I will be pre­sent­ing and explain­ing what issues have most trou­bled me as I inves­ti­gat­ed the truth­ful­ness of the Book of Mor­mon. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, most of the issues that fol­low may not be new to any­one who reads this, as they were not for me, either. The dif­fer­ence is that before, I nev­er gave any real cred­i­bil­i­ty to the claims because, well, I ratio­nal­ized that we know by the Spir­it that the Book of Mor­mon is true, so doubters must be wrong, and, hon­est­ly, how much can real­ly be known about what there was and wasn’t in the Amer­i­c­as pri­or to Colum­bus?

The answer to that ques­tion is: very lit­tle can be known, but much can be deter­mined to be high­ly, high­ly prob­a­ble. Thanks to sci­ence, smart peo­ple who are not try­ing to prove or dis­prove any Book of Mor­mon claims have done the work to deter­mine with a high lev­el of con­fi­dence many impor­tant things about the pre-Columbian Amer­i­c­as. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for the Book of Mor­mon, very lit­tle infor­ma­tion about pre-Columbian Amer­i­ca (espe­cial­ly Mesoamer­i­ca, which is the cur­rent­ly claimed loca­tion of the events in the Book of Mor­mon) was known in Joseph Smith, Jr’s time. Based on my assess­ment, he did not score a pass­ing mark com­pared to the infor­ma­tion that is now avail­able. It is intrigu­ing to con­sid­er the tes­ta­ment the Book of Mor­mon could have been, had it aligned with all the Mesoamer­i­can dis­cov­er­ies that were unknown yet forth­com­ing at Joseph Smith, Jr’s time.

I think a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion among mem­bers of the church is that the ideas pre­sent­ed in the Book of Mor­mon were very nov­el for their time. The thought is that no one could have invent­ed up such a com­plex sto­ry, so it must be inspired. The real­i­ty is not as favor­able. In the peri­od just pri­or to the dis­cov­ery and trans­la­tion of the Book of Mor­mon, one of the the­o­ries float­ing around in Amer­i­can cul­ture was that the indi­ans were descen­dants of Hebrews, in fact part of the lost 10 tribes of Israel. There was a book writ­ten by a pas­tor named Ethan Smith, pub­lished in 1823, called View of the Hebrews which pre­sent­ed this hypoth­e­sis. There is no proof that Joseph Smith, Jr had access to this book, but it is high­ly like­ly that Oliv­er Cow­dery did. Oliv­er Cowdery’s moth­er and half-sis­ters were mem­bers of Ethan Smith’s con­gre­ga­tion which would mean Oliv­er had like­ly at least heard the gen­er­al sto­ry of Ethan’s book, if he didn’t have an actu­al copy. Many have even pro­posed that View of the Hebrews was a source for the Book of Mor­mon due to this poten­tial access and the par­al­lels found in the two books. In the 1920’s, Gen­er­al Author­i­ty B.H. Roberts stud­ied the sim­i­lar­i­ties between the books at the request of the First Pres­i­den­cy. In his response he out­lined 18 points of sim­i­lar­i­ty, includ­ing:

  • exten­sive quo­ta­tion from the prophe­cies of Isa­iah in the Old Tes­ta­ment;
  • the Israelite ori­gin of the Amer­i­can Indi­an;
  • the future gath­er­ing of Israel and restora­tion of the Ten Lost Tribes;
  • the peo­pling of the New World from the Old via a long jour­ney north­ward which encoun­tered “seas” of “many waters;”
  • a reli­gious motive for the migra­tion;
  • the divi­sion of the migrants into civ­i­lized and unciv­i­lized groups with long wars between them and the even­tu­al destruc­tion of the civ­i­lized by the unciv­i­lized;
  • the assump­tion that all native peo­ples were descend­ed from Israelites and their lan­guages from Hebrew;
  • the bur­ial of a “lost book” with “yel­low leaves;”
  • the descrip­tion of exten­sive mil­i­tary for­ti­fi­ca­tions with mil­i­tary obser­va­to­ries or “watch tow­ers” over­look­ing them;
  • a change from monar­chy to repub­li­can forms of gov­ern­ment; and
  • the preach­ing of the gospel in ancient Amer­i­ca.

Accord­ing to BYU pro­fes­sor Mar­vin S. Hill, Roberts “main­tained that the Book of Mormon’s claims that the Indi­ans were derived sole­ly from three migra­tions of Hebrews to the new world over a span of three thou­sand years was entire­ly unten­able.” And Roberts con­clud­ed that the “evi­dence I sor­row­ful­ly sub­mit” point­ed to Joseph Smith as the Book’s cre­ator.

I have no incred­i­ble insight into the real source of the Book of Mor­mon. It may have been adapt­ed from View of the Hebrews, trans­lat­ed from gold­en plates, or just cre­at­ed in Joseph’s head based on all the ideas float­ing around at the time — I don’t know. I have includ­ed this infor­ma­tion to con­test the argu­ment that the Book of Mor­mon is true because there is no way Joseph could have writ­ten the book. I argue that the ideas of the Book of Mor­mon were not new, and in fact were like­ly famil­iar to and accept­ed by many peo­ple at that time. If you are inter­est­ed in hear­ing of oth­er incred­i­bly curi­ous insights into oth­er poten­tial sources for the Book of Mor­mon, please let me know — I’d love to dis­cuss them.

Series Nav­i­ga­tion: My Search for Truth — Wes Trexler« Nature of Spir­i­tu­al Con­fir­ma­tionBook of Mor­mon Issue 1: Ani­mals »

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