Defenders of truth (what Mormon apologists hatefully call "anti-Mormons") have been arguing for years that Joseph Smith plagiarized from one or more nineteenth century sources in producing the Book of Mormon. Many dozens of books have been offered up as possible candidates, including works by Spaulding, Ethan Smith, various ministers, von Humboldt, and so forth. However, the real experts know that the strongest candidate for the secret source of the Book of Mormon is Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. One can find parallels in many themes, names, events, and even phrases of four, five, six, or even seven words at a time. The evidence for the Leaves of Grass as the smoking gun behind Book of Mormon plagiarism is far stronger than what critics have dug up for other sources.
The only possible weakness in this theory is that the Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, 25 years after the Book of Mormon. But there's a simple explanation: Whitman, for some reason, waited a few decades to publish the text that he must have written before 1830 (or actually before 1827, when the Book of Mormon story came on the scene). Now some sticklers have continued their desperate denial of the evidence, hoping to prop up the farcical case for the Book of Mormon. For example, here's an e-mail I received this week in response to my page on Whitman and the Book of Mormon:
Wasn't Walt Whitman born in 1819? How could the Book of Mormon have been plagiarized from Walt Whitman's work if he was only 11 at the time of it's publication.Hey, haven't you heard of child prodigies? Really, the blindness of these Mormon defenders amazes me.
Update, May 9: Just received another hate-filled e-mail from a nasty Mormon supporter. Here it is:
At first glance, you seem to have an argument on the Leaves of Grass/Book of Mormon plagiarism....So, I'm the one with an accuracy problem, eh? This is so typical of Mormon apologetics: nothing but ad hominem attacks and name calling from these vile, deranged cultists. There is even a veiled attack on Walt Whitman's integrity! Is nothing too low for the perfidious tactics of Mormon defenders? And look how they've completely ignored my point, running from the evidence, as always. They just regurgitate the same old tired canards from their fellow apologists. Why does the LDS Church refuse to officially debate the issue of Walt Whitman and the Book of Mormon? What are they trying to hide??
...But if you consider the fact that Whitman was born in May 1819, he would have only been 10 or 11 years old when the Book of Mormon was published.
You could be right that there was plagiarism involved...but it may be the opposite of what you were thinking.
Next time, check your dates for accuracy.
I think there are some valuable lessons to learn about plagiarism in studying these parallels. But they are lessons that tend to deflate some people's balloons. In my opinion, the critics have utterly failed to offer any plausible explanation for the origins of the Book of Mormon other than the one Joseph Smith and the many other witnesses have offered: there were real gold plates from that were translated by a prophet of God.