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Book of Mormon authorship
March 31, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Who really wrote the Book of Mormon? It's always been an open question if you weren't a true believer. After enduring the casual dismissals of Joseph Smith admirers and biographers in the 20th century, the Spalding-Rigdon theory reemerges as the abductive explanation, as Spalding's "manuscript" parallels obscure or disputed sources and turns the tables against apologists.
posted by Brian B. (47 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought we'd established it was the magic hat guy?
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:10 PM on March 31, 2007


I thought we'd established it was the magic hat guy?

You seem to be referring to the fact that Smith claimed to translate the "golden plates" by peering in a hat at a seer stone in the bottom and dictating the Book of Mormon to a scribe, the "plates" admittedly not in the room. That is undisputed by anyone. What is unknown is where the book's narrative and doctrine originally came from.
posted by Brian B. at 12:16 PM on March 31, 2007


Elron Hubbard
posted by DU at 12:21 PM on March 31, 2007


thirteenkiller writes "I thought we'd established it was the magic hat guy?"

It was a Metafilter poster who wrote the Book of Mormon? Way to go, Mefites!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:37 PM on March 31, 2007


Everyone knows it was really the Crab People.
posted by GavinR at 12:42 PM on March 31, 2007


Yeah, this will end well...
posted by blue_beetle at 12:45 PM on March 31, 2007


Anecdotal: I have a co-worker that loves to mock Mormons. He points to the sketchy background of Smith and the questionable events that make up the history of the religion. He wonders how anyone could believe in such an obvious fraud.

The amusing part is that he is also a devout hard-core Christian, who firmly believes that the earth is 8000 years old.

I was going to comment on this, then I remembered my rule about not discussing faith in the workplace.
posted by quin at 12:46 PM on March 31, 2007


Glen A. Larson
posted by porpoise at 1:12 PM on March 31, 2007


Bob, the SubGenuis dude, or any of his other imaginary friends
posted by growabrain at 1:19 PM on March 31, 2007


What is unknown is where the book's narrative and doctrine originally came from.

Again, we thought it was the magic hat guy...?
posted by frogan at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2007


Here's Mark Twain's take, from Roughing It:

"All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the 'elect' have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so 'slow,' so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle -- keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.

"The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James's translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel -- half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern -- which was about every sentence or two -- he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as 'exceeding sore,' 'and it came to pass,' etc., and made things satisfactory again. 'And it came to pass' was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet."
posted by billysumday at 1:42 PM on March 31, 2007 [7 favorites]


I thought Spalding-Riggs theory referred to old guys losing at tennis.
posted by Dizzy at 1:42 PM on March 31, 2007


Sorry, sorry. I wrote that. It was just supposed to be a simple lttle prank with a time machine and some fake artifacts. If Mr. Smith wasn't such a gullible fool, he would have realized that it simply said "I am a fish" in hundreds of different dialects and then encoded in a form of binary unicode represented as written semaphore.

Anyway, Hiram was supposed to find the "book" and stones. It would have been much funnier, I promise. Among other things all the Mormons would have been wearing shoes for hats and walking silly walks backwards everywhere and "faith handling salamanders". Which involved special salamander underpants.
posted by loquacious at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2007


ask languagehat to translate the "Reformed Egyptian" tablet and get it over with
posted by matteo at 2:57 PM on March 31, 2007


Which involved special salamander underpants.

Are these underpants made from the skins of salamanders, or cloth underpants with salamanders sewn in?
posted by Burhanistan at 2:59 PM on March 31, 2007


I thought they were underpants for salamanders.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:05 PM on March 31, 2007


The only problem with Mormonism has always been marketing. Now, they're getting up to speed on that. Religions always start as cults.
posted by bardic at 4:22 PM on March 31, 2007


If salamanders don't wear pants, wouldn't their underpants be pants?
posted by dirigibleman at 4:34 PM on March 31, 2007


Elvis wore a big diaper while eating fried banana sandwiches.
True story.


I'm bored.
posted by Dizzy at 4:39 PM on March 31, 2007


Metafilter: underpants for salamanders.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 4:40 PM on March 31, 2007


I liked South Park's take on the foundations of the Mormon religion from a few years back in an episode called 'All About The Mormons'. Seems that Youtube and Google video have taken down the clips (pesky copyright!) so I can't link you to that, but I did find this page which has plenty of images from the episode and discusses South Park's take on it vs. a Mormons take. Dosen't really mention the funniest part though, which was the musical score that accompanied the story with a very subtle "dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb" beat added in.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:14 PM on March 31, 2007


I was checking out the links in the original post and I found some Found Poetry on this page.

humanity recoils at beholding

must drop a tear
dropped a tear

inhabited by savages & wild ferocious beasts

surrounded by innumerable hordes
hordes of savages

copper-colored tribe

imagination can paint
imagination alone can paint

I will either triumph with you in the success of the enterprise or
perish in the attempt

without distinction of age or sex

the Blood of the Transgressor

watry tomb

tread lightly on the ashes of the venerable dead
scattered over an extensive Country

thirst for revenge
thirst for glory

warlike implements
military manoevers

a true maxim that to avoid war

It was avarice, cursed avarice which induced me to engage in this horrid war

blood of our citizens
to deluge our land with the blood of our citizens

effusion of human blood

redoubled their efforts in spreading death and carnage
thirsted for each other’s blood
satiated its thirst by copious draughts of human blood
devastate the world and produce rivers of human blood

stained with blood

determined either to die gloriously fighting or to obtain victory
determined to conquer or die
die, gloriously fighting in the cause of their country and their
God

death & destruction
blood & slaughter

amazement & terror

with great velocity full in the faces of the Kentucks
blowing them into the flames of war

vigor of youth & manhood

in some future age

Many bloody skirmishes ensued with various success, & many feats of heroism were displayed on both sides

equal feats of valor were displayed by contending heroes

brave warriors fell on both sides

warriors who had fallen by the sword
was destroyed by the sword of Sambal

the blessings of peace
take an affectionate farewell
final adieu
bade an affectionate adieu

feelings of the human heart
fraught with sentiments

statigem

race of beings
pierce my soul
on my bended knees implore

And here we will leave them for the present
But not willing to stop here

customs, manners, religion & arts & sciences
The command of these bands were given to Elseon

the ground was strewed thick with the slain
The field was widely strewed & in many places thickly covered
with human bodies

carnage shall glut our indignant swords
wisdom & penetration of mind
with all possible expedition

vigorous exertions
forcing his march into the city through this narrow passage

effeminate & luxurious court
luxurious

sanguine in their expectations
his success answered his most sanguine expectations
how often are the most sanguine expectations disappointed
having thus succeeded beyond our expectation

manly

monster

perfidious

highborn

huzzas

with one voice

diffuse a more accurate knowledge

Prostrate he tumbled at the feet of Hamkoo

dearest friends & relations
enriched himself by a prodigious mass of plunder
threw down their arms and surrendered
agree to lay down their arms

protected in their persons & properties
page of history
time immemorial
surrendered themselves prisoners of war

the cause of their country

whole empire

innocent blood
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 5:42 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Subtle it was not, but that was a good episode of South Park.

Also highly recommended, Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. Excellent book.
posted by graventy at 5:53 PM on March 31, 2007


What GrowaBrain said.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:00 PM on March 31, 2007


Good instincts, Fuzzy M.
posted by Brian B. at 7:38 PM on March 31, 2007


It was a Metafilter poster who wrote the Book of Mormon?

of course, the inimitable mr. crash davis wrote that one.
posted by quonsar at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2007


I wish rinkjustice was still around to weigh in.
posted by jayder at 8:11 PM on March 31, 2007


He might be. Or did they take away his dropkick account too?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:07 PM on March 31, 2007


It depresses me to no end that people could actually fall for this shit. But, then again, I feel that way about pretty much every religion. Except, of course, Scientology, The Most Plausible Faith.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:10 PM on March 31, 2007


"Well ElRon-eff-Hubbard-on-a-pogo-stick, I just don't believe it!" she ejaculated.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:35 PM on March 31, 2007


Isn't one of the claims in the Book of Mormon that the American Indians are descended from an Israeli tribe?

Seems that the DNA evidence seems to go against this.

Which is interesting because Mormons are considered to be among the world's best DNA and genetic experts (something to do with converting people after they are already dead--heck, why should dead people be denied the chance to become Mormon?-)

This has lead some of these Mormon DNA experts to question their faith, and as a result, the source of the Book of Mormon
posted by eye of newt at 10:57 PM on March 31, 2007


Cue Jek Porkins...
posted by prodigalsun at 11:05 PM on March 31, 2007


Native Americans are not said to be descended from Israelites. The Native Americans were already here when the Isrealeites in question arrived. Neither is it claimed that any of those Hebrew folks remained when Columbus showed up. Convenient, no?

I quite like Mark Twain's observations. The whole 'It came to pass' thing is absolutely true. I've attempted to actually read the Book of Mormon, and found it painful.
posted by Goofyy at 4:29 AM on April 1, 2007


Under the Banner of Heaven
By John Krakauer

Is an insane and brilliant (and overlong) book about mormonism. It talks about all of it and if you really do want to know about Mormonism it's a great start and a at times deeply creepy and flagrantly hilarious read. That John Smith was _quite_ the cut-up, with a serious taste for the ladies. The young ladies.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:59 AM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


You shouldn'ta posted this on a Sunday, Brian B. All the good mormon mefites who we want to hear from about this thread are gonna be in church all day, being reverent. We might have to wait until tomorrow to read their testimonkies about the BOM being true.
posted by brain cloud at 8:48 AM on April 1, 2007


While the Mormons I've met are some of the nicest people I know, they are batshitinsane if they take their book at all seriously.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 AM on April 1, 2007


Mormonism is like, the Hyundai of Christian religions.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:30 AM on April 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


Native Americans are not said to be descended from Israelites. The Native Americans were already here when the Isrealeites in question arrived.

Untrue, if you are referring to what most Mormons believe.
posted by Brian B. at 4:11 PM on April 1, 2007


Brigham Young and plenty of 'em.
posted by bardic at 5:47 PM on April 1, 2007


Who really wrote the Book of Mormon?

What is unknown is where the book's narrative and doctrine originally came from.

No great mystery, really. By 1830, many popular books and periodicals — available to Joseph Smith — had posed ideas presented in the BOM, including the romantic notion that American Indians were the descendants of the ten "lost" tribes of Israel. See the bibliography in Where Did Joseph Smith Get His Ideas for the Book of Mormon?:
Many of the books published on the American Indians claimed a possible tie to the lost tribes of Israel. The Book of Mormon follows this idea and claims that the main group in the story is Israelites from Jerusalem. Other ideas found in the Book of Mormon that are also found in books of Smith’s time include: two groups warring against each other, a white group destroyed by war, horses, use of the wheel, mammoth bones, Hebrew writings, Egyptian influence, the use of stone boxes, written records, temples, grand ruins, highways, fortifications, etc. These commonly held theories prepared the way for people to more readily believe the Book of Mormon.
More examples are in the online book Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon.
posted by cenoxo at 9:09 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


cenoxo, those authors have made the assumption that Smith wrote it prior to their argument, when there are other candidates who had a far greater personal interest in the same narrative (Spalding) and the same doctrine (Rigdon). Of course, Smith probably had something to do with the book's final draft, but as apologists like to point out, there are some things he probably couldn't have known or cared about, including the neoclassical political ideas, which certainly don't support an ancient author, but not a lazy barefoot one either. Thanks for the links.
posted by Brian B. at 9:32 PM on April 1, 2007


I fail to understand why Mormonism is seen as any more ridiculous than any other magical omnipotent creator/protector life-is-only-a-precursor-to-the-promised-land belief systems.

Just because it is newer doesn't make it any dumber than the rest.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:43 AM on April 2, 2007


You seem to be referring to the fact that Smith claimed to translate the "golden plates" by peering in a hat at a seer stone in the bottom and dictating the Book of Mormon to a scribe, the "plates" admittedly not in the room. That is undisputed by anyone.

I dispute it.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:11 PM on April 2, 2007


I dispute it.

You weren't there. It is undisputed by firsthand accounts.
posted by Brian B. at 4:51 PM on April 2, 2007


Brian B. said: Of course, Smith probably had something to do with the book's final draft, but as apologists like to point out, there are some things he probably couldn't have known or cared about, including the neoclassical political ideas, which certainly don't support an ancient author, but not a lazy barefoot one either.

In our current era of modern enlightenment, we tend to underestimate two things: 1) the knowledge available to 19th Century barefoot boys; and 2) the gullibility of the American public in any age. As an author, Joseph Smith, Jr. may have had much in common with L. Ron Hubbard, but martyrdom (however perceived) and overblown persecution helped things along considerably.
posted by cenoxo at 8:27 AM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


M.C. Lo-Carb! wrote:
> I fail to understand why Mormonism is seen as any more
> ridiculous...Just because it is newer...

It is not more ridiculous, but to my mind it is more gallingly outrageous because it happened in recent enough historical times that we can clearly see the whole con unfolding. Plenty of first hand accounts and primary evidence exist that have allowed historians to reconstruct the story clearly. And still the story becomes faith-based fact in the minds of a growing number of believers now many millions strong. It's very creepy to watch this go down.
A couple of experienced hucksters just stole the manuscript of a lame unpublished book from a dead guy (Solomon Spalding, my ancestor BTW), interpolated their own favorite "thou shalts" and "shalt nots" into it (possibly their favorite one: thou shalt not wig out when old dudes like me snog as many really young girls as I want because God is a horny old man too and you will burn in hell if you withold your daughters from me), cooked up a whopper of a story about its acquisition, and put it out there. It contained virulent memes: the idea that the native Americans were actually Israelites was popular at the time. It's discouraging, to say the least, to see how possible it is to invent a religion from whole cloth and sell it to millions.

Mark Twain's quote is brilliant and on target, as usual. Some of the folks in New York state who already knew the Book of Mormon story from readings by Solomon Spalding (my great great great great uncle- Spalding is my middle name) said they used to joke about the language of the stories. Some of them referred to the original author as Old"It Came to Pass."
posted by Broadside Affront at 9:28 AM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


What you say intrigues me, Broadside Affront. How can I subscribe to your views? Would a cheque made out to cash help?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:18 PM on April 4, 2007


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