In the early 1800s, a Connecticut man named Solomon Spaulding wrote a fictional story about ancient Romans who came to North America. Some critics of the Church have claimed that Joseph Smith used this manuscript to write the Book of Mormon. Spaulding’s Manuscript titled Manuscript, Found is, coincidentally, about a man who finds ancient scrolls hidden under a rock.
Critics who have no association with the Church have disproved this theory time and again. Even a quick search from wikipedia says that “Contemporary Mormon apologetics state that the theory has been disproved and is discredited and argue that ‘few historians -whether friendly or hostile to the truth claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -believe that the historical data support the Spaulding manuscript hypothesis.”
The story goes that a man by the name of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut (an excommunicated member and opponent to the Church) assumed that Joseph Smith was too illiterate to have produced The Book of Mormon by himself and therefore must have received some assistance. The theory claims that Sidney Rigdon stole the manuscript and helped Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery produce the Book of Mormon, which doesn’t really add up since Sidney Rigdon didn’t join the church until after the Church was organized. But, again, I’m not here to argue how Joseph got ahold of the manuscript. I’m am here to show you what I found while reading the text.
Similarities Between The Solomon Spaulding Manuscript and The Book of Mormon
The only correlation here is that both parties were in boats and were driven by the winds, one five days the other four. To me, there is nothing really to compare. When one is sailing, one is likely to encounter storms. However, the similarities become slightly stronger as the stories continue, as demonstrated below:
Each of these passages speaks of communications with the Almighty, the storms ceasing, and going to a place better than where they are now. Though similarities exist, these passages prove nothing for the critics that argue that Joseph Smith plagiarized The Book of Mormon. One of my favorite comparisons is that Nephi, in the last verse, tells the reader that the Lord brought them forth to what he calls “the promised land”, while the protagonist of Manuscript, Found tells us a few pages later that God “bro’t us over mountain billows to this butt end of the world” [pg. 12]. Though I doubt he was trying to be funny, it seems humorous to compare Spaulding’s “butt end of the world” to Nephi’s “promised land”.
I liked this passage from Manuscript, Found. It’s poetic and beautiful though I am having trouble finding passages from The Book of Mormon that fit it specifically. Mosiah 2:21 is similar in that it says that “if ye should serve him [God] who has created you from the beginning” which is similar to Spaulding’s “who is the father of all living creatures.” Again in the same verse from The Book of Mormon it states that God is “preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that you may live and move and do” and later in verse 34 where it reads “ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are” are all similar to Spaulding’s “he gives us all our meat & our fish”, but none of these are so specific that one should think that Joseph plagiarized them. The image of God encircling us in His arms is not new and it is not singular to Spaulding’s manuscript.
I had to search pretty hard to find a verse that correlated at all for this passage. I mean, toads, frogs and snails? I think I’d take all of that compared to the weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and the fiery indignation of God’s wrath.
I probably didn’t need to pull out these passages. Joseph Smith never uses the word mammoth, but it seems like a widely accepted belief among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that this is indeed what Joseph Smith meant. But despite the fact that we have no idea what kinds of animals cureloms and cumoms are, the only real similarity in these passages is that both animals were useful. Spaulding goes into great detail about how the animals behaved and yet all The Book of Mormon says is that they were “useful unto man.”
Both books mention how the people made things out of steel (one tools, the other swords). It appears that both Joseph Smith and Solomon Spaulding may have fallen into the same anachronism in their books. Steel did not exist in the Americas during the Book of Mormon times [see the section for Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon], but it did exist in the early 1800s. That both authors reference the use of steel is simply poor understanding, not that anyone plagiarized anything.
I recognize that I may be stretching some of these. It’s hard to find verses in The Book of Mormon that fit well enough that it could be called a “match” at all, let alone an “exact match”. Both passages talk about the people preserving records (one of government, other the history of the people) and handing them down. Although the concept is the same, it isn't a sign of plagiarism.
This idea really isn’t new. The freedom of speech and belief is a battle as old as time.
These passages are very similar. They both talk about God being the Great Creator and how the Devil seeks evil before and against God. But again, these ideas are not new -good versus evil, God versus the Devil.
If you’re a parent and believe in God, these passages won’t stand out as anything out of the ordinary. The ideas of being a godly parent are the same, but there is nothing that shouts plagiarism.
The concept that God is our Father and we ought to treat each other as His children is not new. Also, you'll notice that Joseph Smith is quoting Matthew 7 from the New Testament. So while this may not be evidence of Joseph plagiarizing from Spaulding, he is certainly plagiarizing the Bible.
This was another poetic passage from Manuscript, Found! that had very similar to The Book of Mormon.
This passage has a little more backbone than the others. Two groups of people who experience peace and free or friendly communications or dealings.
When I came across this section in Spaulding’s book I had to stop. The similarities between these two books is striking. Yet, if you understand what was in Joseph's milieu, you'll know that a popular writing piece was trying to understand the Indigenous mounds and the fortifications left by them. The idea of ancient indian fortifications is not new nor is it exclusive to these two books.
For example, Samuel de Champlain, who was a French colonist, navigator, cartographer and soldier, published a book in 1604 titled Voyages that describes the Indigenous people as having forts. Included in the book is this insightful illustration. Notice the wall, the sharpened timbers, the canal? Likewise the Stonington, Connecticut Deeds published in 1680 describes an “indian fence at quahquetoye”. In the book Ancestors and Descendants of Jonathan Abell who came from Connecticut and Settled in Schenectady County, New York, About 1812 they also describe a fence built by the Indigenous people. Others like Jeremy Belknap and Henry Baker describe these ancient Indigenous fences. Later researches like Ephriam Squier and Edwin Davis would also add to these findings of ancient fortifications. With Spaulding description it seems to make more sense to me that Spaulding used Champlain’s description rather than that Joseph used Spaulding’s description. The depiction of the sharpened timber and a canal are nowhere to be found in The Book of Mormon. However, as you can see, the knowledge that these ancient forts existed appears to be common knowledge. Joseph's book and descriptions are not unique. He was writing what was well known in his day.
The use of seer stones was common during Joseph Smith’s time. Many people owned and believe in seer stones. Smith and Spaulding could have simply been taking from the common practice of their day. To me, this speaks more to the theory that the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth century fabrication than that it was plagiarized. The Church still owns many of Joseph Smith's seer stones and are no longer using them, probably because they do not work. Who is to say that in 400 B.C.E. the people believed in seer stones at all?
I have never been in combat, but I can imagine that it is a common practice to sleep as close to one's weapons as possible (although I can also imagine sleeping on top of a sword would be quite uncomfortable).
In these charts I have shown you only the similarities between these two books. There are, however, a great many differences.
Manuscript, Found has a lengthy love triangle between Princess Lamesa, Prince Elseon and the King of Sciota. The people in Spaulding’s book do not abide by the laws set forth by Moses while the people in The Book of Mormon adhere to it very strictly (although little is said concerning how they live the law of Moses, just that they do which could easily lean to the notion that the author was not informed on the specifics of the Law of Moses).
If I am understanding the book correctly, the Spaulding manuscript tells a story about a man who formed “a curious machine by which <& having seated himself upon it> he mounted into the Atmosphere & assended a great height- & having sailed a considerable distance <thro the air>, he decended slowly & received no damage” [pg. 40]. This same man goes on in fame because of his intelligence and eloquence with the people “all.. Pronouncing him to be the most extraordinary man in existence & generally beleived that he held conversation with celestial beings- & always acted under the influence of divine inspiration.- The people were very liberal in their donations, which enabled him to support his family in affluence” [pg. 40]. This part of the story has no similarities to the Book of Mormon and reminds the reader more of an H. G. Wells novel than of holy scripture. Also, only once in Manuscript Found! (on page 11) does the protagonist mention anything about Jesus Christ (and this as a passing remark) while The Book of Mormon is filled with His name (on average every 1.5 verses). Another difference is that The Book of Mormon speaks often of specific dates and years while on the other hand Manuscript, Found! never seems to have a specific date in mind.
Another difference that I found interesting (as pictured above) is that the Original Manuscript for The Book of Mormon has minimal changes in it, while the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript is loaded with strikethroughs and scribbles. I suppose one could see the "smoothness" of the Original Manuscript in one of two ways: One, that Joseph Smith truly was translating the characters from the golden plates onto paper (with the means of a scribe), or Two, that Joseph Smith the "smoothness" came from copying the words and ideas from another source.
In truth, it would be difficult to write a novel about missionaries coming to the New World and have there not be similarities to a "true book of scripture." It is true that both books have themes of faith in Christ, repentance, keeping the commandments and keeping the Sabbath day holy (although for Spaulding it was “on evry eighth day” [page 39] instead of the seven, as is taught in the Book of Mormon). Other themes like the righteous obtaining happiness after death and the wicked being cast out to “dwel in darkness & are tormented with the keenest anguish” are present in both books. All of these ideas are reflected on page 37 of Spaulding’s book. Spaulding talks about judgment, resurrected bodies, and being saved -all of which are common teachings in the Christian world and are likewise present in The Book of Mormon. But to say that Joseph plagiarized these ideas is like saying J. K. Rowling plagiarized Harry Potter because it is about wizards, magic wands, and good versus evil -all of which are common themes in fantasy novels.
If there is anything I have missed or similarities that you wish me to highlight that I have not, please tell me.
From a careful review of both texts, it appears to me that Joseph Smith did not plagiarize from Solomon Spaulding.
If Joseph Smith did indeed use the Solomon Spaulding Manuscript to write The Book of Mormon, then he sure did a much better job at writing than Spaulding did, in my opinion.
One critic of The Book of Mormon, Isaac Woodbridge Riley, wrote: “The commonly accepted Spaulding theory is insoluble from external evidence and disproved by internal evidence” [Riley, The Founder of Mormonism, 172]. In Tad R. Callister’s book A Case for the Book of Mormon he explained that when he was in his twenties the Church History Department was selling Manuscript, Found! for just a dollar. He ordered a copy and read over it, he said he “found no meaningful resemblance whatsoever between the two books. In spite of the foregoing, a few critics continue to beat this dead-horse theory hoping it will run, even though it has not had a heartbeat for over a century” [page 23].
The big take aways for me are these: by comparing the two books, written just a few years apart, it is clear that many of the ideas therein were common at the time they were written. Seer stones, steel, fortifications of the Indigenous people, etc. From what I understand, Joseph Smith did not have to plagiarize anything to produce The Book of Mormon. Joseph was an intelligent sponge for knowledge and, according to his mother, was telling the family stories from the book long before he ever claimed to even have the record. Joseph had years to come up with The Book of Mormon stories. Likewise, concepts and physical things common of the day point more to a nineteenth century fabrication.
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