Introduction: Approaches To The Book of Mormon
Part 1: DNA & The Book of Mormon
Part 2: Early 19th Century Views of Native Americans
Part 3: Books That Likely Influenced The Book of Mormon
Part 4: Motif Criticism—Anachronistic Theology and Issues
Part 5: Source Criticism—The KJV Bible in the Book of Mormon
Part 6: Historical Context—Treasure Digging/Folk Magic/Witnesses


Ironically, my study of the Book of Mormon is what ultimately led me to lose faith in some of the core LDS truth claims. In fact, recognizing that the Book of Mormon wasn’t what I thought it was may have been the only thing that could have possibly opened me up to the possibility that my treasured beliefs might not be what I thought they were. I think I would have (and pretty much had) dealt with and explained away just about everything else, but this is something entirely different. As we have so often been told, the Book of Mormon is the “keystone” of the LDS faith.

In this document, for those who will consider it, I will attempt to give an introduction to my reasons for concluding that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century creation, and not a historical record. Summarizing all I’ve studied is impossible, but this will be a start. I’m not claiming to be providing brand new information here that nobody has previously presented. Rather, I am attempting to summarize, from all the many sources I’ve studied, some of the things that I found significant and compelling.

I come at this as someone who had a strong “spiritual witness” of the Book of Mormon, and also as someone who is very familiar with the “evidences” put forth as support for Book of Mormon historicity (Jon Sorenson, Mark Wright, Brant Gardner, etc). I was once very impressed by them, but found that they suddenly became very insignificant when I was faced with the evidence that the book was a non-historical 19th century document.

Before we get into the data, I think it will be helpful if we start by giving a summary of where LDS views of the Book of Mormon have traditionally been, where they’re starting to go, and where I feel they’ll ultimately end up.

View #1: Historical Record / Tight Translation Process:

Traditionally, most have felt that the Book of Mormon is a fairly “tight” translation of what was on the gold plates—meaning that so far as translation into King James English allows, it closely followed the actual wording and structure on the gold plates. Multiple witnesses claimed that Joseph simply read aloud exact words that were shown to him on his “seer stone.” Thus, Joseph wasn’t personally “translating” as much as he was “dictating” whatever was made to appear on the stone (by God? Mormon? Moroni?). Some defend the “tight” translation because they feel they see “Hebraisms” in the text that could only come through with a “tight” translation (but it should be noted that these same supposed “Hebraisms” are also found in other modern books that mimic a biblical style of writing). Anyway, Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack are a few who appear to be continuing to argue for these types of traditional views of the Book of Mormon. My feeling is that these views absolutely cannot and will not continue to stand in light of the evidence available. I think even a fairly surface level exploration of the 19th century elements in the text will fairly quickly cause most to abandon these views in favor of the next approach…

View #2: Underlying Historical Record / 19th Century Content Added During A Loose Translation Process:

Judge for yourself after exploring the data here, but I think the “tight translation” approach has an ice cube’s chance in Hell of surviving the information age. The more difficult question that will  face the LDS community is whether or not a retreat to a “loose translation” approach can truly and adequately account for all the problems that are being recognized. This proposed approach isn’t new. As far back as 1987 Blake Ostler recognized that it can’t be denied that there is a lot of content in the Book of Mormon that cannot reasonably be attributed to the ancient world, and which is explicitly of an early 19th century nature. Thus, his 1987 article proposed a middle way called the “expansion theory” for Book of Mormon translation. He still believes there were real gold plates, and an underlying historical document, but believes the “translation” must have been a very “loose” one in which Joseph would (perhaps un-knowingly) add his own “expansions” and spin on the text—thus explaining the explicit 19th century content. Some worry that this approach undermines Book of Mormon historicity, and Ostler admits that “to a certain extent it does.” Still, I think you’ll find that the data requires it. In a recent interview Richard Bushman stated that we need to “go back to Blake Ostler’s dialogue essay that says the Book of Mormon is an expanded text.” Brant Gardner’s recent book provides a model similar to Ostler’s. In my view, there will be a certain percentage of people for whom this sort of approach will work. However, in my opinion, “expansion theories” will be a temporary fallback for most. I believe most who will genuinely delve into the issues will find that the problems are too deep and too foundational to the book’s very self-conception to be accounted for as “expansions.” I believe most who really explore the issues in depth will ultimately be left to choose between the next two options.

View #3: Not Historical / Still Divinely Inspired or Valuable:

Some have concluded that the Book of Mormon cannot be considered historical, but have continued to believe that it is inspired or revealed by God in varying degrees, or have simply argued that it still has great value as scripture. Folks like Anthony Hutchinson argued for this view long ago, and I suspect many in the Community of Christ (RLDS) take this approach. More recently, Randall Bowen has done some great posts on the subject–indicating that he feels the “expansion theory” above currently seems to be inadequate, and instead favors this sort of approach. The book is viewed as having come about just like many biblical books–through a process of midrash or targumizing. Essentially, a re-working of biblical tradition (sometimes involving creation of entirely new narratives, and sometimes via expansion of old ones) in order to support current ideas, support particular theologies, and answer current controversies—all while making claim to ancient prophetic authority. Although there is a human creative element, many would argue there is also an element of divine inspiration. Crazy as it may sound to some, this is actually how a lot of biblical scripture came about, and it should also be noted that some LDS scholars have already taken this view of the Book of Abraham for quite some time. Others feel that when it comes to the Book of Mormon and the narratives surrounding its coming forth, such a view is difficult to hold without viewing Joseph Smith as either deceptive or deluded in some degree—and I have to sympathize with such feelings.

View #4: Not Historical / Not Divinely Inspired:

Obviously there have been many who have concluded that the Book of Mormon is not historical. If they are like me, they tried desperately to make some version of the previous two approaches work for them in order to preserve belief that the Book of Mormon is divinely inspired in some sense, but they just didn’t feel that these approaches could account for the data or fit with many of Joseph’s claims in an acceptable way. They thus conclude that the Book of Mormon–inspiring as it may be–is no more divinely inspired than any other books. Some (not me) conclude that Joseph was an evil and power hungry deceiver. Some (including me) conclude that he was a “pious fraud”–meaning that he was truly trying to serve God, and that he simply felt that his “ends justified his means.” In his mind, it was okay to knowingly invent and exaggerate some claims in order to lead people to God, and to end sectarianism, and to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. However, some (including me) do also acknowledge that Joseph’s worldview could have allowed him to truly believe at least some of his false narratives to a greater extent than would seem possible to us today. During this time of “charismatic Christianityit was actually common to claim divine encounters such as Joseph’s, or other “spiritual manifestations” that most today would view as contrived. Also, when you learn about the “treasure digging” and “second sight” culture Joseph grew up in, you quickly find a surprising amount of leeway for Joseph to really believe in and invent things that are not real, but which were seen only in his “mind’s eye.” Still, it must be admitted that if the Book of Mormon isn’t historical, then Joseph was definitely engaged in at least some level of deception.

I hope that summary of approaches to the Book of Mormon will aid in discussion as we move forward. Before we move on to the data, I want to add a few more thoughts. In 2009, LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland drew parallels between those who leave the LDS church, and the world’s greatest calamities and natural disasters. He identified them as those whose “hearts have failed them,” and made clear that they can never have the “fullest measure of peace and comfort in this life.” He then declared the following regarding the Book of Mormon:

“If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.”

I offer this document to anyone—including Elder Holland—who feels that I am “crawling” around anything to leave the church. In my view, it is the LDS church who has been crawling around and trying to shield people from the difficult information for far too long. If you don’t want to explore what follows, I sincerely understand. Tragically, the consequences of losing faith in the LDS church can be devastating from social, marriage, and family perspectives. However, I do hope that those who are unwilling or feel unable to really delve into the issues and hear both sides of the story will be hesitant to make the kinds of judgements that we have heard from Elder Holland. A saying has developed that fits the bill here:

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.”



I had actually been aware of the DNA issues with the Book of Mormon prior to my “faith crisis,” and these issues alone had not been a deal breaker for me. However, in retrospect, I feel that these issues should have been more troublesome all along, and they quickly became more troublesome once I was aware of some other issues that tie in. They are just one piece of the puzzle. In any case this is a good place to start because some issues here can inform some of what we explore in coming sections.

For any who haven’t followed the Book of Mormon/DNA issues, I’ll give a very quick and dirty summary:

Until 2006 the Book of Mormon introduction had stated that Lehi’s people were the “principal ancestors of the Native Americans,” and this had very clearly been the long held view of the church and the prophets. The very existence of the Native Americans had been explained by the arrival of Lehi’s people some 2500 years ago, and most if not all Native Americans were believed to be their descendants. By 2006 (really long before that) DNA studies had made very clear that Native Americans are actually descended almost entirely from groups that traveled from Asia via the bering strait around 15,000 years ago. Although more interesting details have been learned since then, it has only become more and more clear that Lehi’s people were absolutely not the “principal ancestors” of the Native Americans. In fact, to put it another way, it is clear that if modern Native Americans have ANY Lamanite/Israelite ancestry at all, then it is such a minuscule part of their ancestry as to make it entirely untraceable.

The only option to maintain historical plausibility of the book was to propose a very different paradigm for understanding the Book of Mormon. By 2006 the Introduction to the Book of Mormon that had originally said that the Lamanites were the “principal ancestors of the Native Americans” was changed to say that the Lehites were simply “among the ancestors of the Native Americans.”  In 2014, the church’s  “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” essay said the following: “What seems clear is that the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples likely represented only a fraction of all DNA in ancient America. Finding and clearly identifying their DNA today may be asking more of the science of population genetics than it is capable of providing.”  The customary apologetic response is now to say that the Book of Mormon took place almost entirely in a relatively small or “limited geography” area, and that millions of Natives were actually already in America when the Lehites arrived, and that the DNA of the relatively small group of Lehites was thus absorbed into the larger pre-existing population and became untraceable. We went from claiming the Lehites were the “principal ancestors” of the Native Americans to now claiming that they were such a tiny percentage of the Native American population that we shouldn’t be surprised that there is no trace of them. A very significant reversal.

Now, for sake of discussion, let’s just go ahead and assume that the Book of Mormon can still be plausible from a genetic standpoint as long as we adopt this very different approach that says the Lamanites were just a small fraction of the Native American population. We should acknowledge that many scientists feel this is not a reasonable assumption to make, and that many scientists do take issue with many of the claims of the church’s essay on the topic (one good discussion HERE if you’re interested). But since I’m doubtful that arguing that point will be compelling to most non-geneticist Mormons anyway, lets just assume the Book of Mormon is historically plausible under these new assumptions and move on to issues that anyone can understand…

I’ll ask you to consider that these newly required re-interpretations to the Book of Mormon that all relevant Mormon apologetics now depend upon are essentially dead on arrival anyway, because 1) They don’t square with the narratives, prophecies, and stated purposes of the Book of Mormon text itself, and 2) they don’t square with some of Joseph Smith’s own narratives and revelatory claims. If this is the case, then all the apologetics are moot from the start.

As you read what follows in this section, I hope you’ll ask yourself if this statement from the church’s essay on this subject is really true:

“The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied.”

The Book of Mormon and the D&C both repeatedly claim that the Book of Mormon is supposed to come forth in the Latter Days to the “remnant of our seed” so they’ll “be restored unto the knowledge of their forefathers,” and “know that they are of the house of Israel” and “descendants of the Jews.” It says they are a “remnant of the house of Joseph.” Examples: 2 Nephi 30:3-6 ; 1 Ne 15:14; D&C 3:16-20.

Honestly, does that really sound like language that refers to people who had a few Lamanites enter their otherwise 99.999% Asian family tree a few thousand years ago? Does it sound like it refers to people whose Lamanite ancestry is admitted to be so minuscule that it is to be completely untraceable even with the incredibly powerful tools available to today’s geneticists? Or does it sound like it refers to the Lehites being the “principal” or “predominant” ancestors of the Native Americans?

Joseph Smith says in his personal diary that the angel Moroni told him directly that “the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham.” In the Wentworth Letter, Joseph says that during his visit with Moroni he “was also informed of the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came.” In Joseph Smith History we’re told that Moroni told Joseph directly that the Book of Mormon gave an account of “the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from which they sprang.”

Does that language not seem to indicate that the Book of Mormon explains how the country was originally populated? Does it not seem to indicate that the Lamanites are the “principal ancestors” of the Natives?

The Book of Mormon says that the flood wiped everyone off the continent just 4000 years ago (Ether 13:2), and that the land was then “preserved for a righteous people” (Ether 2:7-8).

Does that not suggest that the Jaredites were supposed to be the only ones in America? I suppose you could argue they just incorrectly bought into the flood myth as being literal, but there is more to consider in the rest of the text…

The Book of Mormon then says that the Jaredites were “swept off the land” because God would only let righteous people live here, and the Lord then has the Lehites ready to bring in. He even tells Lehi that “the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.” He tells them that “none shall come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.” And he even tells them that “they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves” (See 2 Nephi 1:5-9).

Do those passages not seem to explicitly contradict the notion that there were millions of natives already in America when the Lehites came? Do they not seem to indicate that the Americas were inhabited “principally” or “predominantly” by Israelites, and not by a small group of Lehites who joined millions of natives as the church’s essay now claims?

The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention any encounters with the millions of existing natives that would have to have been here. In fact, oddly enough, both times they DO encounter outside groups they actually turn out to be Israelites (Jaredites/Mulekites)!!! Honestly, what are the odds? Not one, but two separate groups of Israelites are the only mentioned encounters they have with other groups?

Does this not again suggest that the Americas were supposed to be inhabited “principally” of “predominantly” (if not entirely) by Israelites whom God brought here?

What about all the prophecies about the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon and D&C, and what about the very purpose for which the Book of Mormon was created? We already noted earlier some Book of Mormon verses that indicate that with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon the Lamanites are supposed learn who their forefathers truly were, and that they are “Israelites” and “descendants of the Jews.” D&C 3:16-20 tells us “for this very purpose are these plates preserved, which contain these records—that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people; And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord…” At that point, “many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people” (2 Nephi 30:6). At that point they are supposed to “blossom as a rose” (D&C 49:24). This apparently identifiable group of Lamanites was supposed to destroy the American settlers if they didn’t remain humble before God (Mormon 5:22-24).

It seems that one of the key purposes of the Book of Mormon was to “bless” the Native Americans by helping them see that they are actually Israelites with great promises from God, so that they could become Christian and soon become “pure and delightsome.” So we have to ask, where are these Lamanites who are coming to this knowledge? Can we point to one identifiable group of Lamanites? Given the answers to these questions, have these prophecies and stated purposes of the Book of Mormon not been undermined? Do these prophecies and these labels of Native Americans being Lamanites truly make sense when we no longer claim they are “principally” descended from Lamanites/Israelites? Is it truly reasonable to call them Lamanites/Israelites if we’re acknowledging that any Lamanite/Israelite ancestry they have is such a tiny part of their genetic makeup that it cannot be traced at all? If any Lamanite ancestry they have is so minuscule as to be untraceable, then is it not both anthropologically and ethically wrong to refer to them blanketly as “Lamanites” or “Israelites,” perhaps robbing them of their true cultural and ancestral heritage?

Personally, I disagree with the claim in the church’s essay that “The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied.” In my view, the evidences I’ve provided contradict this statement.

Apart from these issues I’ve already listed, I’ll note in closing this section that Joseph Smith’s own views contradicted the re-interpretations of the Book of Mormon that apologists are now relying upon to maintain historical plausibility. Rather than making this longer with more quotations I’ll just note that even apologist Michael Ash has noted that… “He likely believed in a hemispheric geography with the Lehites as the primary (if not sole) progenitors for the Native Americans. Some of his personal comments certainly give such an impression (SFS 189).” However, along with others, Michael goes on to suggest that these were only “Joseph’s opinions” and do not “constitute revelation.” But let’s get real. Joseph claimed extremely intimate revealed knowledge of these people. In the Wentworth letter he even claimed that Moroni had “shown” him their “origins, progress, civilizations, laws, governments,” etc. Joseph’s mother said they would gather to hear Joseph speak about these people “with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them,” and that he would describe “their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship.” All of this makes it a bit hard to believe that Joseph was just mistaken and giving incorrect personal “opinions” about these things.

But again, I certainly don’t expect this one issue alone to change minds. It is just one of many puzzle pieces available to us that ultimately come together to form a clear picture. On to the next piece….



The Book of Mormon Not Only Includes But Is Built Around Flawed Early 19th Century Views of Native American Origins And History

What had been backed into a smaller corner by science started to be pushed closer to the edge when I learned more about the context the Book of Mormon came out of. People of the time were taking great interest in the origins of the Native Americans. Although nearly all of it turned out to be false, they had developed some very widely accepted ideas about Native American origins and history. What struck me is that the Book of Mormon not only includes some of this false “common knowledge” of the day, but seems to be fundamentally built around it to a degree that is very hard to dismiss as coincidental or inconsequential.

Among many other things we’ll see that it was widely believed that the current “Indians” (believed to be savage and lazy) must have wiped out another group of natives (believed to be more intelligent and civilized–and many also suggested more “white”), because they couldn’t believe that the current Indians had built the impressive “Indian Mounds” being discovered. We’ll see that it was the norm to believe that the “Indians” were Israelites, that their languages were descended from Hebrew, and that they had many remnants of Israelite customs among them. We’ll see that a very popular book by Oliver Cowdery’s Pastor published in 1823 naturally brought all this together and proposed a historical scenario that to him and others seemed obvious. He suggests that after these Israelites arrived in America they must have split into two factions. One of these factions remembered their Israelite heritage and remained more civilized and industrious–leaving behind the impressive earth works and “fortifications” that were being found. The other group forgot their Israelite heritage and became “savage” and uncivilized, and because of jealousies they ultimately wiped out the more civilized group through long wars, leaving only the more savage Indians who remained. Why was he and everyone else so interested in identifying the natives as Israelites and convincing others of their Israelite heritage? Because they believed that a very literal gathering of Israel was supposed to take place in accordance with biblical prophecy, and the American settlers needed to be awakened to their duty to help the natives realize their true identity and become Christians.

Anything sound familiar?

In the next section we will focus more specifically on this book (“View of the Hebrews”) written by Oliver Cowdery’s Pastor, Ethan Smith. But first it will be helpful to back up a bit and gain some understanding of some of the foundations that these ideas grew out of. Before we dive in it’s worth noting that prominent Mormon historian and leader B.H. Roberts was very troubled by the book “View of the Hebrews,” and was aware nearly a century ago of the fundamental ways in which the Book of Mormon follows the “common knowledge” of the day:

“Moreover, on subjects widely discussed, and that deal in matters of widespread public interest, there is built up in the course of years, a community of knowledge of such subjects, usually referred to as ‘matters of common knowledge’ … Such ‘common knowledge’ existed throughout New England and New York in relation to American Indian origins and cultures…

…and a person of vivid and constructive imaginative power in contact with it, there is little room for doubt that it might be possible for Joseph Smith to construct a theory of origin for his Book of Mormon in harmony with these prevailing notions; and more especially since this ‘common knowledge’ is set forth in almost handbook form in the little work of Ethan Smith …

…It will appear in what is to follow that such ‘common knowledge’ did exist in New England, that Joseph Smith was in contact with it; that one book, at least, with which he was most likely acquainted, could well have furnished structural outlines for the Book of Mormon; and that Joseph Smith was possessed of such creative imaginative powers as would make it quite within the lines of possibility that the Book of Mormon could have been produced in that way.” (Studies of the Book of Mormon, pages 152-54)

Now, lets explore some of that “common knowledge” of the day:

The Moundbuilder Myth: A More Civilized Race Had Been Exterminated By The “Savage” Native American Indians Who Remained

By Joseph Smith’s early years the origins of the Native Americans were frequently being hypothesized about. Most of these hypotheses stemmed from racist ideas and religious ideas, and revolved around what is now often called the “Moundbuilder Myth.” Numerous complex burial mounds (think dirt pyramids) had been found all over the Eastern United States—including there in the Great Lakes area. Although there were some differences in the various hypotheses about the origins of the Indians, it seemed that everyone agreed about one thing: The current Indians they were seeing around them (generally thought to be dumb, lazy, uncivilized, and savage) couldn’t possibly have been responsible for these impressive structures—or those being discovered in Mexico and Peru. Therefore, they concluded that there must have been a “lost race” of more civilized people who had built these structures, and who had eventually been exterminated through long wars with the more savage group of Indians they were now seeing. Here is just a small taste of countless examples of these very common sentiments–and we’ll get more in sections that follow:

Jeremy Belknap to Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston in 1792 (excerpts):

The “mounds and fortifications… indicate the existence of a race of men in a stage of improvement superior to those natives of whom we or our fathers have had any knowledge.

They were “more patient of labour, and better acquainted with the art of defense…”

They were either “driven away or destroyed by a more fierce and savage people…or voluntarily migrated to a distant region.”

New York Governor Dewitt Clinton to the New York Historical Society in 1811:

“Previous to the occupancy of this country by the progenitors of the present nation of Indians, it was inhabited by a race of men, much more populous, and much further advanced in civilization.”

“The numerous remains of ancient fortifications, which are found in this country, …demonstrates a population far exceeding that of the Indians when this country was first settled.”

Note: Clinton actually hypothesized that both groups originally migrated from Asia. However, he also speculated that the more savage Indians had destroyed a more civilized group who had built the mounds.

Palmyra Newspaper in 1818:

The Mound Builders “had made much greater advances in the arts of civilized life” than the Indians.

Palmyra Newspaper in Feb 1823:

The Indian Mounds had to be “the work of some other people than the Indians

It is notable that in an 1834 letter to Emma, Joseph equated the Nephites with the “Moundbuilders.” He reported that he was:

“wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord.”

Racism & Religious Beliefs About Scattered Israelites Led Many To Assume That This Supposedly Superior And Exterminated Moundbuilder Race Must Have Been White

John P. Campbell in 1816 Philadelphia Port Folio (a magazine):

“It is a very general opinion, prevailing in the western country, that there is ample proof that the country in general was once inhabited by a civilized and agricultural people…

…Again, it is the current opinion, that the first inhabitants of the western country were white people, and therefore cannot be denominated Indians….It is hence not indispensable that the Aborigines should be a white people, strictly speaking, in order to account for their improvements, or their knowledge of the arts.”

“We likewise suspect that the Aborigines were denominated white people by the present race of Indians, solely or principally, in consequence of that distinction which they possessed in the view of the Indians, by their works, or the knowledge and skill displayed in these works…The Indians universally disclaim these ancient works and monuments…and allege that they were erected by white people.”

“Kentucky had once been inhabited by white people, but that they were exterminated by the Indians.”

John Yates & Joseph Moulton in their book: History of the State of New York (1824):

Note: Yates & Moulton believed the mounds were made by a white race whom the Indians had destroyed. As further evidence, they also claimed that there were still light complexioned Indians in Central and South America, and gave many supposed evidences and traditions of extinct “white Indians.”

Yates and Moulton believed this white civilization had been a “civil, enterprising, and industrious people, who were totally destroyed, and whose improvements were taken possession of by the Senecas.”

“And to these aboriginal whites perhaps the Mexicans, etc, were indebted for their knowledge and refinement.”

“The traditions of other Indians ascribe the construction of these works to whites.”

“An exterminating war appears to have taken place between the barbarous natives…and their more refined and civilized neighbors, ending in nearly the total destruction of the latter.”

Henry Murtrie: Sketches of Louisville & Its Environs (1819):

“Hence arose a race of light complexioned men, distinguished from their savage brethren, not more by a difference of colour, than by a refinement of intellect, and a knowledge of the arts.”

“If, then there once existed in this country a people so far advanced in the arts of civilized life, as these relics indisputably prove to have been the case, the question very naturally arises, what has become of them?…

“About the time when general Clarke first visited this country, an old Indian is said to have assured him, that there was a tradition to this effect—“

“that there had formerly existed a race of Indians whose complexion was lighter than that of the other natives, which caused them to be known by the name of white Indians; that bloody wars had always been waged between the two, but that at last the black Indians got the better of the others in a great battle fought at Clarksville, wherein all the latter were assembled.”

“that the remnant of their army took refuge in Sandy Island, whither their successful and implacable enemies followed and put every individual to death.”

Joseph’s narrative of “white and delightsome” Nephites being exterminated by the more savage dark skinned Indians who remained fits nicely with these traditions—but the parallels go further…

It Was Widely Believed That Not Only The Moundbuilders, but all Native Americans Were From A Lost Tribe Of Israel. 

It was an idea that had started with some early Portuguese and Spanish colonists, and it only picked up steam over the next 200 years. If you hold to a strict literal biblical world view, then it makes perfect sense. They still believed that everyone on earth descended from Noah’s crew, so the Western world wouldn’t have been inhabited by anyone after that flood. Then God scatters the ten tribes of Israel and they are “lost” in lands nobody knows about (nobody could identify any lost Jewish tribes in the Old World). It made sense to assume that the lost tribes must have become the first inhabitants of America just a few thousand years earlier. With this expectation, many who settled the “New World” had convinced themselves that they were seeing Israelite customs among the natives. By Joseph Smith’s time, it was a popular idea that many were talking about and writing about.

This would get way too long if I tried to provide quotes from all of them, but to give you a taste I’ll briefly rattle off just some major proponents of the natives being Israelites. Those who want to explore these works can find many of them readily available HERE:

Thomas Thorowgood wrote a book called “Jewes In America, or Probabilities That the Americans are of that Race” in 1650 (London). Proposed that the “gospel” was once preached in ancient America. Discussed the importance of converting the Indians to Christianity.

Samuel Sewall’s 1697 book Phenomena Quaedam Apocalyptica published in Boston again in 1727 suggests the Indians are Israelites. He suggests that Bible verses about Jesus preaching to “the spirits in prison” were about the “going of Jesus Christ into America” to preach to them. He suggests the “other sheep” in John 10:16 that Jesus was to visit were the “sheep belonging to this American fold.”

James Adair from South Carolina wrote “History of the American Indians” in 1775, which spends quite a bit of time proposing the Indians are a “lost tribe” of Israel due to 23 parallels he sees. He believes their language is a corrupt form of Hebrew, and thinks he sees customs like circumcision, Sabbath Day, etc (He is referenced in Yates and Moulton’s “History of New York”)

Charles Crawford published a booklet in 1799 in Philadelphia with the very long title: “An Essay On The Propagation of the Gospel In Which There Are Numerous Facts and Arguments Adduced to Prove that Many of the Indians In America Are Descended from the Ten Tribes.”

Elias Boudinot from New Jersey picked up on the same themes with his “Star In The West; or a Humble Attempt to Discover the Long Lost Ten Tribes of Israel” in 1816. He quotes James Adair quite a bit. (He too is referenced in “A History of New York”)

Edward King Viscount Kingsborough of Ireland was at the same time trying to prove the same ideas—publishing Maya codices in an effort to prove their Israelite origins.

A very important one is Ethan Smith and his book “View of the Hebrews” published by Oliver Cowdery’s pastor in Vermont in 1823. This one is important enough that we’ll discuss it in detail in the next section. His book is also referenced in “A History of New York.”

John Haywood, in his 1823 “The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee” has a whole chapter outlining the “biblical traditions” and “Hebrew Customs” of the Cherokee Indians, and believes “letters inscribed in rocks” in America can be traced to the Hebrews.

Josiah Priest’s 1825 “Wonders of Nature” published in Albany, NY includes a section titled “Proofs that the Indians of N. America were lineally descended from the ancient Hebrews.” He quotes “View of the Hebrews” including sections about how essential it is to identify the lost Israelites so they can be “restored” as prophesied in Isaiah. In his 1833 “American Antiquities” he states: “The opinion that the American Indians are the descendants of the lost Ten Tribes, is now a popular one, and generally believed” (pg. 73).

Theologian Roger Williams believed the Indian language was based in Hebrew, and thinks he sees Jewish customs among the Indians. See “A Key into the Language of America,” 1827.

A few years later in 1836, Barbara A. Simon published the following book in London: “The Ten Tribes Of Israel—Historically Identified With The Aborigines Of The Western Hemisphere.”

There are many more examples,  but I think you get the idea. It was common to believe that not only the Moundbuilders, but the Native Americans as a whole, were lost Israelites. Some used this to argue for better treatment of the Natives, and of course given that the idea of a literal gathering of scattered Israel was common at the time, many Christians felt it was their duty and privilege to be part of the prophecy that these lost Israelites would be “gathered” or “Christianized.”

However, the Israelites were believed to be “white,” so those who believed that all the natives were Israelites sometimes felt a need to explain why the remaining Native Americans had darker skin. James Adair had proposed that their way of life had caused their skin to darken over time. Their lack of civilized life had darkened their skin due to exposure to “parching winds, and hot sun beams.” He proposed that over time, their offspring would even have dark skin from the time of birth:

“Many incidents and observations lead me to believe, that the Indian color is not natural; but that the external difference between them and the whites, proceeds entirely from their custom and method of living, and not from any inherent spring of nature….That the Indian color is merely accidental, or artificial, appears pretty evident.”

John P. Campbell seems to have had similar views:

“There cannot be a doubt but that the same country, at different, and very distant periods of time, may…produce a race of people differing very materially in colour. The climate, and local or physical causes, may be so changed in the term of a thousand years, as to produce several degrees of shade upon the human countenance.”

The Book of Mormon solves the perceived problem of the current Indians being dark skinned in a different way than James Adair did. The Book of Mormon seems to appeal to a common (and false) biblical interpretation of the time–suggesting that black people arose either through the “curse of Cain” or the “curse of Ham.” Many feel that the Book of Abraham revealed by Joseph Smith also perpetuated this false interpretation—directly stating that the “curse” was preserved in the land through Ham. Anyway, the Book of Mormon explains the dark skin of the Indians in the same manner—with the Lamanites being cursed: “The Lord…caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity…wherefore, as they were white, and exceeding fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them…and cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing” (2 Nephi 5:21,23). In this way, the darker skin of the remaining Natives could be accounted for while still preserving a belief that they were all Israelite descendants (whom they considered to be “white”).


The Book of Mormon’s dependance on popular 19th century views about the Native Americans will become even more apparent in Part 3 where we’ll explore Ethan Smith’s book “View of the Hebrews”–so you may want to reserve full judgment on this present issue until considering that section as well. For now, I believe it is already clear that the Book of Mormon fits in quite well with the Moundbuilder Myth as it was seen through the eyes of 19th century Christians. It was the norm to believe that a more civilized white race had built the “Indian Mounds” and “fortifications.” It was widely believed that these people were Israelites. It was widely believed that they had been wiped out through long wars with the more savage dark skinned Indians who remained. The Book of Mormon follows this narrative quite well, with the civilized and industrious white Nephites ultimately being wiped out by the savage dark skinned Lamanites—who were supposed to have been the principal ancestors of the Native Americans. Of course, the Native Americans turned out not to be Israelites at all (DNA), and the Mound Builder Myth of a “lost race” was debunked by about 1890 when archeologists found that it was in fact the Indians who had built the Indian Mounds. It was about that time when John Wesley Powell wrote a piece called “The Indians Are The Moundbuilders.”

In my view, all of this provides one of many challenges to viewing the book as a historical record. For me, it doesn’t work to simply view such things as “expansions” (referring to Blake Ostler’s theory). These ideas and motifs are integral to the book’s very conception and overall narrative. In any case, with this background in place, we are better prepared to understand and further explore this issue via Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews.”



I want to be very clear here. I have chosen the word “influenced” carefully. I find it ridiculous when apologists list differences between “View of the Hebrews” and the Book of Mormon, as if someone expected them to be totally the same, or as if it isn’t a relevant issue unless Joseph followed its ideas in every respect. I am not suggesting that Joseph was directly borrowing lines of text from these books, and I don’t even think he was consciously referencing them as “sources” during the creation of the Book of Mormon. That said, what I am proposing is that I find the evidence very convincing that Joseph had read these books, and that his exposure to these books did “influence” Book of Mormon content in significant ways that further call the book’s historicity into question. In the case of “View of the Hebrews,” I would suggest that it even seems to have helped form the very self-conception and big picture narrative of the Book of Mormon. I simply ask you to read and decide for yourself.


Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews” was first published in 1823 in Poultney, Vermont. Oliver Cowdery (one of the three witnesses and the primary scribe for the Book of Mormon) happens to have attended the church at which Ethan Smith was the Pastor. The book was popular enough that a second edition was published in 1825.

Let’s say hypothetically that Joseph never even read this book. It would still be very much worth discussing because it is such a fantastic representation of the “common knowledge” of the day regarding the Native Americans that was discussed in the previous section, and of the environment from which the Book of Mormon sprung. Some of Ethan Smith’s proposals that fit so well with the Book of Mormon almost seem like natural conclusions for someone to draw if they had already accepted all the other “common knowledge” of the day. In that sense, it wouldn’t even be totally necessary for Joseph to have personally read this book in order to have been personally influenced by ideas it presented.

On the other hand, even if one had not really read or become familiar with with all the “common knowledge” of the day regarding the Native Americans, an exposure to Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews” alone would pretty well summarize and bring it all together! In any case, having carefully read the entire book, my feeling is that there are enough specific parallels as to make it hard to deny that Joseph had read the book, and that it not only influenced some content of the Book of Mormon, but even informed and shaped its core big picture narrative. Maybe it even inspired Joseph to want to create the Book of Mormon in the first place–since both books share the common goal of “gathering” or Christianizing the Indians, and helping then recognize their “true heritage.” For all these reasons, I feel it is appropriate to give this book an entire section of its own in this document.

I’m certainly not the first to feel that this book appears to be a source of influence for the Book of Mormon. B.H. Roberts, who was a seventy, church historian, and writer of the original “History of the Church” volumes, reported the following to the first presidency of the church. This was written with the 1st presidency as its intended audience—but it was published many years later in 1985 in a collection called “Studies of the Book of Mormon.” Roberts reported:

“Did Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or a half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith’s story of the Book of Mormon’s origin.” (Studies of the Book of Mormon, pg. 240)

“The material in Ethan Smith’s book is of a character and quantity to make a ground plan for the Book of Mormon …Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence?” (pg 242)

B.H. Roberts also suggested that Joseph’s vivid imagination, in combination with common beliefs about Native Americans that were held at the time (discussed here in the prior section) and a book such as View of the Hebrews, could account for the “creation” of the Book of Mormon:

“In light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, an imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are to be found in the ‘common knowledge’ of accepted American antiquities of the times, supplemented by such a work, as Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is.”

…and a person of vivid and constructive imaginative power in contact with it, there is little room for doubt that it might be possible for Joseph Smith to construct a theory of origin for his Book of Mormon in harmony with these prevailing notions; and more especially since this ‘common knowledge’ is set forth in almost handbook form in the little work of Ethan Smith …

…It will appear in what is to follow that such ‘common knowledge’ did exist in New England, that Joseph Smith was in contact with it; that one book, at least, with which he was most likely acquainted, could well have furnished structural outlines for the Book of Mormon; and that Joseph Smith was possessed of such creative imaginative powers as would make it quite within the lines of possibility that the Book of Mormon could have been produced in that way.” (Studies of the Book of Mormon, pages 152-54)

In his well known 1987 article, LDS scholar Blake Ostler did not necessarily acknowledge direct influence from View of the Hebrews, but certainly acknowledged that both books show influence of popular 19th century views of Native Americans:

“The prophecies of the discovery of America and the role of a gentile nation in the Book of Mormon can be most reasonably explained, in my opinion, as popular nineteenth-century concepts inserted in the text by Joseph Smith (1 Ne. 13:10-20). In short, similarities between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon do not require the dependence of one upon the other but are more easily explained as two reflections of common nineteenth-century assumptions about the American Indians.” (p. 70)

This book is not a story or narrative. Rather, it is an attempt to summarize the evidence that the Native Americans were Israelites/Hebrews, and an attempt to hypothesize a bit about how they may have arrived and what happened to them. Most importantly, the book is intended to awaken its early 19th century Christian readers to their duty to help the Native Americans recognize their “true identity” as “lost Israelites,” so they could be “gathered” or “Christianized” in accordance with biblical prophecies of the “literal gathering of Israel.” There was a feeling among many that the reason Columbus had found the Americas, and part of why they’d been led to settle there was because God must have led them there because it was finally time to “gather” his scattered Israelites—the Native Americans.

In Ethan’s book, these supposed Israelites are not thought to have come by boat just prior to the Babylonian captivity as they do in the Book of Mormon. Rather, he hypothesizes that they were part of the lost 10 tribes of Israel who were scattered during the Assyrian captivity about a hundred years prior, and whom biblical prophecy requires to be literally restored/gathered. He reviews biblical history and prophecy regarding these things. He quotes large sections of Isaiah—as does the Book of Mormon—in defense of these ideas. His hypothesis uses the Apocrypha as evidence to suggest that the lost ten tribes of Israel traveled North to a place where it was “always winter.” They then encountered “many waters” at the area of the Bering Strait. They crossed over when God dried up the water for them (he suggests God may have frozen it), and they settled a land where “no man had dwelt before.” He proposes that in total they took a journey of a year and a half.

Like so many others of the time, Ethan Smith accepted two very common (but ultimately proven false) assumptions. First, he believed in what is now called the “Mound Builder Myth,” which held that the impressive earth works being discovered (complex Indian Mounds, pyramids etc) must have been created by a far more advanced and civilized group of natives, who must have been wiped out by the more savage “Indians” who remained. Second, he believed that the current “Indians” were “lost Israelites.” Setting the book “View of the Hebrews” aside, if one simply accepted these two popular (and ultimately proven false) assumptions, the basic big picture narrative of the Book of Mormon falls right into place. However, Ethan Smith spells it out pretty explicitly for his readers….

He proposes at least three times (makes a lot of it) that after an Israelite group arrived in the Americas, they must have split into two factions; those who forgot their heritage/covenants and became savages, and those who remained more civilized and continued to keep the Law of Moses. He proposes that through long wars the more savage group must have ultimately exterminated their more civilized “brethren.” In his mind this was all a rather obvious and logical conclusion. Here is a small taste of this general narrative from the text:

“It is highly probable that the more civilized part of the tribes of Israel, after they settled in America, became wholly separated from the hunting and savage tribes of their brethren; that the latter lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family with themselves; that the more civilized part continued for many centuries; that tremendous wars were frequent between them and their savage brethren, till the former became extinct.”

“These partially civilized people became extinct. What account can be given of this, but that the savages extirpated them after long and dismal wars? …. No other hypothesis occurs to mind, which appears by any means so probable. The degrees of improvement, demonstrated to have existed among the authors of these works, and relics, who have ceased to exist, far exceed all that could have been furnished from the north-east of Asia, in those ancient times. But however vindictive the savages must have been; however cruel and horrid in extirpating their more civilized brethren; yet it is a fact that there are many excellent traits in their original character. There is in the minds of the native Americans a quality far superior to what is found in the minds of most other heathen on earth; and such as might have been expected from the descendants of the ancient Israel of God…”

“…Israel brought into this new continent a considerable degree of civilization; and the better part of them long labored to maintain it. But others fell into the hunting and consequent savage state; whose barbarous hordes invaded their more civilized brethren, and eventually annihilated most of them, and all in these northern regions!”  (note: the final battles in the Book of Mormon also took place in “the land Northward”)

“But the savage tribes prevailed; and in time their savage jealousies and rage annihilated their more civilized brethren.”

“Of some of these I shall give a concise view, as additional arguments in favor of my theory, that some of the people of Israel who came into the western continent maintained some degree of civilization for a long time; but that the better part of the outcast tribes of Israel here finally became extinct, at least in North America, under the rage of their more numerous savage brethren.”

I don’t think I need to point out the very obvious parallels in the text above. As BH Roberts noted, there are many other parallels as well. I’ll give just some other interesting tidbits below. I’m not insisting that all of these definitely influenced the Book of Mormon or the early history of the church, but they are worth noting:

  • The text suggests that the Indians had a device “in resemblance of the Urim and Thummin,” which even included a “breast plate.” (actually quoting James Adair’s book)
  • The text is EXTREMELY heavy on the importance of a prophesied “literal gathering” or “restoration” of the lost tribes of Israel in the “last days“—including those on the “isles of the sea.” Nephi himself noted that they were on “an isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20). These themes of gathering Israel are of course common throughout the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, as well as in our 12th article of faith. It is noteworthy that these ideas that are uniquely central to 19th century Protestantism also happen to be a strong theme in the Book of Mormon.
  • Along those same lines, the text very explicitly encourages Americans to recognize their duty to preach the gospel to these lost tribes of Israel, helping them realize their true identify. It is the key purpose of the book! They are to “Look at the origin of those degraded natives of your continent, and fly to their relief…Teach them the story of their ancestors; the economy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob….showing them what has been done for their nation; and what is yet to be done by the God of their fathers, in the line of his promise. Teach them their ancient history; their former blessings; their being cast away…and the promise of their return….”
  • The text proposes that some natives in Mexico had changed their government from a Monarchy to a Republic—a theme that arises in the Book of Mormon.
  • The text has extensive sections (many pages) about how much metallurgy these people had—proposing that only Israelites could have had such technology. Perhaps this influenced Joseph to include metallurgy in the Book of Mormon even though no metallurgy whatsoever has been found in Mesoamerica prior to about 700 AD (not even gold work).
  • The text proposes supposed “evidence” that the Native Americans had once believed in the Trinity, and emphasizes that they “generally have acknowledged one and only one God.” The Book of Mormon is surprisingly Trinitarian in its language. In fact, the 1830 version was even more explicitly trinitarian in its language, but some passages have been changed in our current edition (Yes, I verified in my copy of Skousen’s “Earliest Text”). This is more significant considering that Joseph’s accounts of the first vision don’t mention 2 distinct personages until his 1838 account, and that his earliest account only mentions seeing “the Lord,” raising the possibility that his views had developed over time, and providing one of many reasons for suspecting that the first vision account grew and was embellished over time.
  • The text references “the Great Spirit” more times than I could count. Possibly an inspiration for the numerous uses of the same term in Alma 18, 19, and 22.
  • The text references the legend of Quetzalcoatl—noted in the text as a bearded white man whom the Great Spirit gave immortality. The text also notes that he is given control of the government, teaches peace, fasting, no more sacrifices except firstfruits, and promises to come back and rule again. Interestingly, Ethan Smith proposes this was ancient tradition of Moses brought from the old world—though many modern LDS folks believe it describes Christ’s visit to the Americas, and Joseph could have thought the same (though I’ll note that even LDS scholars of Mesoamerica say there can be no real connection between Jesus Christ and Quetzalcoatl).
  • The text suggests evidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ had long ago been preached in the Americas. This was an idea that was held by many. In their “History of New York,” John Yates and Joseph Moulton claimed the Natives were “Retaining some ceremonies of Christian worship.” Jeremy Belnap–in the same source quoted from earlier stated the following: “If the gospel was designed for an universal benefit to mankind, why was it not brought by the Apostles to America? To solve this difficulty it has been alleged that America was known to the ancients; and that it was enlightened by the personal ministry of the Apostles.” Many Spanish and Portuguese priests had (mistakenly) attributed Christian motifs to the Natives–for example, many mistakenly saw the sacred tree of the Maya as a Christian cross. This being the case, it would be perfectly fitting for Joseph’s narrative to propose a mechanism for the arrival of Christianity in ancient America.
  • The text references “fortifications”:  “these military works—these walls and ditches,” which “owe their origin to a people far more civilized than our Indians.” (perhaps coincidence, but walls and ditches sound like the fortifications in the Book of Mormon) I’ll note briefly that James Adair’s book “History of the American Indians” which we quoted from earlier also describes strikingly similar fortifications to those described in the Book of Mormon: “Through the whole continent… are traces of their ancient warlike disposition…We frequently met with great mounds of earth…having a strong breast-work at a distance around them, made of the clay which had been dug up in forming the ditch on the inner side of the inclosed ground, and these were their forts of security against an enemy.”  Another description was given as follows: “A broad deep ditch inclosed those two fortresses, and there they raised an high breastwork, to secure their houses from the invading enemy.” Compare Alma 50:1-5, Alma 49:18Alma 53:3, etc.
  • The text includes accounts of Indian “high priests,” indicating that “As the high priest in Israel was inducted into office by various ceremonies, and by anointing; so is the Indian high priest by purification, and by anointing. When the holy garments are put upon him, bear’s oil is poured on his head...”
  • The text explicitly reviews the concept of a great “apostasy,” specifically referencing Amos 8:11-12, and 2 Thessalonians 2:3. It also specifically references Ezekiel 37:15-17 multiple times, suggesting that the lost 10 tribes (of whom the Native Americans are said to be a part) are of the “stick of Ephraim” (or Joseph). Perhaps coincidence, but these are all very important verses in LDS thought and teaching. I believe they’re all “scripture mastery” scriptures in LDS seminary.
  • We can’t possibly cover everything in this summary, but the book repeats all the same “evidences” that were put forth in so many other books to suggest the natives were Israelites. Heavily quoting James Adair and numerous others. Claiming for example that: Their “language appears clearly to be Hebrew.” That they practiced circumcision and other mosaic rituals. That they told stories of the flood and the confounding of languages. That all the natives are believed to “have one origin” in terms of their ancestry, etc.

In conclusion, I have to ask the same question as B.H. Roberts:

“Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence?”

LDS scholars such as Blake Ostler and Brant Gardner attempt to account for the prevalent 19th century material in the Book of Mormon by classifying these things as Joseph’s unconscious “expansions” or extremely loose translations of a legitimate historical text. I appreciate that they are at least willing to acknowledge that much of the Book of Mormon text cannot reasonably be considered ancient in nature, and must be identified as modern “expansions” by Joseph. There are certainly some aspects of the Book of Mormon that could be reasonably accounted for in this way. But there is a lot of other material that cannot be adequately accounted for as “expansions.” Much of it is too integral to the surrounding narratives, and completely undermines them if removed. But in addition, some of these 19th century motifs are foundational to the entire concept of the text as a whole. To put it another way, one faithful LDS writer Anthony Hutchinson came to view the Book of Mormon “as being written by an inspired prophet of the nineteenth century whose beliefs about anthropology, folk magic, and other matters are not only found in the book but inform the book’s very self-conception and presentation.” He thus came to see the Book of Mormon as a “19th century re-working of the biblical tradition.”


Again, I want to be clear here. I am not suggesting any kind of direct “plagiarization.” I’m not suggesting that Joseph was even intentionally or consciously borrowing ideas from it. I am suggesting that there is enough evidence here to make it worth considering that Joseph had read this book, and that it may have inspired not only the language and style of writing, but also some parts of the Book of Mormon narrative itself–particularly the war chapters in Alma (not as foundational as the issues in View of the Hebrews, but still worth considering). Again, read and decide for yourself. Even if you ultimately deny that this book directly influenced the Book of Mormon, you’ll find that it is relevant to Book of Mormon studies for other reasons–because simply by imitating a biblical style of writing Gilbert Hunt managed to have all the same “Hebraisms” that are often falsely touted as evidence for the Book of Mormon’s ancient origins.


The Late War” was a commonly used textbook for school children in Joseph Smith’s area. It was published in New York in 1816. It was popular enough that its 3rd edition was being published by 1819. It is essentially a history of the War of 1812, but it was intentionally written in the scriptural language of the “King James Bible” with the intent of inspiring a love of scripture in young people. It might be interesting to some that Samuel Mitchill had given the foreword for The Late War, and happens to be one of the scholars that Martin Harris took the manuscript to (along with Charles Anthon).


On its own this issue isn’t terribly important, but in combination with other issues it becomes more significant to me. When the wording of the Book of Mormon was compared with other early 19th century works via massive databases that can compare them, the wording of the two books was found to have a rare degree of similarity in phrasing. Looking through the book myself I was really startled to find just how similar the two books are in terms of writing style and language. Reading The Late War really feels like reading the Book of Mormon. If Joseph were simply trying to put the Book of Mormon into “King James” English, I’d expect it would sound more like the King James Bible. But the truth is that it sounds far more like The Late War than it does like the King James Bible. Perhaps we should expect two early 19th century writers who are trying to sound biblical to end up sounding extremely similar, though somewhat distinct from biblical style? I suppose that is possible, but I’m just not sure they could sound THAT similar unless one had influenced the other. Decide for yourself. Pick some pages at random and read them to see just how similar they are. The full text is available here:

And here is a look at the first page:

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 3.18.39 PM


Again, I’m not proposing that the above issue of strikingly similar literary style is terribly significant in and of itself. One could simply conclude that as Joseph “translated” the Book of Mormon he put it into the same “scriptural style” of writing that he had encountered and perhaps enjoyed when reading The Late War. But when I found that the book not only had a strikingly similar literary style, but also contained many themes that seem like they could have inspired similar narratives in the war chapters of the Book of Mormon, my interest was peaked a bit more.

  • 2000 hardy men, who were called volunteers… fought freely for their country… men of dauntless courage.” As “leaden balls whizzed about their ears” they heroically “rushed upon the savages, and slew them with great slaughter, and overcame them.” A theme that is arguably similar to that of the 2000 stripling warriors?
  • Leaders of the armies are often referred to as “chief captains,” as is the case throughout the Book of Mormon. Also interesting that it refers to “captains of fifties,” and to assembling “captains of fifties, and his captains of hundreds” (like D&C 136:3 which speaks of being “organized with captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, captains of tens.”
  • Fighting for “the sacred cause of liberty” is a repeated and central theme. “Fear not, we defend our lives and our liberties, and in that thing the Lord will not forsake us.” The “cause of liberty” is of course a major theme in the Book of Mormon with 30 references to fighting for “liberty” in Alma alone.
  • Freemen” are referenced, as opposed to the “servants of the king.” Of course fighting against those who want a “king” is a key theme that arises in the Book of Mormon (see Alma 51:1-20 or summary HERE).
  • Missionaries sent among them, “and they hearkened unto the preachers…and their natures were softened.” “There eyes were opened.” When their enemies fell into their hands, they “raised neither the tomahawk nor the scalping knife.” A theme similar to that of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies who no longer wanted to shed blood after being converted, or the time when Moroni tried to spare Zarahemnah and his people when they had them surrounded (Alma 43:54; Alma 44:5-6).
  • In multiple instances the text speaks of times when they had to gather troops and win them to their cause. In one instance they “sent forth a proclamation” which was “published abroad,” and “a great multitude flocked to the banners of Columbia” and “joined the standard of Columbia.” (banners & standards referred to flags or “an ensign of war, a staff with a flag or colors” (see 1828 dictionary HERE). In another instance the people were “informed of the evil, and accordingly they flocked in multitudes to the banners of Jackson.” Perhaps these themes could have been inspiration for Moroni’s “standard of liberty,” which is noted in at least three Book of Mormon chapters, and “thousands did flock unto his standard.”
  • A man who is laughed at when trying to build a steamship: “Lo! The man is beside himself and they laughed at him, nevertheless he exceeded their expectations…These steam boats were cunningly contrived, and had abundance of curious workmanship.”
  • An instance of a “false prophet” who “led astray those of little understanding” and “preached for filthy lucre” whose “words were smooth.” Reminds me a bit of some of the Book of Mormon “anti-Christs” and “priestcrafts.”

Throw out whatever details you want, but I do find it significant that both books contain these very dramatic accounts of war, and of fighting for the “cause of liberty” and freedom, and of fighting to ensure that they would not be ruled by a “King.” I’ve already noted some of what I believe were Joseph’s motives in writing the Book of Mormon. Like Ethan Smith and so many others, he wanted to help the Indians to recognize their supposed heritage as “Israelites,” and be converted or “gathered” to Christianity. He wanted to end sectarianism, settle some disputed issues, and unify Christians in one restored faith. But perhaps these war chapters were included because, like so many others, he was also quite concerned with awaking people to the realization that they must defend their freedoms and liberties, and must continually fight against the rule of Kings? Perhaps he was inspired by “The Late War?”

Anyway, scanning through the study that was done by Chris and Duane Johnson can be a helpful exercise to get a feel for some of the similar themes, but I would definitely offer some caution. It would be easy to overstate the evidence if you just quickly read through the Johnson’s study. You’ll note that some of the examples draw from numerous verses, sometimes spanning a significant amount of text in order to re-create lines from “The Late War.” I do find some similar themes and the similar style of writing significant, but the side by side comparisons of the text could be misleading and give the appearance of direct or conscious plagiarism—which I don’t believe occurred.

With that caution noted, the Johnson’s study can be found HERE


Even if we go ahead and assume that Joseph had never read The Late War, it is still a very important book for Book of Mormon studies. Simply by imitating a biblical style of writing, Gilbert Hunt’s modern book managed to have all the same “Hebraisms” or “Semitisms” that apologists and church leaders so often tout as evidence of the Book of Mormon’s ancient origins. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland even noted these things in his talk “Safety for the Soul,” stating how “foolish” it is for someone to reject a text that is “teeming with literary and Semitic complexity.” It is often claimed that there are left over remnants of Near Eastern writing style that came through the translation. Instances of cognate accusative, negative questions, construct state, compound prepositions, adverbials, and so on. They claim that these things could not have just shown up by chance–and yet, guess what? They all show up in The Late War. I also remember hearing a claim that the term “whirlwinds” is a direct translation of the Mayan language–suggesting authenticity. Guess what? Also in The Late War. 


I don’t have as much to say about this possibility, but I am very open to the possibility that the Apocrypha influenced some content of the Book of Mormon. It deserves a mention. As noted earlier, Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews used some of its verses to support his theories of how Israelites came to America. Joseph seems to have had interest in it (it is referenced in the D&C, and the Bible he and Oliver eventually purchased included the Apocrypha even though many of the day did not). Although there is no reference to “Nephi” anywhere in the Bible, it does actually show up in the Apocrypha (2 Maccabees 1:36). The book of Judith in the Apocrypha also contains the names Ammon and Laban (although these are both in the Old Testament also). There are also several different instances of writing on “tables of brass” (1 Maccabees 8 and 14). Although I feel that some have tried to stretch the parallels a bit, there is an account of a woman who gets someone drunk and then cuts off his head with his own sword (compare Nephi/Laban).

Part 4


Note: There is a massive amount of information I’d love to add to this section when I can. There are many great sources that demonstrate what people mean when they say that there is a lot of 19th century content in the Book of Mormon. The best I can do for now is to  just provide some links to some examples HERE, HEREHERE, or pages 6-10 HERE. With that, here is what I had found time to put together so far:

Joseph’s “revelations” often ask us to believe that many more modern religious ideas and practices were at various times the norm among God’s people even in ancient history. More importantly, his “revelations” ask us to believe that concerns that were particularly representative of early 19th century protestantism were also concerns for these ancient people. Joseph didn’t invent the idea of “Restorationism.” A “Restoration Movement” was already well under way—with a few key leaders being Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. However, it is clear that Joseph (no doubt influenced by Sidney Rigdon) felt that as he attempted to restore Christ’s church he would also be restoring the true teachings and practices of the ancient prophets.

For example, in Joseph’s Book of Moses we’re told that Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Moses were all basically ancient Christians. We’re told that they had a clear understanding of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They preached and baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. They had an understanding of the “plan of salvation”–of divine judgement, resurrection, and so on. And of course, the Book of Mormon prophets have the same knowledge—and they just happen to have many of the same sorts of doctrinal and liturgical concerns that were particularly common or controversial in the early 19th century!

For a very long time it was a hobby (obsession?) of mine to study the development of Israelite and Christian practices and theology, as well as various forms of biblical criticism. Along the way a number of questions arose. Of course, the first question that arises is whether or not folks like Adam, Noah, and Moses were even real historical figures—because there is very good reason to believe that their stories are adapted from earlier Sumerian/Mesopotamian myths (see my Old Testament post). But even if we assume they are real, we are left to wonder why the very developed Christian motifs such as those listed above are simply not found among the ancient Israelites in either biblical or extra-biblical records. As I studied, I found that we can trace the gradual development of Israelite and Christian theology through the centuries, and it became more and more clear to me that many Book of Mormon motifs simply would not have been issues among ancient Israelites.

Some believers acknowledge that some of these issues are too well developed to truly fit the ancient world, and they simply begin to take Joseph’s revelations less literally. However, given how adept we (and the New Testament writers) are at re-interpreting Old Testament verses into a Christian context, many others will attempt to argue that these things actually are found in the Old Testament (perhaps you’ll get at least an introduction to the challenges with this view as we move forward). Others acknowledge that many of these things truly are absent from ancient Israel’s records, but they will chalk it up some combination of the limitations of record keeping, the idea of apostasy, and the notion (so conveniently given to us in the Book of Mormon) that “many plain and precious truths” were intentionally removed from the Bible by scribes.

As always, I don’t expect I can prove anything here, but perhaps you’ll be willing to hear why many feel that it is simply not reasonable to retroject many of these issues back to ancient Israelites, and why these issues challenge the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Rather than present these issues solely from my point of view, I thought it might be beneficial if I largely use the words of a believing LDS scholar named Blake Ostler. To be clear, in his 1987 article he still argues that there is an underlying historical document for the Book of Mormon, but admits that much of the content cannot reasonably be attributed to these ancient Israelites, is representative of 19th century concerns, and must have been inserted by Joseph Smith during what he believes must have been a very loose “translation” process. Ostler has done a good job introducing the concept of Motif Criticism:

”Motif criticism (as Slingerland calls it) analyzes the comparative development of theological ideas in a document and is another useful mode of scholarly analysis to help determine authorship and provenance. For example, analyzing the comparative development of the concept of Christ in the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John suggests that John was written later. It is possible to analyze Book of Mormon doctrines to determine whether they resemble pre-exilic Israelite thought or nineteenth-century Christianity. (p. 79)

“Many Book of Mormon doctrines are best explained by the nineteenth-century theological milieu.” (p. 79)

“some doctrines in the book’s pre-Christian sections are simply too developed and too characteristic of the nineteenth century to explain as pre-exilic ideas.” (p. 102)

Before we proceed to more comments from Ostler I want to note that by the end of this section I think it will be more apparent why Alexander Campbell–who actually helped spark the “Restorationist” movement during Joseph’s childhood–had the following reaction upon reading the Book of Mormon:

“Joseph Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his Book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discovered in N. York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies—infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to.” (Alexander Campbell, Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon, pg 13)

Most of the following will be a collection of brief quotes from Blake Ostler’s 1987 article which are intended to give what I would consider an extremely brief introduction to just some examples of 19th century “motifs” in the text. Each of these issues can be explored in much greater depth.


“For example, though there may have been ritual washings performed in the tabernacle and temple, there are no pre-exilic references to baptism (Exod. 29:4; 40:12; Lev. 8:6). Yet Jacob explains repentance and baptism as if his hearers were completely familiar with the concept…(2 Ne. 9:23-24). It is difficult to see this passage as anything but the Christian baptism of repentance necessary for salvation. Ritual washings were never seen as necessary to salvation in the Old Testament.” (p. 80)

“The Book of Mormon also addresses several problems that simply were not, and could not be, problems for Israelites. For example, the salvation of infants and those who had not heard the gospel arises only if a soteriology is adopted which excludes the unbaptized or non-Christians. In Hebrew thought non-Israelites are not thus excluded (Dubarle 1970, 34-35). Nineteenth-century Methodist theology taught, however, that non-Christians and the unbaptized could not be saved. The Methodist solution resembles the Book of Mormon’s.” (p. 80)

Note from me: The issue of infant baptism that so forcefully makes its way into the Book of Mormon (Moroni 8 and Mosiah 3:16,18) was a hot topic in Joseph’s day. In fact, it was a key issue raised by Alexander Campbell, a key leader in the “Restoration Movement.”


“The Book of Mormon doctrine of atonement and free will shows influences of a theological conflict over depravity, grace, and the role of the will in salvation, all central to the conflict between Calvinism and Arminianism in the early nineteenth century. Calvin and his followers believed that persons are incapable of meritorious acts, and the atonement applied Christ’s undeserved grace to those predestined to salvation. Human will or choice had nothing to do with salvation, for humans were captives of their depraved nature and could not avoid sin. In contrast, salvation in Arminian theology depended on an individual’s free choice to accept Christ’s freely offered grace.” (p. 80)

“The idea that the atonement freed persons from their depraved “natural” state and restored them to the state enjoyed before the fall of ability to choose between good and evil is a distinctive Arminian concept taught in Joseph Smith’s day.” (p. 81)

“Such developed ideas of free will enabled by the atonement are not found in Israelite thought but are presented in 2 Nephi 2:8-9, 26-29 and 10:24… such freedom is never said in the Old Testament to be made possible by the atonement.” (p. 81)

“The next chapter, Mosiah 16, can be identified as Joseph Smith’s expansion on motif critical grounds. Here Abinadi says we are “carnal and devilish” by nature as a result of the Fall, themes that stem from Paul and Calvin.” (p. 98)


“The concept that the fall of Adam benefitted humankind by fulfilling the plan of God (felix culpa) and making the moral growth of humans possible is a Christian interpretation which developed very early in Christian thought. The same concept appears in 2 Nephi 2:17-26 and Alma 42:2-14. An Arminian influence on the Book of Mormon seems evident in its stress on the paradoxical commandments God gave Adam and Eve and idea of “opposition in all things” to emphasize that choices among alternatives are necessary to moral freedom. In contrast, there simply is no pre-exilic interpretation of the fall of Adam. Indeed, the fall of Adam is not mentioned in the Old Testament after Genesis 2:4-3:23, although the myth of the fall was probably available in sixth-century Israel in some form.” (p. 81)

“The doctrines of original sin and the fallen nature of humankind are also foreign to pre-exilic Israelite thought. The fall of Adam was never linked with the human condition in pre-exilic works, as it is in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 10:6; 2 Ne. 2:15-16; 9:6; Mosiah 3:16-27; 4:7; Alma 12:22; 18:36; 22:13; 42:2-10; Hel. 14:16). Human “nature” was not considered inherently sinful in Israelite thought — if one can meaningfully speak about a Hebrew concept of “human nature.” The idea of nature is Greek rather than Israelite. Humankind was impotent and dependent on Yahweh for well-being in Israelite thought, but not evil by nature. Teachings of original sin and depravity first appear in the Bible in Paul (Rom. 5:12-21).” (p. 81)


“The satisfaction theory of atonement elucidated in Alma 34:9-17 and 42:9-17 is a medieval theological development. The idea of atonement as necessary to satisfy two opposed but ontologically necessary attributes of God — his mercy and his justice — was first suggested by Anselm of Canterbury in his A.D. 1109 treatise, Cur Deus Homo? The satisfaction theory was premised on medieval concepts of law and justice and assumed that justice required full retribution for sin while mercy acquitted the sinner and did not require such penalties. The conflict in God’s nature could be resolved only by a sinless individual upon whom justice had no claim but who would allow justice to be done vicariously through his suffering. The suffering would have to come from one having both human and divine natures, however, because an infinite being had been offended by human sin, and only an “infinite atonement” could satisfy the demands of justice. Thus, Christ’s undeserved suffering provides infinite merit which can be dispensed vicariously to depraved creatures who stand in need of Christ’s grace. It is possible to detect influences of this theory in Alma’s presentation of God’s plan, which also shows Arminian influences in its description of vicarious sacrifice.” (p. 82)

“Finally, Mosiah 3:5-4:8 seems to be nineteenth-century expansions on the atonement” (p. 92)

“Chiasmus can also be found in some nineteenth-century works, including the Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Abraham (D&C 88:34-38; 98:18-38; 132:19-26; Abr. 3:16-19). Thus, the assumption that chiasmus is an exclusively ancient poetic device appears to be false. Further, many Book of Mormon chiastic passages presuppose a doctrine of Christ developed beyond anything found in the Old Testament (Mosiah 3:18-19; 5:10-12; 2 Ne. 25:2-27; Alma 36; 41:13-15).” (p. 101)

Note from me: For a bit more on the topic of messianic Atonement see my post on the New Testament. There was no pre-Christian concept of a messiah who would suffer, die, or atone for sin. The application of the existing concept of ritual sacrificial atonement to Jesus death was a major re-interpretation of the earlier messianic tradition.


“The idea of a Messiah who dies for the sins of others, then rises from the dead, was unknown in ancient Israel, though competent scholars have maintained that Isaiah’s suffering servant refers to an individual identified with Israel through his vicarious suffering and death as Yahweh’s servant. Early Christians identified the suffering servant with Christ. A similar development occurred in Nephi’s thought; he learned from an angel that God himself would appear as a man and be delivered to the wicked (1 Ne. 19:19).” (p. 83)

“Mosiah 14-16 are also best explained as Joseph Smith’s expansions or interpolations. Abinadi refers to a messianic prophecy by Moses, probably with Deuteronomy 18:18-19 in mind (Mosiah 13:33). He then states, however, that “all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began — have they not spoken more or less concerning [the Messiah]? Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth . . . and that he himself should be oppressed and afflicted? Yea, doth not Isaiah say . . .” (Mosiah 13:34-35). At this point, the King James Translation of Isaiah 53 is read into the text. This passage comes from a section of Isaiah commonly attributed to deutero-Isaiah; but even without that problem, it is commonly accepted that the KJV translators made a chapter division in the wrong place. The poem about the suffering servant actually begins at Isaiah 52:13. It is highly unlikely that Abinadi would break up this poem by beginning with the present chapter division.” (p. 93)

Note from me: Again, for a bit more on this topic see my post on the New Testament. The concept of the Messiah developed by Christians (and the norm for us) was a total re-interpretation of the previous tradition, and the servant song of Isaiah was not created as a Messianic prophecy. The concept of a messiah who would suffer and die for the sins of the world was foreign to ancient Israel.


“Concepts of an afterlife appear to undergo development in the Book of Mormon…” (p. 84)

“Hebrews did not have a refined notion of life after death…” (p. 84)

“Robinson maintains, however, that the concept of after-life did not develop until after the return from the exile (J. A. T. Robinson, 3:38-53).” (p. 84)

“It was difficult for pre-exilic Hebrews to conceive of life without the body because they did not think of mortals in dualistic terms of corruptible body and eternal soul. The term soul {nephesh) connoted the entire person in Hebrew thought, consisting of the breath of life or “spirit” (ruah) plus the body (basar). The discussion of the grave delivering up the body and hell delivering up the spirit (2 Ne. 9:10-13) is thus awkward and perhaps inappropriate given Hebrew anthropology.” (p. 84)


“The resurrection in the Old Testament is first mentioned in Isaiah 26:19, and usually attributed to deutero-Isaiah or trito-Isaiah in the fourth century B.C. Ezekiel 37:5, is usually dated to 350-338 B.C. In contrast, the Book of Mormon has a well-developed concept of universal resurrection brought about by the Messiah’s death and resurrection (2 Ne. 9:10-16; 26:13; Jac. 4:11-12; Mosiah 15:21-22; 16:7-11; Alma 16:20; 27:28; 33:22; 40:2-21).” (P. 85)

“The next chapter, Mosiah 16, can be identified as Joseph Smith’s expansion on motif critical grounds….(Mosiah 16:6-7). These verses depend on 1 Corinthians 15:55-56.” (p. 98)


“Pre-exilic Hebrews did not have a concept of a personal devil who tempted individuals and opposed deity.” (p. 85)

“The early Hebrews did not equate the serpent of the Eden story with the devil.” (p. 85)

“In 1 Nephi 14, the devil is associated with the great and abominable church, a usage which Joseph Smith clearly borrowed from Revelation 17:1-18:3 to expand the original text.” (p. 85)

“1 Nephi 13-15 can be distinguished as Joseph Smith’s expansion through motif criticism. Its denunciations of the devil’s great and abominable church depend on Revelation and appears to express anti-Catholicism characteristic of nineteenth-century New York (Ahlstrom 1:666-81). These chapters contain ideas foreign to pre-exilic Israelites, such as a “church,” a personal devil, and Jews and gentiles.” (p. 86)


“Mosiah 15-16 appear to be Joseph Smith’s expansions to explain how God becomes man. Mosiah 15 does not discuss the relationship between the Father and Son in the Godhead as is often assumed (Alexander 1980, 25). Rather, Joseph Smith here addresses, through Abinadi, how the Son can be both fully man and fully God. Mosiah 15 adopts a genetic theory of Christology wherein the Son is deemed to partake of the nature of mortality because literally descended from humans in the flesh, though also truly God because he is also begotten by God the Father through the spirit (Mosiah 15:2-3). Hence, the Son partakes of both the nature of humanity and of the Father, “ and thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God . . . ” (Mosiah 15:5). Abinadi further explains that the Son can become subject to death in the flesh by virtue of his mortality and can thus “make intercession for the children of men,” thereby satisfying the demands of both mercy and justice by virtue of his dual humanity-divinity (15 :7-9).

Mosiah 15 thus attempts to answer theological questions that were asked only after the council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and the answer is premised on Anselm’s medieval satisfaction theory. Joseph Smith also resolves a problem raised by interpreting Isaiah 53 to apply to Jesus. Isaiah speaks of the servant’s “seed.” How, then, could this passage refer to Christ who had no seed? Joseph Smith interprets “seed” as a metaphor for the prophets who testify of Christ to resolve the problem (15:10-13).” (p. 97)
Note from me: Again, I addressed some of this in my New Testament post. The term Son of God originally meant something very different to Israelites—but eventually took on a more literal (in my view more Greek/Roman) interpretation among Christians outside Judea.


“The prophecies of the discovery of America and the role of a gentile nation in the Book of Mormon can be most reasonably explained, in my opinion, as popular nineteenth-century concepts inserted in the text by Joseph Smith (1 Ne. 13:10-20). In short, similarities between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon do not require the dependence of one upon the other but are more easily explained as two reflections of common nineteenth-century assumptions about the American Indians.” (p. 70)

Note from me: For much more on the extensive appearance of 19th century views of Native Americans in the Book of Mormon see my previous section HERE.


“…Helaman 6:21-30; 8:3-4; 3 Nephi 6:28-30 and Ether 8:10-16, 22-26 appear to be influenced by anti-Masonic terminology and concerns. They may be explained best, it seems to me, as Joseph Smith’s independent commentary on Masonry, sparked by his reflection on Nephite secret combinations.” (p. 76)

Note from me: While Mormons ultimately developed significant involvement with Masonry, it was very controversial and a hot topic during the time the Book of Mormon was produced. There was concern that Masonic judges were (sometimes literally) letting their fellow masons “get away with murder” (or perhaps ordering it in the first place). It was also a major political concern of the day. (see


For this section I’m going to break from Ostler’s quotes and add some thoughts about another important motif not discussed much by Ostler. This issue is of particular concern to many because Joseph’s earliest account of the “First Vision” does not mention 2 beings. It only mentions seeing “the Lord,” and it sounds a lot like the types of divine visions that many of the day were claiming as they sought forgiveness of sin. If the Book of Mormon portrays a brand of Trinitarianism, it does even more to put Joseph’s first vision account in question, and suggests that Joseph’s narratives were expanded over time to fit his developing views.

Even if you reject the idea that there is a brand of Trinitarianism in the Book of Mormon, the simple fact that it contains well developed concepts of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost being referred to jointly is extremely out of place for ancient Israel—and was not even fully developed among the earliest Christians! Still, oddly enough, when I was ready to look at the Book of Mormon from a non-apologetic point of view, I had to admit that it seems to teach a form of Trinitarianism, and that in some areas it was even more recognizable in the original version of the Book of Mormon.

Here are two examples where a brand of Trinitarianism is more clear in the original Book of Mormon manuscript (I verified them in my copy of Skousen’s “Earliest Text”):

Current 1 Nephi 11:21: And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!

Original: And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!

Current 1 Nephi 13:40: These last records…shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world;

Original: These last records…shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world;

Other verses I’d recommend reading that many feel represent a form of trinitarianism even in their current form—but which could not so easily be edited out:

Alma 11:38-39: Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;

Mosiah 15:1-4: And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son – The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son – And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

Ether 3:14-15: Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters. And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.

Mosiah 16:15: Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen.”

2 Nephi 31:21: This is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

Ostler doesn’t believe that Trinitarianism is “explicit” in the Book of Mormon, but he does acknowledge that “The Book of Mormon reflects the influence of Joseph Smith’s earliest belief structure,” and that Joseph’s subsequent revelations show that his views were developing over time. He acknowledges that “The Book of Mormon doctrine of God, though not explicitly trinitarian, is not the developed tritheism that now characterizes Mormon thinking (D&C 130:22).”


Again in this section I will break from Ostler’s quotes and mention a motif he doesn’t identify. The idea of gathering Israel was particularly important to early 19th century Christians, and is a major theme of the Book of Mormon (eg. 2 Nephi 30:3-8 or 1 Nephi 15:14,18-20 or 3 Nephi 21:23-26). More specifically, there was some question and debate at the time as to whether this “gathering” was to be understood literally or figuratively. For example, Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews (discussed previously) specifically argues on 8 different pages that the “gathering” of the “Jews” or “Israelites” or “ten tribes” must be understood as a literal gathering.

Naturally, the Book of Mormon is sure to settle this popular early 19th century issue for us. Speaking of the gathering of Israel, Nephi of course asks the question: “Behold, are they to be understood according to things which are spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh? …Wherefore, the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual;…” (1 Nephi 22:1,3)

But the Book of Mormon goes further in supporting this literal gathering. Many people of the early 19th century believed that their was still a group of lost Israelite tribes living together as a cohesive group somewhere in the unexplored North countries. Given modern technology I would guess that few modern Mormons are still holding out that there is still some cohesive group of lost Israelites somewhere in the North, but Joseph certainly believed it. He claimed John the Revelator was among them preparing them to return, and in D&C 133 he outlined how this distinct group of Israelites will be miraculously brought out of their hidden location. In D&C 110:11 he claimed Moses appeared to him and gave him the keys to lead “the ten tribes from the land of the North.” The Book of Mormon supports such views. The book declares that these lost tribes exist as a coherent group. Jesus was going to visit them (3 Nephi 17:4), and when they are brought out of their hidden place in the last days they are to bring their scripture with them when they join everyone in the “New Jerusalem” (2 Nephi 29:13).

All of this strikes me as being 19th century motifs that wouldn’t fit in this ancient record. I understand that the general idea of “gathering Israel” has ancient biblical roots—but I would suggest to you that what we see in the Book of Mormon strikes me as a more developed 19th century spin on the old theme.

Zvi Ben-Dor Benite explains how these traditions grew over time in the post-biblical period:

“The rudiments of a tale about the loss of an Israelite group were encoded in the biblical era. But the emergence of a distinct entity known as “the lost tribes” or the “ten tribes” is a legacy of the post-biblical period, and it is only then that the ten tribes come into being as a distinct collective category within “the people of Israel” and are assigned a distinct place within world geography and a role in world history….Apocryphal texts, dressed in the guise of biblical books and even revelations, played an important role in the early stages of the creation of this new knowledge concerning the ten lost tribes. The story of Tobit (Tuviah), a righteous man living in Nineveh after the exile, was probably written during the second century BCE and is one of the earliest apocryphal books. Already, then, the ten tribes were an important topos in the imagination of those living in Judea. As revelations, such apocryphal books seem to attempt to tell us what the canonical biblical texts do not about the fate of the ten tribes: where they are and what happened to them….Esdras stands as a bookend opposite Isaiah—the first to declare the tribes lost and to frame the search for them. While Isaiah spoke generally of redemptive “latter days,” including the gathering of the “lost in Assyria” as one of their features, Esdras speaks with specificity about how the tribes will return and explains where they are “now.”

The Book of Mormon aside, this is a very interesting issue for any Mormons who insist that all of the D&C is inspired and that these sections are to be taken literally. BH Roberts long ago recognized these challenges, and argued that these sections must be taken as figurative and hyperbolic.


More quotes from Ostler:

“The Christian motifs in the Book of Mormon require either that a Christian has been at work during some stage of the compilation or that it is Christian in origin (Slingerland 1977, 100). A study of the editorial tendencies may determine whether the Christian motifs derive from Mormon or from Joseph Smith. In 1 and 2 Nephi, Jacob, and Enos, however, expansions must come from Joseph Smith because the small plates were not abridged by Mormon.” (p. 86)

“The expansion theory, premised on a concept of revelation as creative co-participation, also helps us to understand the historical development of Mormon doctrine. The Book of Mormon reflects the influence of Joseph Smith’s earliest belief structure in its synthesis of passages from the KJV and contemporary theology with nineteenth-century concerns. Joseph Smith’s interpretive framework was largely derived from Christian Primitivism, a particular orientation within nineteenth-century Protestantism (M. Hill 1968)…… In expressing the message of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s revelatory experiences naturally assumed the world view arising from his culture. Later revelations, however, necessitated so much revision in this basic set of assumptions that the paradigm reflected in the Book of Mormon was largely abandoned.” (p. 112)

“Some may see the expansion theory as compromising the historicity of the Book of Mormon. To a certain extent it does. The book cannot properly be used to prove the presence of this or that doctrine in ancient thought because the revelation inherently involved modern interpretation…Such a model does not necessarily abrogate either the book’s religious significance or its value as salvation history. After all, much of the Bible is a result of a similar process of redaction, interpolation, and interpretation, yet its spiritual power is attested to by two thousand years of revealing God’s mighty acts to later generations.” (p. 114)

“In the final analysis, however, the value of the book as scripture is not whether its history is complete and accurate, but whether it adequately bears witness of God and what is ultimately most valuable. The Book of Mormon is not a history and was not meant to be; it is a revelation of the experiences of God and the salvation history of an ancient people.” (p. 114)


Like Blake Ostler, my study of the development of historical theology and practices has led me to believe that many of these Book of Mormon motifs just cannot reasonably be attributed to these ancient people. Not only because the religious records of the periods in question suggest that these motifs had not been developed yet, but because many of these motifs are particularly representative of early 19th century issues and concerns.

As noted already, a few have proposed that these things can be accounted for either through a very loose translation process, or through Joseph adding “expansions” to the text during translation. Others like myself feel that some of these ideas and motifs are not just part of the book, but integral to the book’s very self-conception and foundational to its overall narrative. Another set of data that provides very significant challenges to claims regarding the historicity and origins of the Book of Mormon.

Part 5


The Book of Mormon relies heavily on the KJV Bible for content. It isn’t that it just “sounds like” the KJV. It is that numerous sections (including many entire chapters) are clearly relying on or being taken directly from the 1769 KJV. Even when there would have been multiple ways to correctly translate the ancient text, the KJV is followed. More importantly, even many of the known translation errors present in the 1769 KJV ended up in the Book of Mormon. LDS apologists have dealt with this in various ways. Some have suggested that when Joseph came across a passage that he recognized as having a direct counterpart (or even just similar teachings) in the Bible, he simply copied KJV verses word for word instead of doing a new translation. Of course, as LDS apologist Jeff Lindsay has noted: “The difficulty is that the multiple accounts of those who witnessed him translate never suggest use of the Bible and sometimes seem to rule out that possibility.” This being the case, Brant Gardner went so far as to suggest that Joseph must have had a rare eidetic memory that allowed him to reference the Bible without actually referencing it. Another problem with this is that there are instances where the Book of Mormon is claiming to have a more ancient or more accurate version of biblical writings with some changes in the text (Isaiah chapters for example), while at the same time showing dependence on the KJV–suggesting the writer was using the KJV as a base text and reworking it.

In my view, each case where the KJV is used is different. Some are not very significant in what they can tell us about the creation of the text, while others are very significant. But in the end I find the evidence to be undeniable that the “translation” of the Book of Mormon at times involved using the KJV Bible as a base text, and actively and creatively reworking it in a process that could be compared to “midrash” or “targumizing”–which is essentially what Joseph was doing when he created the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. As noted in my Book of Abraham post, I believe the evidence also powerfully suggests he was using a similar process when creating the books of Moses and Abraham.

Here is just an introduction to some of the issues:

Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon:

There is broad agreement among biblical scholars that parts of Isaiah were written by someone other than Isaiah, and were written after Lehi and his family would have left for Jerusalem. LDS scholar David Bokovoy has said that he finds “the evidence that Isaiah 40-55 is exilic material written by later authors rather than the historical Isaiah irrefutable.” Those who casually dismiss this issue don’t realize just how powerful the evidence is. So why is the Book of Mormon claiming that these writings are being taken directly from “the Brass Plates?” The significance of this issue cannot be overstated in terms of what it tells us about how the Book of Mormon was created.

The Sermon On The Mount In The Book of Mormon:

I once thought that it made sense that in 3rd Nephi 12 Jesus would teach a sermon very similar to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. But when I learned more about how the gospels came to be, I found that the Sermon on the Mount likely began as a collection of “sayings” of Jesus that were only later compiled into one sermon, and that in any case it is quite unlikely that a transcript of an actual sermon of Jesus was actually recorded and preserved so well that 3rd Nephi 12 could so closely mirror it. Furthermore, it seems obvious that Joseph reworked Matthew 5 as he created the Book of Mormon (again, likely in a process similar to what he did with the JST). He made some of the edits that were obviously needed (such as changing “farthing” to “senine,” removing references to scribes/pharisees, or swearing by Jerusalem), but he failed to edit out some other less obvious references that were specific to the Old World, and wouldn’t have made sense to a Nephite.

For example, Jesus’ reference to “go with him twain” was specifically referencing an issue faced by Jews wherein a Roman soldier could force them to carry their things for one mile. Would Jesus, the master teacher, truly have used this same reference when teaching Nephites?

In 3 Nephi 12:22, would Jesus the master teacher truly have used a term such as “raca” or the phrase “being in danger of the council” when these were terms that had specific meaning in 1st century Jerusalem?  Raca was an Aramaic term (not Hebrew or Egyptian). It was a curse, or term of hatred. Committing  raca meant to be brought before the Sanhedrin or “council.” Wouldn’t Joseph have personalized his message for the Nephites instead of using rote language specific to first century Jewish culture?

Other Considerations Regarding Dependence on the New Testament:

Why does the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 14: 20-27) claim quite absolutely that John the apostle wrote the Book of Revelation, when scholars thoroughly agree that it was not written by John the Apostle? The Book of Mormon actually describes a detailed vision in which Nephi sees John the Apostle writing the book! This is one of many strong examples of the Book of Mormon being a creative product that relied upon current ideas that are now known to be incorrect.

Why is it that Mormon 9:22-24 quotes almost word for word from Mark 16:15-18 when biblical scholars broadly agree that Mark 16:9-20 was not even originally in the book of Mark, but was added later by some Christian scribe? It would be odd regardless, but definitely more odd that it wasn’t even originally in Mark, and thus, those wouldn’t be words specifically spoken by Jesus.

Given the strong similarities between Hebrews 3:7-13 and Alma 12:33-37, and the strong parallels between Hebrews 7 and Alma 13, it’s certainly reasonable to suggest that Joseph may have been studying Hebrews while “translating” these chapters of Alma. This could further suggest that the translation was often a creative process, and not a word for word translation.

Though not necessarily definitive issues, it’s worth noting in general that the Book of Mormon depends in many ways on New Testament historicity, many aspects of which are highly questionable (see my New Testament post). For example, there is dependence on the virgin birth narrative (see 1 Nephi 11:13, and Luke 1:26). The earliest gospel (Mark) didn’t have a nativity or virgin birth narrative, and there is good reason to believe these narratives developed later–perhaps due to Greeks/Romans having a very different idea of what it meant to be a “Son of God” than was actually found in ancient Israelite/Jewish teaching. Another small example would be that the Book of Mormon picks up on the Lukan tradition that Jesus essentially sweat blood, even though scholars widely agree that this tradition was actually a later addition to the book of Luke, and not in the original record.

Many suspect that various Book of Mormon stories or teachings were likely influenced by Bible counterparts Joseph was familiar with. For example, the raising of Lazarus (John 11) and Lamoni (Alma 19), or the similarities between Alma the Younger and Paul/Saul of Tarsus. It’s possible.

There are loads of places where the Book of Mormon uses exact or very close language as that which is found in the KJV New Testament, which at a minimum suggests that the translation was “loose” at times, and not a word for word translation that appeared on a stone. In other words, we have to admit that these weren’t really the exact words spoken by these ancient American prophets, but at best were words that conveyed a similar teaching, and were borrowed during translation. Quite odd in any case.  Just a few examples:

Matthew 3:10 / Alma 5:52

Corinthians 15:53 / Mosiah 16:10

Romans 8:6 / 2 Nephi 9:39

Corinthians 11:29 / 3 Nephi 18:29

Corinthians 15:58 / Mosiah 5:15


In my view, it is very clear that the KJV Bible was at times actively utilized as a source during an active process of study and creation. It was even carefully “reworked” (like midrash or targumizing) in many instances–in a process similar to what Joseph did during his new “translation” of the Bible (the JST). This shouldn’t be terribly shocking to us, as even D&C 9 (a revelation directed to Oliver Cowdery who was unable to “translate”) tells us specifically that the “translation” was a process of “studying things out,” and asking if it is right, and not simply reading words off of a stone. Joseph and Oliver certainly could have even believed they were being inspired in such a process.

What is odd in light of all this is that it seems Joseph and Oliver actively led many to believe that the “translation” process was much more miraculous and exact process of simply reading word for word off of a seer stone (several firsthand witnesses to parts of the translation attest it went this way, with no sources involved). It seems to me that Joseph (and seemingly Oliver also) was quite content to have people view the process as more miraculous and exact, and not as much of a creative and studious effort. Perhaps it was for this reason that Joseph specifically declined to comment on the exact process of “translation” when asked to comment on it.

Some will take offense as I suggest that Joseph and Oliver weren’t completely honest and forthcoming about how the translation worked. I would even say the historical record combined with the evidence in this post suggests they even put forth calculated effort to mislead people in this regard (perhaps in order to get Martin Harris to fund the printing of the book they felt they needed to impress him or appeal to his strong belief in treasure digging/folk magic culture?) But to those shocked by such an accusation, I have to point out that we have every reason to believe that this is something Joseph (and Emma) would do. Joseph showed many times he was willing to lie or exaggerate to bring about purposes he felt were good.

He lied to Emma, to the church, and to the public about his practice of polygamy, claiming specifically that although some accused him of having seven wives he “could only find one.” Emma absolutely knew about his polygamy at a certain point, and yet later in life she denied that Joseph had practiced polygamy. Once treasure digging and folk magic were looked down upon and would harm his credibility, he explicitly lied about his involvement with it. Despite his family being heavily involved with these things, and despite his actively working as a “treasure seer,” and even being taken to court over it, he still claimed that this whole rumor began because he was simply a “hired shovel” for Josiah Stowell. A final example of Joseph’s willingness to lie or exaggerate for his cause comes from looking at his varying 1st vision accounts, which clearly grew over time as he needed to bolster his authority and maintain unity in the church. Bottom line, it shouldn’t be surprising in the least that Joseph may have misled some “witnesses” as to the true nature of the translation. There is a discrepancy between what the evidence tell us, and what we read in D&C 9 about the translation, and what multiple witnesses declare to have been the process of translation.



Unfortunately I haven’t had time to get this section compiled yet, but I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can because it is another massively important piece of the puzzle. It’s one thing to know that Joseph was involved in “treasure digging” or “folk magic,” but it’s another to recognize how deeply engrained Joseph, his family, and all the “witnesses” were with this culture, and to understand all that was involved with it and how normal it was for them to claim to see things that clearly weren’t real (mystical treasure guardians, treasures that would appear and then suddenly disappear or sink into the earth, etc), and to begin to recognize how some of the earliest narratives of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon had such strong parallels and ties to those practices and cultural phenomenons. It was really significant to recognize that to these people, seeing something in their “mind’s eye” or with “spiritual eyes” was as real to them as anything, and to recognize that Martin Harris (despite continuing to believe in their divinity) actually claimed on multiple occasions that none of the witnesses saw the gold plates through anything but “spiritual eyes” (think a sort of guided vision). For now, I’ll leave it at that and point you to these sources for more: HERE and HERE and HERE. Or if nothing else maybe as a starting point you’d be willing to hear an interview with Richard Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4, PART 5.


7 thoughts on “BOOK OF MORMON

  1. Tim Bradley June 24, 2016 / 9:14 am

    Very interesting. It actually increased my faith. Thanks for the site!


    • Russell Ash June 24, 2016 / 11:31 am

      Thanks Tim. I’m really glad you’ve found it helpful. My primary concern is to help people make informed decisions–whatever those decisions may be.

      Do you mind if I ask what sort of approach you take to the Book of Mormon? Do you fit into one of the categories in the introduction here, or some combination…?


      • Tim Bradley June 24, 2016 / 1:57 pm

        I would say 2.5… But I’m not really big on distinction between it only necessarily being a tight or loose translation. Also, those definitions don’t necessarily encapsulates all the variants. You can have a tight translation from JS but it be not necessarily be a tight translation from “nephi” per se.

        I view it as a Divine translation that obviously used the KJV and the knowledge/views of JS era to be a book for our time.

        While I believe it is historical and there are traces of its Historicity throughout the book, I believe that it is anachoristic just like 1Kings is in the Bible.

        I know that this won’t work for some LDS and others, but I think it makes the most sense.

        I also seen some pretty good rebuttals and those who hold different paradigms to some of your arguments against it being a book from God.

        However, I do find most of your comments rational and fair. while I don’t know all the answers to the questions you pose, I see plenty of other questions the BOM answers and view it as the word of God trnaslated through the inspiration by the Prophet Joseph Smith.


      • Tim Bradley June 24, 2016 / 2:25 pm

        That came off a little too preachy. Everyone has there own paradigm and what things they lend more weight to. Obviously 1,2 or 3 don’t fit into a paradigm that is authentic to you. Which is fine and I do not judge you anyway.


      • Russell Ash June 26, 2016 / 9:29 am

        I didn’t find your comment offensive. Kind of refreshing actually.

        Agree or disagree, I appreciate anyone who is willing to at least evaluate the information or hear where people’s concerns are coming from. Despite all the concern and heartache, I have not had a single believing friend or family member who has wanted to hear in detail what led to my conclusions. Many have stated directly that they will not do so. If any of them have read this particular post, I’m unaware of it. However, given the way losing belief in the LDS church can tear apart people’s lives and families (something I hope will change so people can seek truth without fear), I can understand why some just won’t go there. And hey, Elder L. Whitney Clayton recently told them to “disconnect immediately and completely” from listening to “proselyting efforts” of those who’ve lost faith–so there’s that. Anyway, huge props and thanks to you for simply hearing another point of view, and for seeking (as BH Roberts put it) “a rational ground for faith.”

        Also, given that most orthodox Mormons tend to cling heavily to what I’ve called “approach #1,” it’s always a pleasure to talk with someone who at least recognizes some of the complexity and challenges.

        I do acknowledge that those categories of approaches I’ve created won’t encapsulate all variants. Just a starting point for discussion that I hope will be helpful and open people up to new possibilities to explore.

        You’re correct that your approach simply won’t work for me, and I must admit that I have all sorts of curiosities as to how you’re able to make everything work. But in the end I just appreciate those in the church who take an approach such as yours that will at least evaluate information and at least acknowledge some complexity and nuance.

        Now if I can just finish those last few sections at some point…


  2. Tim Bradley June 26, 2016 / 11:29 am

    No problem. I understand how hard of an issue it is for a everyone on all sides when someone leaves the church. Actually your next section I think fits in well with those who take 2-3 approach to the BOM.

    I understand how mine and others like me paradigms not might fit you. In fact it’s been a struggle for me, but based on all the evidence for me (secular and spiritual) that is the paradigm that makes the most sense to me.(not that all the puzzle pieces fit in particularly well)

    But best of luck to you with everything.


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