The Curious Case of Solomon Spaulding

February 2, 2009
By

For years now I’ve heard people offhandedly dismiss the Book of Mormon as a known plagiarism of “the Solomon Spaulding manuscript.” I’ve finally gotten around to researching this oft-cited alternative theory about the true origins of the Book of Mormon, and I was both perplexed and amused by what I found. For rarely does one find an alternative theory advanced to expose the true origins of a controversial work when that alternative theory is almost as fanciful and far-fetched as the “official story” it is meant to debunk.

Although there are sure to be many readers who are already familiar with the Spaulding manuscript theory, I thought there might be a lot of folks out there who, like me until somewhat recently, still haven’t heard one of the most entertaining stories in Mormon (and anti-Mormon) history.

How and when did the Spaulding manuscript theory originate, and what is it meant to explain?

The Spaulding manuscript theory was first advanced in 1833 by Dr. Philastus Hurlbut, an excommunicated Mormon and known opponent of the Church. Hurlbut’s theory was disseminated more widely in 1834 when it was published in the “anti-Mormon” book Mormonism Unvailed by E.D. Howe. For more than a century afterwards, numerous authors of exposés on Mormonism embraced the Spaulding manuscript theory to explain the “true origins” of significant portions of the Book of Mormon.

In short, the Spaulding manuscript theory attempts to explain where the “real” authors of the Book of Mormon (presumably Joseph Smith and/or Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdrey) got the elaborate historical narrative found in the Book of Mormon (e.g., the central characters like Lehi, Nephi, and Moroni, and the alleged “historic accounts” of centuries of wars and bloodshed). To be clear, the Spaulding manuscript theory is not offered to explain the true origin of the religious aspects of the Book of Mormon. Rather, it is suggested that the “real” authors of the Book of Mormon used the Spaulding manuscript’s main plot, central characters, and setting, and then mixed in religious sermons and doctrines from other sources.

Who was Solomon Spaulding?

Solomon Spaulding was born in Connecticut in 1761, graduated from Dartmouth in 1785, and spent three or four years as a Congregationalist minister before leaving the ministry and embarking on a series of unsuccessful business ventures in New York and Ohio. He lived in Conneaut, OH during the time when he is alleged to have written his manuscript. He left Ohio and relocated to Amity, PA in 1812 , where he died in 1816.

What are the main assertions of the Spaulding manuscript theory?

Proponents of the Spaulding manuscript theory allege that Spaulding became fascinated with the numerous Indian burial mounds he had encountered in the Ohio area, and that he wrote a historical romance to explain the existence of the mound builders on the American continent, which he allegedly entitled “Manuscript Found”. Spaulding supposedly read lengthy portions of his manuscript to his family and neighbors on a frequent basis such that they became quite familiar with his story and could recall its details even decades later.

Spaulding allegedly took his “Manuscript Found” to the printing office of a Mr. Patterson in Pittsburgh, PA some time around 1812 with hopes of profiting from his historical romance. But, as the theory goes, the alleged manuscript was never published for unknown reasons. The theory further alleges that Sidney Rigdon somehow acquired the Spaulding manuscript from Patterson’s printing office in Pittsburgh sometime thereafter. Spaulding died in 1816, four years after he allegedly deposited the manuscript with Patterson.

What is the principal “evidence” for and against the proposition that Solomon Spaulding authored a manuscript similar to the Book of Mormon?

To be clear, Solomon Spaulding is not the source of the “Solomon manuscript theory.” Spaudling never claimed that the Book of Mormon was a plagiarism of something he’d previously written. Of course, he could never have made such a claim because he died in 1816, fourteen years before the Book of Mormon was published. By the time the Solomon Spaulding theory was advanced in Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed in 1834, Spaulding had been dead for 18 years. Thus, in pointing to Solomon Spaulding as the “real” source of the Book of Mormon’s historical narrative, Dr. Hurlbut and Mr. Howe point us to a dead man who can neither confirm nor deny their claims.

Of course, there are other ways of confirming whether Spaulding did, in fact, write a manuscript similar to the Book of Mormon. If Spaulding was as fond of reading his manuscript to his neighbors as Howe claims, one would expect to find at least just one item of correspondence or document created during Spaulding’s lifetime in which either Spaulding, a family member, or a friend, neighbor or business associate referred to his manuscript or recited at least a few of its details. But no such luck. The proponents of the Solomon Spaulding theory do not provide a single scrap of paper pre-dating the Book of Mormon to support the notion that Spaulding ever wrote a manuscript similar to the Book of Mormon.

Additionally, if Spaulding had in fact deposited his manuscript with Mr. Patterson at his printing office, one would expect Patterson to confirm that fact. But he didn’t. To the contrary, when asked, Patterson reported he could not recall any such manuscript being brought to his printing office for publication. Proponents of the Spaulding manuscript theory counter that Patterson indicated his printing business was managed by a Mr. Harrison Lambdin at the time in question, and that it is therefore not surprising that Patterson would not recall the manuscript. However, this retort has two problems: first, that the Patterson-Lambdin partnership was not formed until 1818, two years after Spaulding’s death; and second, that Lambdin could not confirm that Spaulding ever brought a manuscript to Patterson’s printing office because Lambdin died in 1825, almost a decade before Mormonism Unvailed advanced the Spaulding manuscript theory. Thus, in pointing to Lambdin as the printer who received Spaulding’s manuscript at Patterson’s office, proponents of the theory again point us to a dead man who can neither confirm nor deny their allegations. Furthermore, when Lambdin’s widow was asked about the matter years later, she reported never having heard of any such manuscript being deposited with her husband, and refuted the suggestion that Lambdin ever knew or associated with a Sidney Rigdon.

So if there is no first-hand testimony from Spaulding himself, no testimony from the printers Patterson or Lambdin about any Spaulding manuscript being deposited with them, and no documentary evidence pre-dating the Book of Mormon indicating that Spaulding ever wrote such a manuscript, what “evidence” do the proponents of the Spaulding manuscript theory rely upon?

The primary “evidentiary basis” for the Spaulding manuscript theory is a collection of statements given by eight persons who claimed to be Spaulding’s neighbors in Conneaut, OH. These eight statements were collected by the excommunicated-Mormon Dr. Hurlbut in 1833, who later sold them for $500 to E.D. Howe, who then cited them in his Mormonism Unvailed the following year. Thus, it should be noted the primary “evidence” upon which the Solomon Spaulding theory relies, i.e., these eight statements by Ohio residents, was collected twenty-one years after Spaulding left Ohio (where he allegedly wrote his manuscript and read it to friends and family), seventeen years after Spaulding’s death, and three years after the Book of Mormon was published.

The eight statements gathered by Dr. Hurlbut in 1833 were obtained from Spaulding’s brother John, Spaulding’s sister-in-law, Spaulding’s business partner in Ohio, an alleged employee of Spaulding, and four of Spaulding’s neighbors in Conneaut, OH. Taken together, the statements make the following main claims: (1) that Spaulding had read them portions of a manuscript he authored prior to his death (and therefore prior to the Book of Mormon’s publication); (2) that the manuscript was about a group of people who left Israel and came to the Americas, and who were purportedly the ancestors of the American Indians; (3) that these immigrants to the New World split into two main groups and engaged in centuries of warfare, resulting in large heaps of bodies that account for the Indian burial mounds and fortifications found throughout the country; (4) that the main characters in the manuscript were named Lehi, Nephi, Laban, Mormon, Moroni, etc.; (5) that the manuscript was written in an old Bible-like style with frequent usage of the phrase “And it came to pass”; and (6) that Spaulding wrote the manuscript such that it could pass as a believable, genuine history, and that he hoped to profit from it someday.

It should be noted that the three “witnesses” to the Spaulding manuscript who were closest to Spaulding, (i.e., Spaulding’s brother, sister-in-law, and business partner), were probably in their 70′s when Howe obtained their statements. (One would presume that Spaulding’s brother, sister-in-law, and business partner were all of roughly the same age has he, and Spaulding would have been 72 when Dr. Hurlbut collected their statements.) Thus, although it is certainly possible that Spaulding’s brother, sister-in-law, and business partner were intentionally lying about the existence of a manuscript authored by Spaulding, it is also possible that Hurlbut, who was a known opponent of Mormonism, suggested certain “recollections” to these elderly individuals when obtaining their statements. Moreover, the statement obtained from Spaulding’s sister-in-law begins with a disclaimer about her memory, stating: “The lapse of time which has intervened prevents my recollecting but few of the leading incidents of his [Spaulding's] writings.”

The greatest strength of the Spaulding theory is the argument that eight persons would not intentionally lie about Spaulding reading them stories similar to those found in the Book of Mormon. But interestingly, the statements obtained from Spaulding’s brother, sister-in-law, and business partner raise as many questions as they purport to answer. For example: If Spaulding had pinned his hopes of financial recovery on the manuscript, why did Spaulding’s family not attempt to follow up with the printer Patterson about the status of the proposed publication of Spaulding’s manuscript after his death? And if they were so convinced and outraged by the Book of Mormon’s plagiarism of Spaulding’s manuscript, why did Spaulding’s family members never pursue any legal remedies against Smith, et al.?

In the next several decades following the publication of Mormonism Unvailed, additional “witnesses” to the Spaulding manuscript surfaced here and there, each making claims similar to those found in the eight original statements obtained by Dr. Hurlbut. Presumably, the most credible of these were the alleged statements of Spaulding’s widow and only child. In 1839, a Reverend in Massachusetts claimed to have obtained a statement from Spaulding’s widow in which she affirmed the general claims made by the other eight persons, and related a story where her neighbors and brother-in-law in Ohio had become outraged when Mormon missionaries read them portions of the Book of Mormon, which they all immediately recognized as being taken from Spaulding’s “Manuscript Found.” Mormons researching the story report that Spaulding’s widow denied making several of the statements that the Massachusetts Reverend had attributed to her.

Then in 1880, a newspaper reporter published what was claimed to be a statement from Spaulding’s only child, in which she claimed to remember her father reading his manuscript to her when she was six years of age, and claimed to remember it containing names like Mormon, Moroni, Lamanite, and Nephi. Of course, the reliability of this statement is in doubt because it comes from someone in her 70′s reciting events that occurred when she was six years old.

The other additional statements that surfaced from persons purporting to have heard Spaulding’s stories suffer from the same reliability problem because those statements were given by elderly persons in the 1870′s-1880′s, some sixty and seventy years after Spaulding allegedly deposited his manuscript with Patterson’s office.

Even more curious are the theories about how Joseph Smith, Sidney Ridgon, or Oliver Cowdery might have obtained Spaulding’s manuscript from Patterson’s printing office. For it is not enough to allege Spaulding wrote a manuscript; one must also account for how the alleged “real” authors of the Book of Mormon got their hands on that manuscript. But the “evidence” supporting the theories about how Smith, Rigdon, or Cowdery would have gained access to the Spalding manuscript is even more tenuous than the evidence that Spaulding ever wrote a manuscript similar to the Book of Mormon.

What if the Solomon Spaulding theory were advanced in a court of law today?

As someone who has done a fair share of copyright infringement litigation, I can tell you that if someone filed a lawsuit alleging that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from the Spaulding manuscript, that person would at a minimum be required to prove: (1) the existence of a manuscript authored by Spaulding before the Book of Mormon was published; (2) that the publisher(s) of the Book of Mormon had access that Spaulding manuscript; and (3) that the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding manuscript share more than just generic similarities (e.g., a group of people migrating from the Old World to the New World). Of course, proponents of the Spaulding theory would fail in their claim because they have never been able to produce the manuscript bearing more than generic similarities to the Book of Mormon, nor have they been able to conclusively demonstrate that the publishers of the Book of Mormon had access to such a manuscript. (For example, although they claim it was Rigdon who obtained the Spaulding manuscript from Patterson’s printing office, there is no evidence that Rigdon and Joseph Smith met each other before the Book of Mormon’s publication.)

In the end, the Spaulding manuscript theory amounts to a tale about significant portions of the Book of Mormon being stolen from a manuscript that is nowhere to be found, purportedly authored by a man who died 17 years before the theory was ever concocted, and supposedly left in the hands of a printer who disclaims having ever seen it. And that’s the story that’s supposed to be far more convincing than the idea of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from a golden book that was received from, and returned to, an angel?

Post Script: The Curious Case of Solomon Spaulding Gets Curiouser — Spaulding’s “Manuscript Found” is Found!

As it turns out, Solomon Spaulding did write a manuscript after all. In 1884, a Mr. L.L. Rice found a manuscript authored by Spaulding amongst the many files he’d inherited when he purchased the Painesville Telegraph from E.D. Howe, author of Mormonism Unvailed. Howe had reportedly obtained the manuscript from Dr. Hurlbut while doing research for his exposé on Mormonism; it is known that Howe paid Hurlbut $500 for the eight affidavits he had collected. Spaulding’s widow reported that Hurlbut had asked permission to search Spauldings papers for the long lost manuscript, offering her half the publication proceeds if he could locate it. She agreed and Hurlbut actually found amongst Spaulding’s papers a manuscript of about 45,000 words, about one-sixth the length of the Book of Mormon. But there was just one major problem for Hurlbut: the manuscript was obviously not the original source material for the Book of Mormon. Instead of containing a story about a group of Israelites coming to the Americas with names like Lehi, Nephi, etc., the manuscript contained a story about a group of Romans who were blown off course while sailing to Great Britain and landed in the Americas, and consisted mainly of lengthy descriptions about the customs of the various Indian tribes the Roman party encountered.

When Hurlbut located the Spaulding manuscript, he reportedly showed it to the persons who had previously sworn affidavits about the similarities between Spaulding’s work and the Book of Mormon. But when confronted with the Spaulding manuscript’s obvious lack of similarity to the Book of Mormon, rather than recognizing and admitting the obvious possibility that they had “misrecollected” the true nature of Spaulding’s manuscript, they suggested Spaulding must have also authored a “second manuscript” similar to the Book of Mormon. Of course, the “second manuscript” was nowhere to be found, and over a century later, no “second manuscript” has ever been located.

Incredibly, the theory about a long-lost “second manuscript” kept the Spaulding manuscript theory alive and well amongst opponents of Mormonism for several decades to come. Eventually, though, even authors of critical histories of Mormonism recognized that the Spaulding manuscript theory lacked any credible basis, such as Fawn Brodie who thoroughly dismantled and dismissed the theory in her 1945 book No Man Knows My History. But you can decide for yourself, because thanks to the wonders of the Internet and the RLDS church (which subsequently published Spaulding’s manuscript to refute the Spaulding manuscript theory), you can read Spaulding’s controversial manuscript here.

Poor Solomon Spaulding. One wonders how he’d feel knowing his name is still remembered 195 years after his death simply because someone used it to advance one of the most preposterous theories to date about the supposed true origins of the Book of Mormon.

* * * * *

SOURCES:

Howe, E.D., (1834) Mormonism Unvailed Painesville, Telegraph Press.

Kidder, D.P. (1842) Mormonism and the Mormons New York, Carlton & Lanham, pub.

Patterson, Jr., Robert (1882) Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? Philadelphia, L.H. Everts & Co.

Brodie, Fawn M. (1963) No Man Knows my History New York: Alfred A. Knoft

72 Responses to The Curious Case of Solomon Spaulding

  1. February 2, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Ah history. Thanks.

    • George Williams
      September 6, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      What is hilarious about all this is that Joseph Smith, Jr. provided a text he claimed to have taken from an ancient manuscript that neither he nor any Mormon elder can produce in court, or anywhere else. But when suggestions that the Book of Mormon may have been taken from a different manuscript, that suggestion is attacked on the basis of the fact that the manuscript in question cannot be produced in court, or anywhere else.

      Doesn’t this sound a little ironic, if not odd?

  2. February 2, 2009 at 9:31 am

    And yet not to give up hope, there are still recent books that compare the found “Lost” manuscript to the Book of Mormon. They insist there are enough generic connections to make a positive identification as a major Book of Mormon source. Very creative readings of both books I might add.

  3. Mark N.
    February 2, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I like how Nibley put it:

    “The Joseph Smith controversy is silly for the same reason the Shakespeare controversy is silly. Granted that a simple countryman could not have written the plays that go under the name of Will Shakespeare, who could? If that man is hard to imagine as their author, is it any easier to imagine a courtier, or a London wit, or a doctor of the schools or, just for laughs, a committee of any of the above as the source of that miraculous outpouring? Joseph Smith’s achievement is of a different sort, but even more staggering: he challenged the whole world to fault him in his massive sacred history and an unprecedented corpus of apocalyptic books. He took all the initiative and did all the work, withholding nothing and claiming no immunity on religious or any other grounds; he spreads a thousand pages before us and asks us to find something wrong. And after a century and a half with all that material to work on, the learned world comes up with nothing better than the old discredited Solomon Spaulding story it began with. What an astounding tribute to the achievement of the Prophet; that after all this time and with all that evidence his enemies can do no better than that!”

  4. February 2, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    “As it is possible that in some future age this part of the Earth will be inhabited by Europeans & a history of its present inhabitants would be a valuable acquisition, I proceed to write one & deposit it in a box secured – - – - so that the ravages of time will have no effect upon it that you may know the author I will give a succinct account of his life and of the cause of his arrival which I have extracted from a manuscript which will be deposited with this history.”

    Sounds pretty similar to me. And that’s just the first paragraph.

  5. Andrew Ainsworth
    February 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Swearing Elder (4), yes, Spaulding is well known as the first person to ever conceive or write about the idea of storing historical records in the earth. All others, both before and after him, owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.

  6. Carlos
    February 2, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Nice work!

    I will keep this for future reference as a good summary of the “Spaulding Saga”, if you allow it?

    Cheers,

  7. Rigel Hawthorne
    February 2, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I had always wanted to find more info on this and appreciate you presenting it for a post. Philastus Hurlbut didn’t remain in good standing for long if he was already excommunicated by 1833! Does his name appear in the History of the Church at all? Any info as to the details of what triggered his disciplinary action?

  8. February 2, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Rigel, there are mentions of him in the Joseph Smith History volumes. He was, even by his own admission, convinced of the truth of Joseph Smith as a prophet of G-d because of watching a healing miracle. Soon after he became disenchanted with Joseph Smith and considered him a fraud. There was a question of his fidelity and he was excommunicated. A question arose about him trying to harass Joseph Smith and there were legal proceedings that didn’t end positively for Hulburt. The rest is the history of his book and and theories.

  9. Russell Stevenson
    February 2, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Swearing Elder (re: your name, JS said “I prefer a man who can swear a stream as long as my arm but deals justly with his brethren to the long, smooth-faced hypocrite”–so if that’s what it means, I’ll take it!)

    Ah yes…now we know the truth…the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Etruscan plates…all must bow their heads in humble reference to the progenitor–Solomon Spaulding. We now know that the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls (a 15-year old shepherd tosses a rock into a cave?? Pfft…sounds like a ne’er do well causing trouble) was simply a Zionist conspiracy to prove that the land of Israel was for the Jews (except the Qumran found Jeruslam to be too wicked for habitation…).

    And look at their pathetic source of inspiration–an 89-page manuscript from a provincial Vermont town.

    In other words, similarities in this prove *nothing* other than that the mystique of hidden treasures were part of the popular currency (as they had been for some time, esp. so with the Green Mountains). And the orthodox could easily argue that only within such a cultural context could a story about a boy finding golden plates even be taken seriously by anybody. Imagine how such a tale would go over with Industrial Revolution of Great Britain in full swing. Hardly a time to talk of hidden books as the working class is slaving away in shops, concerned more about their daily bread and weekly services than radical religious movements.

    Of course, this does leave the question of why the BOM made an impression on anybody, if it indeed hidden treasures made for table talk. But that’s another topic altogether.

    • George Williams
      September 6, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      Mr. Stevenson, it should be noted that even the story of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been altered with time and changing needs of the persons telling the story. When I read about the Dead Sea Scrolls around 1963, the story was that “a young Arab boy” had found the scrolls. Now, in the 21st century, I learn that the finder of the scrolls was “a Palestinian,” and so is his entire family.

      Yet Joseph Smith, Jr. and the LDS Church are constantly criticized over the fact that the story of the finding of the Book of Mormon shifts, uncovering new, never-before-heard-of (and even anachronistic) details.

      Just another one of the ironies.

  10. Cicero
    February 3, 2009 at 12:16 am

    The Book of Mormon presents a confounding quandary for opponents of the Church.

    It exists- and therefor must be explained away.

    Either as a fraud (the Spaulding manuscript and Rigdon as the author- or sometimes Joseph Smith enormous library of books and up to date historical research).

    Or the product of Joseph Smith’s mystical “creativity” (Fawn Brodie’s hypothesis, and all the talk about trance like writing- none of which I’ve seen has ever been comprehensible). Ravings of a deluded mind does not fit the Book of Mormon very well.

    So that’s the problem. Neither of the two explanations offer much satisfaction to those opposed to the church- but one of them must be made do with, since otherwise we are left with no explanation as to where the Book of Mormon comes from.

  11. James
    February 3, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Thanks for posting this Andrew

    I did a post a while ago on View of the Hebrews – it was actually BH Roberts research on anachronisms into the book of Mormon based on view of the Hebrews.

    I would of have thought BH Roberts was not a loose cannon that he was doing this research from instruction or with the Brethren blessing. Do you know way back in his day if they the brethren discounted Solomon Spalding in their research?

    Do you know if Fawn Brodie or Grant Palmer believe View of the Hebrews was used in the structure of making the book of Mormon?

    http://mormonmatters.org/2008/11/15/should-we-have-listened-to-bh-roberts/

  12. Andrew Ainsworth
    February 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    James (11), I reviewed your previous post. Was the list of similarities in your post taken from Wikipedia? If so, I’d be careful about putting too much trust in that. As Michael Scott of The Office once said: “The great thing about Wikipedia is that ANYONE can write ANYTHING at all, so you KNOW you’re getting the best information!” I think you could have more confidence in the accuracy of a summary of similarities by comparing the two works side by side. You can find an online version of View of the Hebrews. It’s been a while since I’ve skimmed it. There are some interesting similarities, to be sure, but I don’t recall some of the more detailed, specific similarities listed in the Wikipedia entry. So you might want to check out View of the Hebrews for yourself, if you haven’t already.

    I can’t recall when BH Roberts did his research in relation to the debunking of the Spaulding manuscript theory. Church leaders believed the theory was debunked from day one and wrote essays against it from very early on. Church leaders felt vindicated when the Spaulding manuscript was found in the 1880′s and didn’t bear the similarities spoken of by Spaulding’s neighbors (e.g., Spaulding manuscript makes no mention of party of Israelites coming to America, no Lehi, Nephi, Moroni, etc.)

    Brodie and Palmer cite View of the Hebrews as a possible source of inspiration for the BOM, though of the two, Brodie is a more respected scholar. Palmer mostly relied upon the research and writings of other people in writing his Insider’s Origins, which is a bit ironic in a discussion about the Book of Mormon being based on other pre-existing works. :)

  13. Andrew Ainsworth
    February 3, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    James (11), I checked the Wikipedia entry on View of the Hebrews again and the supposed B.H. Roberts’ list of summaries between VOTH and BOM was actually someone’s summary of Grant Palmer’s summary of B.H. Roberts’ research. So bear in mind that what you’re reading there is not something that B.H. Roberts said. It’s what someone said Palmer said B.H. Roberts said. That sort of double hearsay wouldn’t be considered reliable evidence in a court of law, and I wouldn’t rely on it either. If I were you, I’d go to the horse’s mouth and get it straight from B.H. Roberts, rather than relying on someone’s summary of Palmer’s interpretation and summary of B.H. Roberts’ research. You can buy Roberts’ Studies on the Book of Mormon from Signature Books online.

  14. February 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    And as an added note, View of the Hebrews can be purchased in book form from BYU or read online: http://olivercowdery.com/texts/ethn1823.htm

  15. Doug G.
    February 3, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Andrew,

    First, let me state for the record that I am not convinced of the Spalding/Rigdon theory nor have I outright dismissed it as having no credibility. There are a few details you omitted from your OP that at least deserve mention when considering the evidence, although I certainly don’t consider any of them smoking guns.

    1. You failed to mention that Sydney Rigdon and Solomon Spaulding also shared the same post office box in addition to frequenting the same Printer. I don’t know if that’s significant or not, but at least it shows they knew each other.

    2. Ethan Smith, who wrote “View of the Hebrews”, was a classmate of Solomon Spaulding and graduated from the same ecumenical college. I believe this is significant because they both wrote in similar styles about the origin of the American Indians and both works are similar to the BoM.

    3. From the first days of the BoM publication, people familiar with Rigdon’s preaching thought that he may have written it. The same can be said of Spaulding’s writing style, many people thought they were eerily similar to the BoM.

    4. Stanford University recently released a peer reviewed study claiming that using the delta and nearest shrunken centroid methods, the authorship of the BoM is most likely the creation of Sydney Rigdon using the Spaulding manuscript as a base. I don’t know enough about this study to argue the pros and/or cons of it, but given the credibility of the professors who wrote it, I wouldn’t dismiss it out-of-hand.

    5. Sydney Rigdon (by the church’s own admission) was involved in producing the Book of Abraham, Book of Moses, Lectures on Faith, and present for many of the revelations in the D&C. Given his involvement with most of our modern day scripture, it would come as no surprise to many if a creditable link was established between him and JS concerning the BoM prior to 1830.

    6. Finally, apologist can’t have it both ways. You can’t dismiss the theory due to a lack of evidence linking JS to Rigdon, Rigdon to Spaulding, or stating as fact that Spaulding only wrote one book of this nature. As quoted so many times; “Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack”. Just because no-one has made a solid link between them doesn’t mean there wasn’t a link. We just may never prove it…

  16. Ray
    February 3, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Doug G., sources, please.

    As to your point #4 – those professors explicitly omitted Joseph Smith from the comparison (meaning he wasn’t even considered a possible “author” of the Book of Mormon), they didn’t consider Isaiah a credible author of the chapters that differed from he OT text (Huh?), they failed completely to include a “multiple ancient authors” possibility, and the list goes on and on and on. I believe it was Jeff Lindsay and Tim Malone who wrote excellent summaries of the problems with the studies. Suffice it to say, they are myriad and glaring and so obvious as to bring into question any chance of anything close to objectivity.

    Seriously, the omission of Joseph as a possible author alone is astounding. The study essentially said, and I’m not exaggerating, “Of the people we have chosen to consider (and we didn’t even bother considering the two options that would show the Book of Mormon as a valid record of some sort), Rigdon and Spaulding are the most likely authors.” That is NO different than if I said, “After doing extensive word analysis of Andrew Ainsworth’s posts at Mormon Matters, it is clear that, of Hawkgrrl, Joe P, Doug G and the Stephen Marsh, Hawkgrrrl and Stephen Marsh are the most likely authors of the posts that are being attributed to Andrew.”

    That is not hyperbole. The study is that flawed.

  17. Andrew Ainsworth
    February 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Doug G (15), yes, sources please. I think the best way to evaluate the theory is to read the Spaulding manuscript which I linked to above. Upon my reading of the Spaulding manuscript, I don’t see it as a credible source of inspiration for the Book of Mormon. As for having it both ways, I don’t dismiss the theory because of a lack of linking people; I dismiss it because it alleges that the BOM was copied from a supposed lost “second manuscript” that no one has ever been able to show us. Kind of hard for me to see striking similarities between the BOM and something I’ve never seen.

  18. Ray
    February 4, 2009 at 12:14 am

    . . . after alleging that the BOM was copied from a supposed lost first manuscript that was found and debunked. I guess once we find and finish comparing the eighteenth lost manuscript, we can make an authoritative statement. Until then, we’ll just have to wait. :)

  19. Russell Stevenson
    February 4, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Doug G.

    Your argumentation is the kind of argumentation of conspiracy theorists. A standard rule of thumb in even high school level debate competitions is that the burden is on the one making the claim. So one can believe what one will…but if you don’t have evidence for it, then it doesn’t deserve the dignity of being called a hypothesis. That’s just good Dawkins science…if we can’t prove the statement false, then we need to look elsewhere for truth. Your argument is that Spaulding provided the impetus for the BOM (I assume that’s what it is…b/c if you’re just floating ideas around to be subversive, well, that’s not cool).

    Re: 1-3, those do nothing to prove your argument. I “know” some prominent historians in many fields, but I also find their views on certain things to be atrocious and would never replicate them. Let’s not forget that Rigdon also knew Alexander Campbell much more than he did Spaulding. If we’re going to look for influences on Rigdon’s life rather than just seeing Rigdon as this ink blot upon which we can project our pet theories, then we find that Campbell is more meaningful in his theological and ideological influence. And we know how Campbell felt about the BOM…

    And when you say Spaulding was a “classmate of Ethan Smith,” that doesn’t tell us very much–indeed, it’s hardly true. Dartmouth was the major school of note for the area. Furthermore, Smith entered the school in 1786 whereas Spalding graduated in 1785. Yes, they may have known each other, but was this more than a passing acquaintance? We cannot say.

    It is of more interest that Spalding’s distant relative, Levi was a classmate of Hyrum. Ethan’s son, Lyndon, also was acquainted with Hyrum. But again, these things explain *nothing.* It’s too long of a thought chain to see them as a causative factors in BOM production. The only reason we buy into it is b/c the topic of BOM origins is one we are emotionally invested.

  20. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Doug G said: “6. Finally, apologist can’t have it both ways. You can’t dismiss the theory due to a lack of evidence linking JS to Rigdon, Rigdon to Spaulding, or stating as fact that Spaulding only wrote one book of this nature. As quoted so many times; “Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack”. Just because no-one has made a solid link between them doesn’t mean there wasn’t a link. We just may never prove it…”

    Hi Doug, it’s been a long time.

    Doug, you are missing the point here. You are skipping right over the burden of proof issues. Yes, it’s impossible to “prove” that Solomon Spaulding isn’t the author of the Book of Mormon. Likewise, it’s impossible to “prove” that Mary Lincoln isn’t the author of the Book of Mormon using the same logic you just used.

    At issue here is burden of proof. If someone advanced a theory like the Solomon Spaulding theory and says “this is so obviously the real author of the Book of Mormon and we have proof” (this is in essence what was advanced by said advocates) the burden of proof is on the person making the claim, not the “apologists.” The apologist’s job is simple defense. They merely have to show that the conclusion is in doubt which is a very low bar. In this case, the doubt is considerable. Considerable enough that the average fair mined person that is fully hostile to the Church won’t give it another moment of consideration. Proof was never a requirement in this case, just lack of it.

    The Book of Mormon “apologists” (doesn’t that word mean “defense” not “offense”) DO NOT advanced a theory that via scholarly means you can prove the Book of Mormon to be an ancient record and it’s obvious that the rest of the world has their head in the sand. If they did, then the burden of proof would be on them and you would have been correct. But apologists don’t advance this and instead based their beliefs on an answer to prayer.

    Of course not all apologists are the same and there are bad Book of Mormon apologists that do claim they have proven the Book of Mormon. But a fair review of Book of Mormon apologists quickly shows these charlatans to be in the vast minority. Most Book of Mormon apologist do start out with an explanation that they believe in it due to a personal revelatory experience and are carefully to never claim proof and thus accept the burden of proof. For them, it’s personal.

  21. Andrew Ainsworth
    February 4, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Russell (19), don’t you think you’re being a bit unfair to Doug G.? After all, we all know that every person knows everyone who attends their same college, uses the same post office, or uses the same printing office (or kinkos). This whole exercise is getting me excited about the possibility of there being debates long after I’m dead about all the people I MUST have known because I went to the same college or used the same post office as them. I’d better start working on that manuscript . . . :)

    Doug G., I concur with Russell and Bruce about the burden of proof issues. And it does nothing to try to connect dots between Rigdon and Spaulding or anyone else. I could provide indisputable proof that my great, great, great grandfather knew Rigdon as well, but unless I can produce a manuscript authored by my great-great-great grandfather that bears more than generic similarities to the BOM, all I’ve proven is a friendship or an aquaintance-ship, not plagiarism.

  22. Cowboy
    February 4, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    And that’s the story that’s supposed to be far more convincing than the idea of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from a golden book that was received from, and returned to, an angel?

    Yes.

  23. Don
    February 4, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Steel, we has it. Horses, we has that too. Plagiarism of some obscure 18th century manuscript ? Nope. Even I find that to be a stretch and I’m no longer LDS.

  24. anon
    February 4, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    These theories seem far more plausible (hey, there is a word i see used regularly in farms publications) to me than the supernatural stories Joe told and I dont even subscribe to the “Spaulding theory”.

    These theories, to me, are just as viable as stories about JS receiving and translating(with a seer stone at the bottom of a top hat) a stack of gold plates (which are now conveniently missing and which were not even used for most of the “translation”) that somehow contained 500+ pages of text (written in a language that has never been shown to actually exist) that contains the history of several groups of Jews that traveled to the Americas (some by submarines being lit by magic rocks) who domesticated animals, built chariots, created steel and furnaces that could handle steel production and, supposedly, started some of the biggest and most advanced civilizations of the time without leaving a trace of their existence, their Jewish beliefs and heritage, their language, their technology or their writings behind for us to find.

    I find it interesting that many of you scoff at possible connections between religiously minded people we know existed and lived in close proximity in fairly small communities but many of you dont doubt the unsubstantiated and unprovable claims of JS (he was, after all, the only one in the grove) or the BOM (i dont really find any of the “plausible” farms scenarios, plausible). These spaulding claims seem to have a more solid basis in reality than many of the stories I hear at church each week.

    It seems like some of you have your priorities all screwed up and are spending far too much time on unimportant endeavors. Instead of debating who wrote the Book of Mormon or whether theories about its authorship are plausible, maybe you should concentrate on coming up with actual reasons to believe the book is what it claims to be, crazy stories and all, regardless of who authored it.

    Don – if you have any non-lds sources for your steel and horse claims, i would love to see them.

  25. Why be anon?
    February 4, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    anon – If you don’t agree that spiritual understanding is legitimate, why bother trying to convince you here? Joseph is hard to believe. So is Spaulding. So is Rigdon. So what?

  26. February 4, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Anon (24) stated: “I find it interesting that many of you scoff at possible connections between religiously minded people we know existed and lived in close proximity in fairly small communities but many of you dont doubt the unsubstantiated and unprovable claims of JS”

    Your statement above assumes that none of us entertain any doubts about JS’ claims. But that’s not the case, at least not for me, and I’ve not said that anywhere in my post above. Rather, the point here is simply that over time the Spaulding theory has shown itself to be just as “unproven” and “unprovable” as JS’ stories. Which is something I find more than a bit ironic.

    Again, to be clear, I have no problem with people challenging the Church’s official historical narrative; I do the same in my own head on an almost daily basis; sincere truth-seeking demands it. I’ve read Grant Palmer et al. That said, the alternative theories offered by the Church’s critics certainly demand scrutiny as well. And when it comes to the Spaulding theory, it gets a failing grade in my book.

  27. Doug G.
    February 4, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Wow, lots of comments about a post that I started out saying I didn’t know if the theory was true or not.

    I didn’t present anything in my first five points that I haven’t seen discussed to death on other boards. I guess we could go through each point here, but I really don’t believe any of those points are new to any of you. If you read my thoughts on each point, you can see that I’m not trying to force a connection; I’m simply stating that there are lots of interesting coincidences here. You can read “Manuscript Found “and “View of the Hebrews” for yourselves and see that the style of writing and story lines are similar to the BoM.

    Ray, I completely understand why you would have such a problem with the Stanford study. Unfortunately for you and most apologists, peer reviewed papers from prestigious universities usually don’t make it past the internal peer reviews if it were really that easy to poke holes in it. Quoting things from Jeff Lindsay and Tim Malone doesn’t impress me very much. This is a university level paper up for peer review by any other university who would care to take it on. Find me an independent source that feels like the study is as flawed as you stated. That shouldn’t be that difficult if these guys are really that out-to-lunch.

    More to the point, a very interesting discussion was had on the MAD board about the conclusions of the study that would answer most of your concerns about number of authors used and who was selected by the university. If you bother to read the discussion I think you’ll find that “Uncle Dale” does a very good job defending the merits of the study and the science behind it.

    Bruce, it has been awhile since we last talked. Nice to see you here… :)
    I have to respectfully disagree with the premise of your post. I believe there are enough coincidences here to merit the possibility that Sydney Rigdon wrote the BoM. I certainly don’t have proof of that and even some of the diehard anti-Mormon ilk would be on your side. However, just because the link hasn’t been established doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. If someone does prove JS knew Sydney Rigdon before 1830, the rest of the story would make perfect sense. You can’t make that connection with anyone else except perhaps Ethan Smith, so stating that my logic is flawed is not really fair is it? The good part is, we shouldn’t have to agree to disagree on this issue. I’ll concede that it’s possible that Sydney didn’t write the BoM as long as you’ll concede that’s possible he did. Let’s face it, neither of us really knows for sure…

  28. February 4, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Anon,

    People believe in Joseph Smith’s story of the Book of Mormon’s origin, crazy as the story sounds, because they believe they have a spiritual witness that it’s true. I can understand believing that.

    Other people believe that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself, maybe with help from associates, maybe not, because that’s the simplest, most plausible, most likely story. I guess anyone can understand believing that.

    But I have trouble understanding why people would believe in a convoluted story that depends on dubious eyewitness testimony, vague possible connections between people, and most of all on the existence of a phantom manuscript that no one can find. Is it possible? Sure. It could have happened. Is it more plausible than angels and gold plates? Sure. Those are awfully implausible. They don’t happen often, if at all. But is it plausible in the sense of being likely? I don’t think so. Not without much better evidence.

  29. Ray
    February 4, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Doug, I’ve read the review you mention, and I’ve written research studies. I stand by my earlier comment. The study is fundamentally flawed in its construction, and, therefore, so are its conclusions. It really is that simple.

  30. February 4, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Ray, I completely understand why you would have such a problem with the Stanford study. Unfortunately for you and most apologists, peer reviewed papers from prestigious universities usually don’t make it past the internal peer reviews if it were really that easy to poke holes in it.

    That (probably) doesn’t happen in the hard sciences, but it happens all the time in the social sciences (the very hard sciences). In this case, IIRC, it was published in a linguistics journal. They might have had difficulty getting it into a history or Mormon studies journal, where the Spaulding theory is out of favor.

    But it’s not the case that the paper is a bad one per se. It probably does what it says it does: it finds that, out of the authors whose writing was tested, Rigdon’s and Spaulding’s writings were the best matches with the Book of Mormon. That’s all. It didn’t find that they were a better match than Joseph Smith (the authors didn’t try, because they didn’t feel they had enough samples of his writings) or (understandably) test the possibility that a bunch of pre-Columbian American Hebrews wrote it.

    So it is what it is: an interesting preliminary result (they plan to go on with further research) that provides mild support for the Spaulding theory from the perspective of one discipline (linguistics). But it doesn’t do anything to address the perspective of another discipline (history), where the Spaulding theory is widely considered to have been refuted.

  31. Doug G.
    February 4, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Ray,

    I’m assuming you’ve actually read the study then, not just the review of it. If not, then you’re just repeating someone else’s opinion. That said, I haven’t paid the $28 to get a copy either so I’m not going to try and defend it just as you shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. :)

    Thanks

  32. Cowboy
    February 4, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Perhaps some of the problem here lies in what we consider the Spaulding/Rigdon theory. I would agree that most theories which speculate on what “may” have happened in the context of this topic are weak at best. What I think the theory does at least at this point in time is raise the following questions:

    1) Is The Book of Mormon narrative contextually unique enough to exclude contemporary literature as possible sources?

    Between ” A View of the Hebrews” and “Manuscript Found” a number of similarities are addressed. I’ll forgo a comprehensive enumeration, and list three similarities that strike me. A) the use of a lever to move a large stone which rests on a makeshift box. B) Israelite origin for the American Indians. C) Ethan Smiths book, and The Book of Mormon use a number of the same isaiah scriptures in support of their claims.

    2) Is their a social link which ties Joseph Smith, Olivery Cowdrey, Sidney Rigdon, Ethan Smith, Solomon Spaulding, Professor Mitchell (the Anthon Affair), prior to 1830? If so, how does that effect claims regarding the origins of Mormonism?

    Ethan Smith was a relative of Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdrey and family were among E. Smiths parishoners prior to Cowdrey’s official introduction to Joseph Smith. I have recently read, but not confirmed that Sidney Rigdon was the nearest neighbor and associate to the Cowdrey family in Vermont (I think Vermont) prior to his move to Pennsylvania. Many of the early characters seem to have a connection to Dartmouth at about the same time. Rigdon, as has been mentioned, shared a post office box with Spaulding. We could go on, but to suggest that a reasonable connection is untennable, is in and of itself untennable.

    So we can debate whether specifics regarding connections in what has been classically termed the “Spaulding Theory” pass final muster, but cannot ignore that there seems to be some reasonable connection here. At least enough not to entirely dismiss the “theory” including it’s parts outright.

  33. Ray
    February 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Doug, I have read it, and I haven’t dismissed it out of hand, and I stick by my critique. :)

    Thanks.

  34. Russell Stevenson
    February 4, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Essentially, what your conclusions come down to…

    1) The Book of Mormon has some resemblances to other contemporary literature

    Shakespeare has some resemblance to contemporary literature. The mind of the translator cannot be removed from the translation process. I would be surprised (and a little suspicious) if anyone ever made the claim that a book ever came from an ideological vacuum. Ever…angelic visitations included.

    Though, to be fair, there is more resemblance between Joseph’s *story* of finding the book than the actual content.

    2) The social connection

    Honestly, what they were teaching at Dartmouth about Indian origins bore little resemblance to Solomon’s fanciful thinking (see Bushman on this point). And plus…are we to really expect that Hyrum came home, chatted it up with Joseph about what he learned in school…and then like magic, “Hey Hyrum, I just found a book that happened to talk about what you heard in class?” Maybe Hyrum would believe it, but what would be remarkable about it. What would move Hyrum to follow the trail for so long: “Ummm, Joseph…this was just the rantings of a crazy kid name ole Sol…I think you’re taking it a little bit too seriously.” Plus Lucy makes no mention of Hyrum telling these stories. It was Joseph. Why would she so quickly gloss over such information when it is so pertinent to the BOM account? And like Hyrum, why would she accept the BOM so quickly?

    But at this point, if such feeble connections are being insisted upon, it only betrays naturalistic biases. Oh well…

  35. anon
    February 5, 2009 at 1:02 am

    I see that several people have fallen back on the “spiritual witness” explanation to confirm their beliefs in the outlandish claims made by Joe and the BOM. What if i were to tell you that i have a spiritual confirmation that the BOM is a work of fiction and that God told me the BOM and the LDS church will have no bearing on my salvation? The evidence certainly points to the fact that the BOM is not what it claims to be (outside of LDS sites, there is nothing to support the claims made in the BOM) and i truly believe God has confirmed the fact that the BOM is nothing but the creation of Joe’s imagination – who is God lying to? I certainly dont believe God is lying to me and I truly believe God has led me away from Mormonism.

    My point is that many on this site seem to marginalize the beliefs and faith of others (the spaulding theory certainly takes some amount of faith) while easily accepting the outlandish claims that support what they want to believe. Many mormons have already told me that my “testimony” must be wrong because I did not receive the same answers they received – Is my witness only valid if I receive the same answers you guys receive? Have any of you actually stopped to consider how ridiculous many of the LDS foundational stories really are? God is an ET living on a planet near Kholob, God and Jesus actually visited a young uber-religious pseudo-con man in upstate New York to “restore” his church and gave him a stack of gold plates to “translate” his definitive work of scripture, a group of jews built submarines that were illuminated by magic stones and traveled across the ocean to set up a huge civilization which left absolutely no evidence to support its existence – how is this any more ridiculous than the “spaulding theory” presented above? I, personally, find the Spaulding theory much more believable than anything i have read in the BOM.

    Great… so your reading leads you believe that the spaulding theory is false – it still makes me wonder how your “studies” dont lead you to believe that the BOM is false considering the claims that support that book are much more unbelievable than any theories I have read about the authorship of the BOM. In the end, it all seems to come down to what you want to believe – many want to believe that the BOM is true and that Joe translated it from a (conveniently) missing set of gold plates written in a language that never existed. It seems that LDS believers should refrain from condemning the theories of others until they at least admit that their beliefs are, at best, completely speculative.

  36. February 5, 2009 at 1:41 am

    I see that several people have fallen back on the “spiritual witness” explanation to confirm their beliefs in the outlandish claims made by Joe and the BOM.

    Which people are those?

    I certainly dont believe God is lying to me and I truly believe God has led me away from Mormonism.

    Well, good for you then. Do what you think God wants you to do (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else).

    Have any of you actually stopped to consider how ridiculous many of the LDS foundational stories really are? God is an ET living on a planet near Kholob, God and Jesus actually visited a young uber-religious pseudo-con man in upstate New York to “restore” his church and gave him a stack of gold plates to “translate” his definitive work of scripture, a group of jews built submarines that were illuminated by magic stones and traveled across the ocean to set up a huge civilization which left absolutely no evidence to support its existence

    Is that more ridiculous than a God who sends his God-man son to the Earth to be born of a virgin, walk on water, feed thousands of people with a couple of fishes and loafs of bread, get executed, rise from the dead, and fly away into the sky? And to do all that to save souls (for the existence of which there is no evidence) from Hell (no evidence for its existence either) and send them to Heaven (ditto)? I mean, seriously. Any religion is pretty absurd if you look at it without faith.

    Great… so your reading leads you believe that the spaulding theory is false – it still makes me wonder how your “studies” dont lead you to believe that the BOM is false considering the claims that support that book are much more unbelievable than any theories I have read about the authorship of the BOM.

    Well, why don’t your studies lead you to the conclusion that God can’t be telling you the Mormon Church is untrue because there is no God to tell anyone anything? That it’s all in your head? After all, if plausibility and believability are your standards, that’s by far the most likely scenario.

    In the end, it all seems to come down to what you want to believe

    Sure looks that way to me.

    It seems that LDS believers should refrain from condemning the theories of others until they at least admit that their beliefs are, at best, completely speculative.

    I doubt that most people who post here would have any problem stipulating that the Joseph Smith story as told by the Church is a very unlikely one.

  37. Russell Stevenson
    February 5, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Kuri is right. Notice, I haven’t made any comments about the origins of Christianity, Islam, other faith traditions. I didn’t bring them because (surprise) that’s not the comment of the post.

    That said, Mormonism makes some big claims and has made a big splash. If it’s false, it needs *big* explanations to prove its falsity. They have witnesses, scholars, philosophical quandaries that make Spalding’s flight of fancy appear more like a children’s book. Hearing about some alleged lost manuscript and about random acquaintances won’t cut it for me. There are *so* many other more fruitful angles one can take (though, to be sure, I have explored most of them thouroughly and found them to be only slightly more convincing).

    In other words, if you were to ask intellectual Russ, he would say that he can’t make heads or tails out of the Book of MOrmon. But then again, intellectual Russ just wants to stay the library all day without feeding the poor or helping the needy. Does the Book of MOrmon help intellectual Russ get out of the rut? It does.

  38. Cowboy
    February 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    “Shakespeare has some resemblance to contemporary literature. The mind of the translator cannot be removed from the translation process. I would be surprised (and a little suspicious) if anyone ever made the claim that a book ever came from an ideological vacuum. Ever…angelic visitations included”

    Shakespeare was not the supposed author of a supposed and obscure history, so he gets a pass for external influences on his work. This argument would be better suited to disputing the recent Standord Nearest Shrunken Centroid analysis, for word usage. It does not really apply to arguments which claim that The Book of Mormon dealt with less than unique subject matter. The mind of the translator argument again would only apply to word/language usage, not subject matter.

    Your second paragraph relys on the assumption that the Smith family was among those who where decieved by Joseph. It also imply’s a far too limited explanation for how things must have transpired, compared to a much broader range of possibilities. The point I was making is that just because many of the so-called theories which fall under the umbrella of the “Spaulding/Rigdon theory” in the form of start to finish hypotheses, ultimately may fall short – it does not mean that the substantial connections and underexplored evidences should be entirely dismissed. The social relationships are actually quite remarkable for individuals who should have been very disconnected by geography, yet their earlier lives appear to be interwined just as do their later histories. That should be dismissed.

  39. Russell Stevenson
    February 5, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    “Shakespeare was not the supposed author of a supposed and obscure history, so he gets a pass for external influences on his work.”

    As should JOseph. Any conservative scholar who argued that Joseph dictated the account in a vacuum would be naive, in my view. And a mere awareness of a subject, even in common folk parlance, does not enable one to compose a book on it. I know a *great* deal about the Iraq war…hear it about it all the time in conversation and in school. I know even more about the Vietnam War. Does that enable me to spout off 500 pages about it, creating an entire society based on my musings? Furthermore, point out where the BOM is ever explicit about its New World origins. At the times when it should be most in-your-face (we’re the AMerican indians!), it holds back.

    Even granting that,those have been very much exaggerated. The Manchester library had no holdings of Ethan Smith’s work. And aside from the story of origin (which, as I have noted, was a common theme in the backwoods of New England, re: hidden treasures in mountains, etc.), there truly is not enough of a comparison to be worthy of scholarship.

    Finally, yes, the connections of social groups are very interesting. But they do nothing to help explain the existence of the Book of Mormon. Drops in a bucket and no more.

  40. Cowboy
    February 5, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I am not sure I follow. If you are suggesting that the similarities between The Book of Mormon and contemporary literature which has been argued as a source, are just coincedence, then what more can be said other than we disagree. You clearly see the similarities as minor compared to me, fair enough. If you are suggesting that somehow these external sources influenced The Book of Mormon narrative much in the same way contemporary literature may have influence Shakespear, but that does not call into question the Books authenticity, then I would have to say we seriously disagree. I am not personally a subscriber to the modern theories regarding the translation of the Gold Plates, which suggest that Joseph Smith might have had tremendous influence on the text or stories where he could borrow from personal experience and interweave it into the narrative. At that point we move from translator to author, and again this is not a position the Church has been willing to move on at this point, likely because it undermines their claims.

    “Even granting that,those have been very much exaggerated. The Manchester library had no holdings of Ethan Smith’s work.”

    Again, this defense only works in a confined iteration of the Spaulding/Rigdon Theory. It clearly ignores the Oliver Cowdrey connection, which is also “interesting” at least.

    “(which, as I have noted, was a common theme in the backwoods of New England, re: hidden treasures in mountains, etc.)”

    This argument is more often used as a case against divine authorship, than in the manner in which you have applied it. And finally, we will have to disagree on the similarities between Ethan Smiths book and The Book of Mormon. While I certainly would not fault you for your opinion, it is not one that I share.

  41. Don
    February 5, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    “Don – if you have any non-lds sources for your steel and horse claims, i would love to see them.”

    I was being sarcastic. Not enough sarcastic I guess. I could say more but I’m not here to start a flame war.

  42. Doug G.
    February 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I’ve done a fair amount of reading on this Stanford study. For reference, I would recommend doing a Google search on Nearest Shrunken Centroid (NSC) and reading what different universities have to say about this method of classification for unknowns.

    1. The NSC methodology has been extremely accurate at classifying cells and diagnosing different types of cancers based on slight variations in DNA patterns. Using a computer to assimilate huge DNA arrays, the program is able to find patterns that otherwise would be indistinguishable. By doing this, doctors can diagnose and treat cancers far more effectively because they know what they’re dealing with. There is nothing theoretical about the approach and/or the proven benefits of this technology.

    2. The Stanford study used this effective tool in the same way to determine similarities in writing patterns and assigns a value based on how close the sample matches a known author in its database. The more patterns that match, the higher the % assigned to that author. This percentage has nothing to do with the number of authors in the database. If a text is input and no patterns are matched, then the program would assign a value of zero to the text. The more matching patterns found, the higher the percentage assigned.

    3. Ray said- “Of the people we have chosen to consider (and we didn’t even bother considering the two options that would show the Book of Mormon as a valid record of some sort), Rigdon and Spaulding are the most likely authors.” That is NO different than if I said, “After doing extensive word analysis of Andrew Ainsworth’s posts at Mormon Matters, it is clear that, of Hawkgrrl, Joe P, Doug G and the Stephen Marsh, Hawkgrrrl and Stephen Marsh are the most likely authors of the posts that are being attributed to Andrew.”

    This statement is completely wrong with respect to the way NSC works and shows me that you really didn’t understand what you reviewed. If the patterns aren’t there then the program would assign the corresponding low values for each author.

    4. According to Mr. Criddle of Stanford University, they would love to include JS in the database of authors to be considered. The problem is there are very few actual writings of JS. Most everything we have was written by a secretary or scribe and therefore wouldn’t provide the program accurate patterns to be compared to BoM text. I suspect the church has more of his writings in its archive and probably should consider providing them to the University. It’s disingenuous to blame the University for not including his writing in the study when they’re not publicly available and apparently the church wasn’t willing to share. (Assuming they do have more writing of JS)

    4. Ray said- “They didn’t consider Isaiah a credible author of the chapters that differed from the OT text (Huh?),”

    Given what we know about the methodology employed, it would prove nothing to input BoM text that is 99% the same text as text from Isaiah. The program would hit a 100% match in patterns, which is obvious even to the casual observer. More importantly, the program found very few pattern hits between those parts copied from the OT / NT and its database of authors.

    5. I find it remarkable that over 40 chapters in the BoM contain enough pattern matches to Solomon Spaulding’s known writings (never mind the lost manuscript) to rate over 50% probability of his authorship and 93 chapters attributed to Sydney Rigdon’s authorship. Some of those chapters were above 90% in likelihood.

    I think those findings are significant and deserve a better explanation than the flippant one in post #16. No offence Ray, but did you really study this out or were you just copying from Jeff Lindsey?

    Sorry for the long post, but I think this study deserves a deeper look…

  43. Russell
    February 5, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    No worries, Cowboy.

    Just a couple of loose ends…

    I don’t think they’re coincidences. I am simply trying to view the connection as a believer would. And from a believing stance, I tend to see that the ideas were just present enough to allow Joseph to actually accept them as feasible. This is a realization every religious revolutionary has had to perceive. I mentioned in passing how treasure stories were common parlance in JS’s day. To me, this cultural setting was necessary to prepare Joseph’s mind for the idea that this could even be. I think it is fair to allow for these lingering ideas to resonate with Joseph–whether they came through Oliver or others (though again, we can’t really associate Rigdon more closely with Spalding than with Campbell). Then we must also ask how these dreamers convinced at least 8 men (not counting the three witnesses, since theirs was a supernatural occuerence) that this book wasn’t just another folk musing they had so often heard about at the tavern.

    People didn’t give up their livelihoods for folk magic. They did for the BOM. Even Luther (no revolutionary) had the ideas of Erasmus floating around. I don’t feel (too much) discomfort over acknowledging the impact of contemporary ideas on Joseph–not b/c they are not real but b/c I find their impact to be inconsequential.

  44. Russell
    February 5, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    P.S. I don’t buy the author role of JOseph either–though I do accept that he maybe didn’t always saw words but rather ideas. He then articulated those ideas using the language that he knew best. Thus we might see some language that resembles both the Bible and a Great Awakening camp meeting.

  45. February 5, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    So let me ask a question, as someone who has glanced over the abstract of the study and parts of it but doesn’t know much else about it. The history books we have at this point say that Rigdon met Joseph AFTER he read the Book of Mormon and was converted by it. Does the claim that Rigdon wrote the book also claim that he and Joseph knew each other before this?

  46. February 5, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I read the study and I found one part in particular interesting.

    “We acknowledge that because our samples of Rigdon prose all come after 1830, some could argue that Rigdon’s prose was influenced by the Book of Mormon and not vice versa. To raise such an objection, however, one would have to argue that Rigdon was so influenced by the Book of Mormon that he consciously or unconsciously adopted, even internalized, the most subtle and unremarkable linguistic patterns found in certain portions of the text, but not in others.”

    This is worth exploring, I think.

  47. Doug G.
    February 5, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Arthur,

    First, as I’ve maintained all along, this is an interesting study not a smoking gun. If you read my initial inputs on this subject you’ll see where I indicated that at present there is no concrete evidence of JS knowing SR before 1830. If that evidence shows up one day, the history of the origins of the BoM would certainly take on a more “human” type explanation.

    As for the idea that SR changed his writing style so dramatically after reading the BoM that these very subtle patterns in voice and style now mirrored the BoM, all I can say to that is wow. We’re talking about a Dartmouth trained minister who completely changes his style to that of BoM authors shortly after reading the book. I submit to you that it would probably be easier to change your fingerprints than teach yourself to write like that after a lifetime of writing in your own style. I believe the other explanation (he wrote the BoM) is far more plausible, but then that’s just me.

    Thanks for your thoughts though, at least your thinking!

  48. February 5, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    First of all, I speak as someone who doesn’t know much about all this, and I’m not trying to necessarily “disprove” the study, either. I’m not sure the study really makes a conclusion that is strong enough to merit disproving anyway, just interesting information, really.

    I feel that it would be slightly easier to change my writing style than to change my fingerprints (without disfiguring myself of course). I’ve been writing in various forms since I was very small. I’m younger than Sydney was at this time, but I remember one book in particular* that I read when I was perhaps 18 that completely changed the way I wrote (and the way I wanted to write). I read it and immediately desired to write “in that way,” because I loved how the author used the language. I put more clauses and commas in my sentences, and was more creative with subjects and verbs in a way that I ironically find difficult to describe. In another way, I feel that my songwriting style has definitely been influenced by the musicians that I listen to. It’s a conscious and an unconscious decision, I think. I’m no linguist, and I’m not sure my change in writing style would show up in a study like this. It would be interesting to see how that kind of a study would determine which writers or songwriters were influenced by which writers or songwriters, but I digress.

    But that’s why that particular paragraph resonated with me. If Rigdon indeed was influenced by the Book of Mormon in the way he initially said he was (spiritually, mentally, emotionally), and if it truly made such an impression on him that he joined the church and met Joseph in such a small time, I feel that it’s not an impossibility for him to adapt his style to that of the book that changed his life. Perhaps an infinite improbability?

    *- What book, you might ask? Why, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy of course.

  49. Cowboy
    February 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    “I don’t think they’re coincidences. I am simply trying to view the connection as a believer would.”

    This is always a fair position to take, and an appreciated one as well. I would just maintain that while the Rigdon Spaulding Theories are certainly not concrete, there are connections which exist there that provide tennable avenues of thought explaining early Church history from perspectives in lieu of the traditional.

  50. Russell
    February 6, 2009 at 12:23 am

    I’m convinced that if we want to look for Rigdon’s source of ideas, we should probably not be looking to Spalding. We should be looking to Alexander Campbell. And if there was ever someone averse to the very premise of the BOM (continued revelation), it was Alexander Campbell.

    We would probably do well to compare Campbell and Rigdon (had we the tools) and compare the similarities between them and the similarities stated in the study. That should give us some perspective.

  51. Don
    February 6, 2009 at 11:25 am

    If anyone is interested, this study has been made freely available now :

    http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/fqn040v1

  52. Bruce Nielson
    February 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    “‘The good part is, we shouldn’t have to agree to disagree on this issue. I’ll concede that it’s possible that Sydney didn’t write the BoM as long as you’ll concede that’s possible he did. Let’s face it, neither of us really knows for sure…”

    If this is all that you ask, I’ll conceded gladly. :) But then I have to conclude you didn’t understand my original point.

    Let’s turn this around and see what I mean: will you conceded that the Book of Mormon might be of ancient origins if I conceded that it might not be and that really we don’t know for sure?

    If you think a theory as thin as Spaulding should not be dismissed (and you are logically right here), then if you were being fair you should have accepted that an ancient origins theory shouldn’t be dismissed either. You should, at a minimum, be as open to that theory as you are to the Spaulding one.

    But then belief in the Book of Mormon being ancient is a matter of faith and belief in Spaulding is not, so we shouldn’t even be trying to make a comparison here like we are. The fact that we can make such a comparison (and with Spaulding on the losing end no less) really does say something and exposes the reality of just how rational the whole debate really isn’t from the outset. The real truth is that we all walk by faith.

  53. Bruce Nielson
    February 18, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Reading doug’s responses to others I think I understand his logic better now.

    What he is saying is that the thin Spaulding theory gained strength because a peer reviewed study suggested a high possiblity that there is a style match.

    If said this way, it makes more sense. I DO think this adds three times the existing evidence. (Starting at a very low number, of course.)

    The problem is that there is an equivalent study on wordprints that was also peer reviewed (by non-members) that claims there is no Spaulding or Rigdon or Smith match and it’s actually multiple authors. (I’m not refering to the Rencher study, but the follow on one that included non-members.)

    I have studied that study quite a bit and I finally, after careful consideration, decided that stats just isn’t a good way to go about this. I have no idea if that study really means anything or not.

    The word print study has been around a very long time to let people criticize it where as the new one has not. When that study came out, it was dismissed immediately by people against the Book of Mormon without any actual approach (initially) to suggest counter theories or explanation. I remember the Tanners dismissed it by “doing their own computer study” which consisted of finding patterns within the Book of Mormon itself and making up narratives about what Joseph was thinking when he wrote it. Bad bad bad.

    The problem is that Doug is both right and wrong. He is right we can’t dismiss completely this theory, nor any theory, including the Mary Lincoln as author theory. He is right that this is a peer reviewed study and thus deserves some respect. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me because it was all based on faith to begin with.

    He is wrong to dismiss the study that goes against his own beliefs. He is wrong to dismiss the ancient origins theory more so than the Spaulding theory when we are literally dealing with equivalent evidence: a statisical study that may or may not mean anything.

  54. Doug G.
    February 18, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Bruce,

    You’re always so hard on me. :) As someone who believed whole heartedly for years that the BoM was of ancient origins, I understand your bias against the study completely. For you it must be wrong or your faith is in vain. Not a pleasant thought…

    Surprisingly, we approached this study with the same bias. After reading “No Man Knows My History” and believing that Oliver Cowdery may have helped JS write the BoM based on “View of the Hebrews” I thought the chances of Sydney Rigdon’s involvement was pretty low as well. I realize that without a provable connection between JS and SR prior to 1828, this study is not a death warrant for the authenticity of the BoM. Setting the study aside, apologists have their work cut out for them in explaining away the rest of the problematic issues with the text. (Let’s not derail this thread on those…)

    The study is not finished yet of course. Some ambitious soul is going to find a way to include several hundred authors in the next run and show that Spaulding’s and Rigdon’s patterns are still the most likely authors of most of the non-biblical text. It will then fall to apologists to explain how so many chapters in the book have Spaulding’s voice print. As referenced in the study, Rigdon’s may have occurred due to his reading the book and changing his writing style to match. (The authors of the study find that highly unlikely but possible.) By making this argument, the apologists are admitting that the study does have merit and therefore would be at a loss to explain the Spaulding connection. I suspect another retreat after more work is done by the scientist.

    I say retreat as apologists have moved the Hill Cumorah to Central America and went from a hemispheric model to the limited geography theory in-light of archeological and DNA evidence just in my life time. I’ve heard all the arguments why these retreats are ok as further light and knowledge comes out. Eventually I think the majority of church members are going to believe the BoM is a 19th century creation of inspired fiction. Given the survival instincts of the church, I’m sure there will be a plausible explanation why God can work in that way too… :)

  55. Ray
    February 18, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    I say retreat as apologists have moved the Hill Cumorah to Central America and went from a hemispheric model to the limited geography theory in-light of archeological and DNA evidence just in my life time.

    Doug, I also don’t want to derail this post into an ad nauseum debate over these other issues, but it’s important to note that what you dismiss so easily as “retreat” actually does nothing more than reflect more closely what the text of the book itself actually says. Refuting the Spaulding theory is the same, by taking the text itself more serious and actually studying it.

    Just as a simple example, there is NO evidence whatsoever in the Spaulding manuscript that was found (or in “View of the Hebrews”) to explain something like chiasmus in the Book of Mormon – particularly some of the most intricate examples like Alma 36. There’s NO evidence anyone whom Joseph knew used chiasmus in ANY of their writings – not one single shred of evidence. You might dismiss that as “retreat”, but how in the world can you dispute that “further light and knowledge” has done at least just as much to refute Spaulding as it has to bolster it? There’s been WAY too much textual examination over the last few decades that points away from both Spaulding and “View of the Hebrews” to dismiss it as “retreat”.

    Setting aside incorrect assumptions for the result of intensive study (“further light and knowledge”) is a bad thing? If someone discovered an obviously authentic ancient text from that same time frame and general foundation culture that mirrored the overall form of the linguistic patterns of the BofM and changed fundamentally how we view the book, would you reject it by deriding it as a “retreat” and laughing at a description of it as “further light and knowledge”? That’s close to what the chiasmus discoveries have done – at the very least, provided extremely compelling evidence that dismissing the BofM as a plagiarized fraud is not as simple as its critics tend to assert. Are you really saying that such “further light and knowledge” is meaningless – and embracing it signals a “retreat”? Would you say that about ANY other topic – or do you reserve that standard only for Mormonism?

    If so, there really is nothing to discuss on this topic, since we are at an absolute impasse.

  56. Doug G.
    February 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Ray,

    I’m not going to debate you on all the evidence for and against the BoM. As you seem to think chiasmus is an example of Hebrew in the”reformed Egyptian” writings, I wonder if some of the spiritual writings of Rigdon possess this same effect. According to the study, Rigdon’s writings and Alma 36 is a good match… Care to take a look?

  57. February 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Doug G. said: “I say retreat as apologists . . . went from a hemispheric model to the limited geography theory in-light of archeological and DNA evidence just in my life time.” Doug, your statement is incorrect. The limited geography theory is not new, and it was not a “response” to “DNA evidence.” B.H. Roberts, the Church historian and President of the Seventy, believed the limited geography theory way back in the 1930′s, long before DNA evidence existed. The limited geography theory is at least 80 years old, so if this change was made during your lifetime, kudos to you for your longevity. :) See B.H. Roberts’ Studies in the Book of Mormon, available through Signature Books.

  58. Doug G.
    February 18, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Andrew,

    I’m not sure what to make out of B.H. Roberts, wasn’t he the one who thought “View of the Hebrews” had way to many similarities to the BoM. I also think its fair to say that no-one in 1930 believed in the “limited geography theory” including B.H. Roberts…

    As a child I heard Harold B. Lee speak at the foot of the Hill Cumorah on the Sunday before the pageant started and state in his testimony that this was where the Nephites met their end. I guess his testimony was just speaking as a man and not as the prophet though…

    Ok, I give…

  59. Ray
    February 18, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    Andrew says:

    See B.H. Roberts’ Studies in the Book of Mormon, available through Signature Books.

    Doug responds:

    I also think its fair to say that no-one in 1930 believed in the “limited geography theory” including B.H. Roberts…

    That’s exactly why I am done, Doug. That response is astounding – plain and simple.

  60. Bruce Nielson
    February 19, 2009 at 2:02 am

    “You’re always so hard on me. As someone who believed whole heartedly for years that the BoM was of ancient origins, I understand your bias against the study completely. For you it must be wrong or your faith is in vain. Not a pleasant thought…”

    Actually, I fully admit this.

    The question is: can you?

    “It will then fall…” The rest of what you write shows how much you really do have faith in this study. And “faith” is the correct word here.

    It all started with the Bible Code. I don’t mean the lame book, I mean the peer reviewed journal paper by three Jewish scholars ( Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg) eminent in the field of statisticians. They were published in Statisical Science, a peer reviewed journal.

    They showed that there was a 99% chance that the codes found in the Torah were intentional and not random using the best statistics with unbelievers looking on and admiting the methodology was correct.

    One of them later made an off the cuff statement: “well, if people can do the same with Moby Dick, I guess this doesn’t mean much.”

    Guess what? Someone went on to do just such a study with Moby Dick as well and with the same results. Apparently Moby Dick also contains Jewish codes from God.

    I’m afraid I’m not very trustful of statical studies on either side because of incidents like this. I don’t want to write off the wordprint studies on the Book of Mormon altogether, but I have to admit that I’m just not really convinced that human writing has a “finger print” at all. DNA is known to have a pattern. It IS a pattern. Word frequency may or may not have a pattern. We’re starting with the assumption that it does, but it might be a false assumption.

    It may be that we really are just measuring randomness and finding patterns, like the Bible Code was. The evidence seemed so overwhelming, however. I questioned Alvin Rencher at length on his methodology and could find nothing wrong with it, but I remain so deeply skeptical and really don’t give it much thought. If pushed, I’d have to admit that there is a really good chance they are just finding patterns in randomness much or most of the time. But who knows, maybe with more study, we’ll find that the wordprint studies really do mean something.

    Of course the issue is that it’s just too easy to build up a false cause/effect narrative as part of the process and literally not even realize you’ve done it. (For example, our Rabbi apparently were finding spells of names in Hebrew that matched better and discarding worse ones and didn’t even realize they were subconciously doing so.)

    I wish I could get the study downloaded. I’m skeptical of this idea of a 90% probability, etc. I’m uncertain if Doug is misunderstanding that or if the study actually stuck it’s neck out that far. What does it mean? How did they determine a probability like that? I honestly don’t think such a thing is possible. Should I assume they are talking about p-value?

    Doug, where are you getting your info? I can’t get the “free study” downloaded. Where did you find that it would give a low value if there were no matches?

    Also, what is their explanation of why this study based on word frequency is better than the previous ones (Rencher’s or the later ones with non-members involved) that showed no match to modern authors at all? Better selection of words? Better method used? (MANOVA was used previously.) What is their claim here?

    I cry foul on not using Joseph Smith in the study. The excuse that they don’t have his direct writings is lame since the question on everyone’s mind is “how high of a match is there if you take his writings known to not have been scribed by Rigdon.” This seems like more than mere oversight to me, all excuses aside.

    At this point, I’m afraid this is just a study. I need a lot more info to understand what is really even being claimed.

  61. Bruce Nielson
    February 19, 2009 at 10:06 am

    I should probably explain one thing that none of you know but me and Doug.

    A while back Doug and I had a long phone conversation for fun. One of the things we discussed was this study in comparison with the previous wordprint studies. At the time Doug had only heard of the Rigdon study and knew nothing about it but already put some stock in it, though less then he does today. I asked him about his feelings on the previous wordprint studies that showed Rigdon and Joseph (as well as many others) had very little chance of being authors of the Book of Mormon. He admitted that he didn’t know anything about them. If I remember correctly, I pointed out his bias back then. Knowing nothing more than that two peer reviewed studies existed that had varied results, he already put more stock in the one against the Book of Mormon. (I might be remember that wrong, I admit.)

    I explained to him that I am extremely skeptical of all such studies and used the pro-Book of Mormon study as an example. They really did go to great lengths to try to answer all possible questions. They split up the authors very carefully, not by chapter, so for example, the letter of Moroni is not attributed to Alma even though it’s in the book of Alma. (This was one of the objections Doug brought up immediately.)

    They also compared it to other translated writings, to Spaulding. They really thought of everything.

    And yet I just couldn’t bring myself to believe in it. The first problem is that I have no idea if word frequency actually means something. Secondly, there have, since the original study, be at least one case of an author being able to form two statisically significant wordprints, which throws further doubt on the whole underlying concept (though not nearly enough to completely write it off.)

    I believe I asked Doug to send me a link if he ever found the info on the Rigdon study.

    Doug, tell me if you remember any of this differently than I do or if you don’t remember it at all.

    My point here is that I’m naturally skeptical of such studies. I admit that whole Bible Code thing (which is really very different, I admit) sort of led me to believe that you can never really trust a study like this. There are too many unanswered questions and always will be, thus there will always be reason to doubt.

    And then there is out bias. We exalt the studies that confirm our beliefs (as Doug is doing) and immediately make up reasons to disbelieve ones that go against our beliefs. We go to such great lengths to suggest we’re just being reasonable, but the truth is our judgements were rigged from the outset.

    (more in a sec)

  62. Bruce Nielson
    February 19, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I lack any meaningful info about this new wordprint study at the moment until I can get my hands on the actual study and there has been sufficient chance for scholarly response (which took decades on the original pro-Book of Mormon ones.)

    Apparently this study doesn’t measure likelihood of authorship like the original study did, but relative chance of authorship of a given group. I can understand the skepticism that is being expressed over this. Here is what the authors need to do to lay this skepticism to rest:

    1. Excluding Joseph Smith was not okay. Doing so on the grounds that you don’t have enough of his writings is even worse. The Book of Mormon has overwhelming evidence that Joseph did not directly write it, but a scribe did, so we don’t want to compare the Book of Mormon to that which Joseph wrote directly, but only to that which he used a scribe for. If the study is done with Joseph and he’s at the top, we can then discuss if this means Joseph wrote it directly or translated it loosely (as I believe) but the Spaulding/Rigdon side is dead. The fact that this was all overlooked is very fishy.
    2. This study needs to be done with the same people but on a book we know they didn’t write but claims to be scripture. I would suggest the book of Matthew or some other gospel. If we end up with the same results, Spaulding and Rigdon at the top, then we’ll know that what it’s measuring is biblical language similarities. (Spaulding and Rigdon being ministers.)
    3. This study needs to be redone with other authors that use Biblical language. I don’t have the list of who was used, but I’d imagine there are distinct style differences between Jules Verne and Parely Pratt vs. Spaulding and Rigdon who are ministers and “talked biblically.” Again, if we find that minster types often end up with high hits, then the original premise is flawed.
    4. A similar study should be done on other books with Biblical sounding language (maybe Ellen White’s or Mary Baker Edding’s writings?) vs. ministers and non-ministers. If we find this methodology always finds a hit, even if we leave out the known author, then the premise is proven flawed.
    5. A similar study should be done with an author of a book (whom we exclude) and known companions of the author so that we know they shared similar social circles and were familiar with each other’s writings. Again, if we find we often get a hit even though we know the real author is excluded, then we know the premise is flawed.

    Since I don’t have access to the study yet, I don’t know how many of these above scenarios have already been run. Please note that I came up with this after a few moments of thought. This is an example of what I meant in my previous post: it’s really hard, perhaps cost prohibitive, to answer all the possible questions in a study like this. That’s why I am skeptical of the original wordprint study as well. Until everyone has had a chance to suggest alternatives and someone has paid for the alternatives to be tested, you just don’t know if you have something meaningful or not.

    Until we’ve gone through at least the above suggested scenarios, all of which are extremely obvious, the only rational response (excluding the need for boosting our preconceived notions, though I understand the need) is skepticism towards the study. Kari has it right, this suggests a new path for study, it doesn’t do anything else yet and we’re years off from it even being particularly meaningful.

  63. Bruce Nielson
    February 19, 2009 at 10:34 am

    “If we find this methodology always finds a hit, even if we leave out the known author, then the premise is proven flawed.”

    Actually, I said this wrong. If we find that it sometimes finds a hit even though we know we excluded the real author, then the premise is flawed. You don’t even need “always.”

  64. Bruce Nielson
    February 19, 2009 at 11:21 am

    One other interesting side note. I believe I told Doug, in my conversation, that one of the reasons I’m skeptical of the existing pro-Book of Mormon wordprint tests is that it goes against my current translation theory. That is to say, if Joseph loosely translated it, we SHOULD get a match between him and the Book of Mormon, but we don’t. I am not sure what to make of it, but I remaining skeptical. I see it only as an interesting direction for new research at this time.

    I also discussed with Doug why I find a Rigdon source for the Book of Mormon so unlikely based on the historical record. For example:
    1. Rigdon’s family, and even his own wife did not know Joseph Smith prior to Parley Pratt converting them. Ridgon’s own son carefully questions his family on this issue and he was convinced that none of them had previously met Joseph and they weren’t lying to him even when being grilled.
    2. They lived hundreds of miles apart before the automobile. This is not an easy thing to over come if you are working on a book together and there can’t be any evidence or paper trail of what you are doing.
    3. This belief makes the creation of the Book of Mormon inhuman rather than merely highly improbable. Joseph and Oliver spent all day every day working on this and there is overwhelming historical evidence that Joseph wasn’t reading someone else’s writings. What did he do? Not sleep the whole three months so that he could memorize the next day’s worth? Could you do that for even one day? Is it really feasibility that Joseph had the whole thing memorized in advance? Or are we going to discount the historical record or add everyone that said he had no manuscript to our conspiracy theory?
    4. How do we explain the fact that the Book of Mormon specifically exalts Joseph and NOT Rigdon? Look up 2 Nephi 3 and read the whole chapter. Don’t miss v. 15. And this isn’t the only such reference to Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon. Are you really suggesting that Rigdon wrote all of this and never once thought to do something similar for himself? This from a man that is well known to have had an ego problem with being under Joseph’s leadership. Rigdon never did understand that he couldn’t lead the Church and continued to try to his whole life. He wasn’t a modest guy who didn’t like the limelight.

    But the biggest piece of evidence is Parley Pratt. He’s the one that introduced Rigdon to the Book of Mormon. There is plenty of evidence of this. And we know how and when it happened via multiple sources, so unless we want to add Parley and family to our ever growing conspiracy, we have to realize that what we are claiming is that Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon, gave it to Smith, and then there was this HUGE coincidence that took place where one of Rigdon’s own flock just happened to be on a missionary journey, just happened to come across the Book of Mormon, just happened to be converted to it, and then just happened to bring it all back to Rigdon and went to great lengths to convince him to accept it too. And all, not very long at all after the Book of Mormon was published! This really strains credibility for me.

  65. Doug G.
    February 19, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Bruce,

    Why don’t you just read the study? The link provided in post #51 works just fine… If after reading it, you want to further discuss what it means, please give me a call. Hopefully you still have my number…

  66. Doug G.
    February 19, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Ray said,

    “Andrew says:

    See B.H. Roberts’ Studies in the Book of Mormon, available through Signature Books.

    Doug responds:

    I also think its fair to say that no-one in 1930 believed in the “limited geography theory” including B.H. Roberts…

    That’s exactly why I am done, Doug. That response is astounding – plain and simple.”

    This is exactly why I’m done as well with you Ray.

    As I brought up in the post you took that quote out of, B.H. Roberts was very conflicted in his beliefs about the origins of the BoM. His writings about the similarities between “View of the Hebrews” and the BoM are used all over the internet to show that he didn’t believe anymore in its historicity. So if he didn’t believe in it anymore, how does his idea of the limited geography theory make any sense? Also, my point was simply that new evidence has caused the church to change its beliefs in the “hemispheric model” and that change occurred in my life time. Andrew’s insistence that it was known back in 1930 based on something B.H. Roberts wrote is in direct contradiction with what every prophet has been teaching from JS to President Kimball. I even gave a personal example of hearing President Lee testify to everyone in our Stake that the Nephites met their end there. My goodness Ray, there’s even a monument on top of the Hill and the main reason the pageant has been acted out there since before I was born. I’ll even go one step further; I think if you asked the active members of your ward about the LGT, most wouldn’t have a clue. I know that’s how it is in my ward based on a discussion last year in Sunday school.

    So, you want to get all offended because I don’t find something B.H. Roberts said has convincing evidence for the church adopting the LGT back in 1930, or even his belief in it, fine. Your failure to see my point is astounding to me as well- plain and simple!

  67. March 25, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    For years now many Mormon Haters have tried to use the “Solomon Spaulding Theory” to explain away the Book of Mormon.

    The Spaulding Theory started when a Mormon Hater named Philastus Hurlbut began trying to dig up dirt on Joseph Smith. In 1834, Hurlbut found a few people in Coneaut, Ohio, who claimed the Book of Mormon resembled a book written 20 years earlier by a man named Solomon Spaulding. Some of the witnesses even reported remembering names like Nephi and Zarahemla. Hurlbut traced down Spaulding’s widow and eventually found a book written by Spaulding titled “Manuscript Found.” However, Hurlbut must have been very disappointed once he read the manuscript. Not one name from the Book of Mormon is found in “Manuscript Found,” and the story barley even resembles that of the Book of Mormon. It is a story about Roman soldiers who are blown off course and land in the Americas. (Today the manuscript has been published and can be purchased at the BYU book store).

    So Hurlbut did what any red-blooded Mormon Hater would do, he buried the manuscript. The Spaulding Theory became the standard Mormon Hating explanation for the Book of Mormon for the next 50 years. In fact, Hurlbut did such a good job propagating the rumor, that even to this day Mormon Haters will email me and tell me that Joseph Smith had Spaulding’s manuscript hidden in his hat when he was dictating the Book of Mormon.

    In reality, the Spaulding Theory crashed and burned in 1884 when Spaulding’s manuscript was “found” and published for all to read.

    There is no Solomon Spaulding connection to the Book of Mormon. No BofM rough draft has ever been found in Spaulding’s handwriting, Spaulding never wrote anything having to do with the BofM, not one word. Even after professional handwriting experts were hired by Mormon Haters to compare the handwriting of Solomon Spaulding to that of the original Book of Mormon script, they found no connection. It’s funny to think that Solomon Spaulding died before even hearing about the Book of Mormon or Mormonism, when today his name is so closely related to those two subjects.

    Through lies and deceit, Mr. Hurlbut did his best to tarnish the validity of the Book of Mormon, but Solomon Sapulding did not write the book, that, I can assure you.

  68. Jack Cpi
    January 21, 2012 at 4:22 am

    So what happens when i have read the Spauldings family geonoligical history book, traced down his great, great grandson & read letters from his wife, brother, neighbors stating these very facts you mention. I’m sorry but what is written above just is not sufficeint research to verify truth or falsehod.
    -jack

  69. D. Atkinson
    August 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I liked your article, it seemed pretty even-handed to me. Both sides of the Book of Mormon debate have a tendency to rely on hyperbole to makes their points. I am not a believer in the historicity of the B of M, but the Spaulding Theory seems pretty weak to me. D. Atkinson

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