Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Plagiarism and the Book of Mormon: Hiding from the Burden of Proof

I continue to be impressed with the ever-growing list of books and publications that supposedly guided Joseph Smith in fabricating the Book of Mormon, if we accept the hypothesis of his critics. It's as if he translated the Book of Mormon while he and a team of scholars conducted extensive research in a vast frontier library - but even with such resources, the 19th century just didn't have the information it would have taken to fabricate the Book of Mormon and provide the evidence for authenticity we can see today.


I've dealt with specific allegations of plagiarism (Spaulding Theory, etc.) on my page about Plagiarism and the Book of Mormon. This page has long cited information about the limited supply of books in the Manchester/Palmyra area, but recently I ran into more relevant information about Harmony, Pennsylvania, where most of the Book of Mormon was actually translated. It looks like there wasn't even a library there, making it even more of a literary vacuum than Palmyra. This insight comes from John Welch's chapter, "Was There a Library in Harmony, Pennsylvania?" in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, ed. by John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1999, pp. 283-284), where we read:


Harmony was a small town on the border between the states of New York and Pennsylvania. The region was very remote and rural. Recently we asked Erich Paul [Erich Robert Paul apparently is the full name of the author of the previously cited article, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library"] if he had ever explored the possibility that any libraries existed around Harmony in the 1820s which Joseph Smith might have used. He responded: "In fact, I checked into this possibility only to discover that not only does Harmony and its environs hardly exist anymore, but there is no evidence of a library even existing at the time of Joseph's work." Accordingly, those who have considered western New York as the information environment for the Book of Mormon may be 120 miles or more off target. One should think of Joseph translating in the Harmony area and, as far as that goes, in a resource vacuum.


Even if Joseph had wanted to pause to check his details against reputable sources, to scrutinize the latest theories, to learn about scholarly biblical interpretations or Jewish customs, or to verify any Book of Mormon claims against the wisdom or theologies of his day--even if he had wanted to go to a library to check such things (something he showed no inclination to do until later)--there simply was no library anywhere for him to use.


Critics can continuing scouring the 19th century for scraps of information spread across American and European cities to "explain" various fragments of the Book of Mormon, ignoring the improbability of access to such documents for Joseph Smith. In doing so, they don't come anywhere close to meeting the burden of proof or even the burden of plausibility for their hypothesis.


And if we are to believe that a proposed source was plagiarized, their ought to be stronger evidence of derivation than chance patterns of a few related words of concepts. If Spaulding or anyone else is to be seriously considered as a possible source for the Book of Mormon, the evidence for derivation should be much stronger than the chance parallels we find in the "impossible" source, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, where my analysis shows parallels far more impressive than those that the Tanners and others point to as evidence of plagiarism for sources that came before the Book of Mormon. Again, the critics simply haven't provided any reason to accept their case.

3 comments:

Daniel Carlson said...

I agree. In the the last anti-LDs book I have read "American Apocrypha" George Smith makes the claim that Joseph plagiarised from View of the Hebrews. Furthermore, many anti-LDs Websites i have been on (e.g. UTLM.org, exmormon.org, latterdaylampoon.com, www.lds-mormon.com, etc. etc. etc.) makes the claim the BOM was copied from 19th century sources due to stray parallels. Nonetheless, you analysis of the BOM and LEaves of Grass shows the weakness of these claims.

Additionally, if the critics are to accept that an odd few parallels "proves" the BOM is a fraud, then, from my English class study of comparitive texts, Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" was the source material for Bas Lurmann's (the director of "Romeo and Juilet" and "Moulan Rouge") "Strictly Ballromm." Literall,y there are DOZENS of direct paraellels between the two in respect to themes, characters, etc. Some even more powerful than what crticis offer!

That, and coupled with the fact that NO BOOKS whatsoever in the 19th contained the evidences that support the Book of Mormon's authenticity.

I agree with the conclusion that Plagiarism doesn't explain the Book of Mormon.

steveaustin said...

My belief is the sources for some aspects of the Book of Mormon are the Bible and the current events of the 1820's and 1830's. A lot of secret society verses are in the Book of Momron. Is this a refection of the current events of the Anti-Secret society (Anti-Freemasonry Movement) of the 1820's and 1830's. Also the Book of Mormons wasn't officially published until 1830. Seems there might be a current even connection with Book of Mormon. Also if Book of Mormon warns about secret societies and to many Christians and others that the Freemason are considered a secret society then why did Prophet Joseph Smith join the Freemason to begin with? Seems there is to much conflicting history and current events of Joseph Smith's time for the Book of Mormon to be of ancient orgin of America's Past. The Freemasons (which Smith was one)our known to have great abilities to historicalize their own importantance to the anicent past. Now if only people would stop committing mental infidelity. Their forcing theirself to believe what they truely don't believe due the way the Mormon proganda can make them all happy. People want happieness in life and if a religion appeals to this and has great abilities to be such they they will seek "Happiness over Truth. Seek, Truth first then happiness. If you go by what men say they may offer you "happiness" but it may not be truth.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, the Book of Mormon is a 19th Century fictional document, albeit having been edited well over the years to correct inaccuracies.

Portions of the BoM are taken directly from the St James translation of the Bible - the Isaiah chapter in particular. The St James version is different enough from the Greek to discover his use of that version. Why would the golden tablets use the English translation's exact phrasing which would have been prior to the claimed time period the tablets were recorded. Wouldn't God have used the original Greek to so-called Egyptian? The St James version would be the only Bible available to Joseph Smith. This was discovered in the early 20th Century and reported to the LDS by its own scholar, Brigham Roberts.

DNA evidence proves the natives of America came from Siberia. There are no Native American populations that share ancestry with Israelites.

Ethan Smith's book in 1823, View of the Hebrews, theorizing how the Jews came to America and are the ancestors of American Indians was widely read. Cowdrey was a member of E. Smith's church. It is highly likely that Cowdrey was involved in implanting the idea into the Book of Mormon either by discussing it with J. Smith or by providing a copy of it, and of course library records have been obtained which show it was checked out while Mr. Smith developed his unseemly scheme. Ethan Smith in promoting his ideas even spoke to small groups about his Israelite/Indian theory in Joseph's locale.

By whatever means Joseph Smith obtained the false concept, it was a well saturated theory throughout upstate NY & New England. Many newspapers in the region covered the theory even as early as 1815.

Evidence of human habitation in North and South America 10,000 years ago proves the New World was most certainly not an "empty land" as the BoM states. Certainly God as we know Him would not have allowed a falsehood to be placed in the founding of his "only church".

In addition, God would not have punished people with darker skin as claimed in the BoM. It is now well understood how skin color changed as humans gradually moved into the northern climates. This reeks of the 18th-19th Century belief that white people are the superior race and promotes a racism that the God through Jesus of the Bible would not condone!

Regarding polygamy: it is quite well documented that Joseph Smith had quite a turmoil in his home when his wife Emma suddenly threw out one of the young women living with them, someone previously she loved dearly. It is highly likely that this sudden change in feelings was because she discovered this woman in a bedroom with Joseph Smith. That Smith had a revelation from God to have plural wives serves to verify this theory as does the fact that he secretly married this woman with witnesses.

There was no shortage of men as many would hope to account for this sudden proclamation for plural marriages. In fact Smith secretly married 33 women, 10 of whom were already married with children to his own followers. At least half of these spiritual marriages were consummated, one verified by his own brother who saw them to bed and others by the statements of the women themselves although he admonished them to silence in case he would get in trouble. He most certainly knew he was doing something worthy of keeping hidden.

Joseph Smith's mother used to brag about her young son's creative story telling abilities. It seems highly likely he used these skills while creating the BoM and later in his revelations.

While writing the BoM, he didn't go further than the Holy Bible to find names for the characters which he cleverly adjusted.

Concerning the "stone in the hat" trick, court records from the nearby town have been found in which he was charged with an illegal con game on a local farmer searching for gold on his property. J. Smith served no jail time despite all evidence against him. It can only be assumed that the youthful Joseph talked his way out pleading innocence.

Throughout J. Smith's life it seems people were after him and money or sex was often involved. Two of his "wives" were only 14. Even in those days this was considered uncivilized if not illegal. Adultery most certainly was a serious moral crime particularly when it involved another man's wife.

It's certain that J. Smith's sexual drive grew stronger as his power grew, a quality well known in successful and powerful leaders. Putting it mildly, it destroyed him.

It's tragic that his first followers fell for his tall tales. Many were searching for new faiths, longed for the adventures he described, and had leadership skills and respect to spread the "word". Several women wrote letters describing his mesmerizing blue eyes. This was a man quite capable of trickery, for sure.

Anyone placing their faith in anything Joseph Smith said or did are basing it on decisions made by trusting people who fell for his charismatic gifts. Many, including Smith himself, died because of this make believe. A whole church of 13 million today have to live with the legacy, forced to defend these lies. As more and more proof is exposed, many are rightfully angry, even distrusting the Bible itself in the face of what they call evil. The damage of his lies to the lives of their ancestors up to the present is appalling. IF there really is a devil, most certainly he worked through Joseph Smith.

This is truly an American tragedy of epic proportions. I'm certain many will continue the tradition of spreading the word. If people slam the door on these people, can you blame them? No amount of good works can cover up a lie.