Pt. I, XIII, 18). The literal removal of a mountain (Ether 12:30) could be directly suggested by Matthew 17:20. Again, the mysterious departures of Moses and Elijah could have suggested similar Book of Mormon departures of Alma (Alma 45:19) and of Nephi (3 Ne. 1:2f.).

Summarizing the Parallels

B. H. Roberts finally summarized on three typed pages the parallels of the "many major things" he had observed. "Not a few things merely, one or two, or 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." (BMS, Pt. I, XIII, 19f.). Even if one takes issue with some details (the "particulars" that Roberts singles out), the broad outlines, the "ground-plan," of the work is clearly there in Ethan Smith’s book. Ethan’s book pleads for the Israelite origin of the American Indians. They are traced to the New World by a migration that took a long time, beginning northward and then eastward, crossing "many waters." They divide into a civilized group and a savage group, with the savage completely destroying the civilized part after long and terrible wars. The civilized portion is described as having the same cultural features as those attributed to the civilized portion in the Book of Mormon, including the error of making them partakers of an Iron Age culture. They are regarded as once having a Book of God, portions of which were buried in an Indian Hill to come to light again in the nineteenth century. The gospel was viewed as having been preached to them and a messianic figure was thought to have been among them, a "bearded White man." They were reported to have had high priests, breast plates, curious stones, prophets, military and sacred towers, and a number of other features that also mark the Book of Mormon people in America. The Gentiles are seen as singled out by prophecy to reach these red sons of Israel and to restore them to their rightful inheritance. These and a number of other features and traits that form the basic structure of the Book of Mormon story are reviewed by Roberts in his summary of parallels between the two works. Then he hauntingly asks, "Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidental?" It is apparent that Roberts does not think they can be dismissed as coincidence, for he continues to build the case for the human origin of the Book of Mormon by two further basic considerations.

1. Joseph Smith’s Highly Imaginative Mind

Did Joseph Smith, Jr., have sufficient imaginative powers of mind to take the material either from Ethan’s book or from community knowledge and weave it into the Book of Mormon? It is one thing to show that the Book of Mormon’s picture of the ancient inhabitants of this continent is not in harmony with the picture that emerges from current archeology and that on the other hand it agrees with the erroneous ideas and misinformation presented in Ethan Smith’s book, but it is yet another matter to show that Joseph Smith was capable of taking that material and producing the book himself. This Roberts proceeds to do, using only Mormon sources.

Joseph’s mother records that Joseph, before he ever claimed to have translated the gold plates, would sit with his family and describe the ancient inhabitants of America — their dress, animals, cities, warfare, and religious worship. Since Joseph described these "with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them" (as Mother Smith states it), Roberts rightly asks how he got this information without the Book of Mormon from which to draw such descriptions – "unless he had caught suggestions from such common knowledge, or that which was taken for ‘knowledge,’ as existed in the community concerning ancient American civilization, and built by imagination from this and possible contact with Ethan Smith’s ‘View of the Hebrews.’" Whence came these descriptions?, the Mormon historian reiterates. "Not from the Book of Mormon, which is, as yet, a sealed book to him .... These evening recitals could come from no other source than the vivid, constructive imagination of Joseph Smith, a remarkable power which attended him through all his life. It was as strong and varied as Shakespeare’s and no more to be accounted for than the English Bard’s (BMS, Pt. I, XIV, 3).

As a further evidence of Joseph’s imaginative powers he cites Orson Pratt’s description of how the prophet could hold and sway an audience. Roberts recognizes this as merely an expansion to the public forum of his old "fireside exercises of those powers of imagination." Another illustration historian Roberts finds in the boyhood follies to which, Joseph confessed, his mind was prone to run. This folly Roberts regards as due simply to "the over strong faculty of imagination." Furthermore, Joseph’s vivid description of the West and the valleys and streams of the Rockies, which he had never visited, recorded in the recollections of Anson Call, is but another aspect of his vivid powers of imagination. Finally, as a sampling of the creative and imaginative powers of Smith’s mind, Roberts selects some eloquent passages from his "Epistle from Liberty Jail" (1839, History of the Church, III, 288-305), which demonstrate the prophets’ unique ability to employ highly descriptive language for both his own defense and comfort and the encouragement of his suffering people. Such expression, Roberts concludes, could only come from a fertile, "creative imagination," an imagination

it could with good reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are to be found in the "common knowledge" of accepted American Antiquities of the time, 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 (BMS, Pt. I, XIV, 13).

2. "Internal Evidence That The Book of Mormon Is Of Human Origin – Considered"

Having demonstrated that Joseph Smith had imaginative powers of mind not generally recognized by most Mormons, the Mormon historian turns to one final basic consideration to complete the case for the human origin of the Book of Mormon. As highly imaginative as Joseph’s mind was, it was still largely lacking in formal education and as such likely to fall prey to thoughtless errors. It is such tell-tale inconsistencies that Roberts collects in Part 2 of his "Book of Mormon Study," and the consideration runs to 115 pages of carefully researched and reasoned discussion.

Evidence of an Undeveloped Mind

First of all, the seasoned LDS historian find that "there is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history, that points quite clearly to an undeveloped 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" (BMS, Pt. II, I, 1, emphasis mine). In illustration of this he cites the three days’ journey from Jerusalem which brought Lehi’s party to the shores of the Red Sea (1 Ne. 2:4-6). This journey of 170 miles, with children and supplies along, "could scarcely be covered in three days" (Id., 2). Along this same line is the question of whether the migrating party had any livestock and beasts of burden with them. If so, did they take them along on their curious vessel? It would seem questionable that they did. Yet when they arrive in the New World, a land "kept from all other nations" (2 Ne. 1:9ff), the Book of Mormon off-handedly mentions the presence of domesticated animals – "the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat" (1 Ne. 18:25).

Repeating the Same Themes

Furthermore, Roberts keenly observes that the earlier Jaredite migration is attended with similar problems, only this time elephants as well as large creatures called "coreloms" and "cumons" are involved. The narrative emphasizes the smallness and lightness of the Jaredite barges. Could these accommodate elephants, and further, how could all these creatures be sustained in a 344-day sea voyage? To render matters even more suspect, the story of the Jaredite migration seems to be a rerun of the Nephite account. "Both Nephite and Haredite colonies are brought through a wilderness to the seashore, where a residence of considerable time is had before embarking for the New World. Both colonies had a long sea voyage; and both, strangely enough, seem to have been almost prohibited use of fire .... " To carry the parallel further, Roberts notes that "The prophet leaders of both colonies had clear vision of Christ and both had an equal prevision of his life and mission as the savior of the world. Both came to an empty America, and both people had remarkable wars of extermination" (BMS, Pt. II, I, 5f). From these circumstances historian Roberts feels it only natural for intelligent people to ask:

Do we have here a great historical document, or only a wonder tale, told by an undeveloped mind, living in a period and in an invironment [sic] where the miraculous in "history" is accepted without imitation ...? (Id., 14).

What does such parallelism amount to for opponents of the Book of Mormon, Roberts asks. "It supplies the evidence that the Book of Mormon is the product of one mind, and that a very limited mind, unconsciously reproducing with only slight variation its vision" (Id, Pt. II, II, 1), and he adds that "the answer will be accepted as significant at least, if not conclusive" (Id.).

Similarly a disregard for consistency is found by Roberts in the matter of Nephi building a temple like unto Solomon’s with not more than a hundred persons to do the work. In addition Nephi had to teach these people to work in wood, iron, copper, brass, steel, gold, silver, and precious ores, and they became so skilled that the "workmanship thereof was exceeding fine." Yet it took Solomon seven years and over 150,000 workmen to accomplish the same feat. Roberts is moved to ask, "is this the statement of a great historical document, by one [Nephi] who knew Solomon’s temple through all his boyhood and young manhood, or is it the reckless statement of an undeveloped mind that knew not what he was saying?" It seems to us that the author of the Book of Mormon sensed some of the tension at this point, for he seems to back off somewhat from his boast that it was "after the manner of the temple of Solomon" by adding "save it were not built of so many precious things" (1 Ne. 5:16). This might have eased the situation had the author not added that these precious things "were not to be found upon the land," after just stating that all the precious ores "were in great abundance," a conflict that Roberts is careful to underline.

Continuing the parallel in plot between the Nephite and Jaredite colonies, Mormon Authority Roberts observes that just as the Nephite colony chose Nephi to be their king and he reluctantly agreed, so the equally small Jaredite colony chose its reluctant king. A final illustration of the parallelism in the two accounts Roberts finds is their similar concept of the sovereign power of God. Among the Nephites this evidences itself in the belief that God could give man the power to dry up an entire ocean (1 Ne. 17:50), and among the Jaredites it is seen in the claim to have literally removed a mountain (Ether 12:30). The Mormon historian speaks of these super-miracles in terms similar to those which non-Mormons have often used: "This faith in the sovereign power of God results in the miracles of the Book of Mormon surpassing the miracles in the Bible" (Id., 7).

The Same Villains Repeated

Having alerted the reader to the repetitious nature of the themes of the Book of Mormon, B. H. Roberts continues to illustrate this further in his next chapter (chap. III). This means, although the Mormon leader does not spell it out specifically, that the Book of Mormon owes its lengthiness to a repetition of the same events and themes over and over, with only the characters changed. A clear example of this is found in the Book of Mormon narratives dealing with the "anti-Christs," the opponents of the Nephite prophets. Roberts reports what is said about the anti-Christs Sharem (Jacob 7:1-23) and Korihor (Alma chap. 30), and focuses on "how alike they are!" Both villains have the same content to their denials of Christ; both have the same demand for a sign from God; both receive the same type of afflicting judgment for their opposition to the Lord, make a vain effort at repentance and receive an ignominious death (III, 12). In addition to this parallelism "with the strong implication that they have their origin in one mind," Roberts notes the "amateurishness" which characterizes the handling of the whole argument about the existence of God. He indicates that the "vindictive miracle" that fell upon the anti-Christs seems more like wishful thinking – "the dream of a pious young man ...  rather than a matter of actual experience" (Id., 13). Then Roberts, who spent his whole career absorbed in historical affairs, concludes:

The evidence, I sorrowfully submit, points some will contend 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 men of America (Id., 13f.).

Battles All Cast from the Same Mold

Roberts finds further evidence of this repetitiousness in the parallelism of the numerous battles recorded throughout the book, "The whole matter of war seems to be treated from the amateurish notion that the wicked are invariably punished, the righteous always victorious" (IV, 1). He also finds the same super-miraculous element that strains credulity in the 2,060 "striplings" who fought wars over a 13-year period without one being killed. This is attributed to their mothers’ teaching that "if they did not doubt, God would deliver them" (Alma chaps. 56-58). Roberts comments: "Beautiful story of faith! Beautiful story of mother-assurance! Is it history? Or is it a wonder-tale of a pious but immature mind?" Reinforcing this feeling of an immature mind behind the work are such "blundering expressions" as "all those who were not slain (!) came forth and threw down their weapons ..." (Alma 52:38; cf. also Ether 15:12, emphasis Roberts’) and again, the whole society removed all their property "save it were their land" (3 Ne. 3:13, emphasis Roberts’).

Roberts reminds us that his "allusions to absurdities of expression" are not made to ridicule or cast aspersion on the Book of Mormon, "but they are made to indicate what may be fairly regarded as just objects of criticism under the assumption that the Book of Mormon is of human origin." These "lapses of mind and speech lapses" are "just such absurdities and lapses as would be looked for" if Joseph Smith had authored such a work (Id., 10).

Before leaving the military matters of the book, Roberts draws one more set of parallels between the final battle of the Jaredites and that of the Nephites. It seems that in the Book of Mormon battles the whole society participate, removing all their property to one place – in both instances to Cumorah, near the Smith home. The battle in both cases brought the death of thousands until only one witness of the scene is left to write the record (Ether and Moroni respectively). Finally, both recorders take leave of their readers, look confidently to the Lord and say Amen. The Mormon historian concludes:

Is all this sober history .... Or is it a wonder-tale of an immature mind, unconscious of what a test he is laying on human credulity when asking men to accept this narrative as solemn history? (Id., 17).

Conversion Scenes Typical of Nineteenth-Century Conversions

In the final chapters (chaps. V and VI), Mormon General Authority Roberts notices how strikingly the same are the conversion scenes throughout the Book of Mormon.

... these conversions ... and also religious experiences after conversion, I would add, are alluded [to] throughout the various periods of the Book of Mormon by the same emotional phenomenoma [sic] - , faintings, or swoonings, "the falling power," unconsciousness, and usually attended by visions or extacies [sic] of supposed highly spiritual experiences (BMS, Pt. II, V, 2).

He cites examples of this throughout the Book of Mormon – Lehi (in the very opening chapter of the work) – Nephi (2 Ne. 33:6f.), Enos (En. 1:2-8), Alma (Mos. 27), Ammon (Alma 18:41-43), and Aaron (Alma 22). He types in full these lengthy extracts because they are so typical of what accompanied the conversions of Joseph Smith’s day in "the early decades of the 19th century when the Book of Mormon was incubated" (Id., 3). Roberts carries his citations into the New Testament period of the Book of Mormon so it will be clear "that this trait of emotional conversion continues throughout the Book of Mormon" (Id., 13). He notes also that the Book of Mormon depicts the ancient Americans as being given on their continent signs that Christ had been born, and in the reaction to these heavenly displays it "represents a whole continent of people – millions of them at the same time – prostrate under the ‘falling power,’ lying felled to the earth ‘as if they were dead’!" (Id., 14). This is certainly a spectacle unlike anything experienced in the history of the world, he observes. The skeptic will surely ask whether this really occurred, "or is it one more wonder-tale from an over wrought enthusiast’s mind, lost to all sense of the proportion of things?" (Id.). The "falling power" on this occasion also is followed by the same "characteristic Nephite, hysterical joy" (3 Ne. 4:31-33).

This same "falling" shows up in Joseph's own first vision story (J.S. 2:20) as well as at other points in the early history of the Latter-day Saints Church (History of the Church, I, 85, 188f.). More important yet, it was a phenomenon which characterized later eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century America. Historian Roberts cites examples from Jonathan Edwards’ Works (esp. pp. C, ci, civ) that describe the sinking and swooning that began in New England just before the mid-eighteenth century. J. B. Turner, in his work on the Mormons (1842), supplies similar descriptions of the phenomenon which broke out afresh at the opening of the nineteenth century. Roberts pointedly remarks:

I think it cannot be questioned but what there is sufficient resemblance between the Book of Mormon instances of religious emotionalism and those cited in the foregoing quotations from the works of Edwards et al, to justify the thought that the latter might well have suggested, and indeed become the source of the former (Id., 43).

He sees the principle characteristic of this "ultra Protestantism" as being a self-accusation with an accompanying exaltation of free grace and mercy. These same features Roberts finds in the Book of Mormon, but the chapter breaks off before he develops this any further. There is only a handwritten notation to himself to add examples from Finney’s revivals to "bring examples nearer home," that is, closer to the doorstep of the Smiths.

Having being led so skillfully through this study, we are left with a feeling of regret that Roberts, with his unique grasp of themes common to the Book of Mormon and the early nineteenth century, has not shared more of his findings with us. But he has given us ample material to make one conclusion certain: No one can any longer say that the Book of Mormon could not possibly have been composed by Joseph Smith, Jr. On the contrary, Roberts has given abundant evidence that it is a production of a rather unsophisticated mind in the early nineteenth century.
 



Roberts' paper was prepared at the request of Apostle James Talmage who wanted answers to some questions raised by a non-Mormon about the historical difficulties of the Book of Mormon. This request was made in early November 1921 and by the end of December, Elder Roberts submitted to the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles a manuscript of more than 400 pages! He went far beyond just answering the 5 questions submitted. His conclusions were anything but welcome and it is rumored that Roberts was secretly tried for heresy. It is obvious that he quickly "recanted" because he kept his high position in the Mormon church until his death about a dozen years later.

That he either "believed" in the Book of Mormon or not is open to question and argument and can never be resolved adequately for either the Mormon or non-Mormon investigator and really is not at issue here. His personal convictions are only secondary- primary concern must be focused upon the issues and evidences set forth. In that regard, the Mormon church did not answer the issues then nor have they even to this day.

It has been suggested that perhaps Roberts was only "playing the Devil’s Advocate" in the presentation of this thesis. A reading of even this short examination of the manuscript will convince most people that such is not the case. Even if it were, the issues raised by the "Devil’s Advocate" are still unanswered, for Roberts did not "resolve" them nor has anyone else since then. It is one thing for "apostates" and "gentiles" to defame the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, it is quite another when it is done by Mormonism’s leading scholar and historian B. H. Roberts. No wonder that Roberts was pressured into silence and his manuscript "buried".

This essay is a reprint of "The Origin of the Book of Mormon" as it appears in Volume III, Number 3 of the Journal of Pastoral Practice, pages 123 through 152. Copyright 1979, by the Institute of Pastoral Studies of the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation.