critics claim that Joseph Smith copied much of the structure and
content of the Book of Mormon from the 1823 book View
of the Hebrews
by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith). You can read
this book online at Archive.org
and judge for yourself.
Smith's book proposes that the American Indians were the lost tribes
of Israel and has several apparent parallels to the Book of Mormon.
These parallels include long journeys that were religiously
motivated; references to wars, writing, and metal work; and moral
overtones such as the denouncement of pride.
according to View
of the Hebrews,
Indians talk of a "lost book" they left in Palestine. But
these similarities are rather vague and general. (For elements
involving Ethan Smith's citations of Alexander von Humboldt in
particular, please see my new page, Alexander
von Humboldt and the Book of Mormon.)
examination of the two books shows that the similarities are far
fewer and less significant than the differences. In fact, the Book of
Mormon contradicts the View of the Hebrews on almost every
major issue that the latter considers (who were the Indians, how did
they get to the New World, when did they arrive, what names did they
use, how did they live, etc., etc.)
Young University's Religious Studies Center actually publishes View
of the Hebrews, allowing Latter-day Saints and the rest of the
world to see for themselves how unlikely it is that Joseph Smith
plagiarized from it. In fact, careful study of that book should do
much to strengthen one's appreciation of the novelty of the Book of
who take the time to read Ethan Smith's oft-cited but rarely seen
opus and compare it with the Book of Mormon will find the experience
to be wonderfully faith promoting. This is because the further one
reads in View of the Hebrews, the clearer it becomes that the
Book of Mormon did not — indeed, could not — have its
origin in it.
me to explain. The tradition in which Ethan Smith was writing was a
long and venerable one — as Richard Bushman has reminded us,
English scholars were identifying the American aborigines with Jews
as early as the sixteenth century [Richard L. Bushman, Joseph
Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1988), p. 136].
idea reached American shores in the mid-1640s when John Eliot, the
famous Puritan "Apostle to the Indians"; Daniel Gookin, the
Massachusetts Bay Colony's Indian Superintendent; and other Puritan
divines found the similarities between the Algonquin culture and
ancient Israelite practices so compelling that they modified the then
popular view — which held that the Indians were gentile
"Tartars" from Asia.
suggested that, at the very least, the Indians were descendants of
Hebrews who had made their way to America via a land bridge from Asia
and were quite likely descendants of the lost tribes who had come the
same route [see the online
for extensive references].
generations discussed and promoted the idea until 1775, when James
Adair fully developed it in his History of the American Indians.
Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews was just one of several
books and pamphlets written on the topic in both England and America
following the publication of Adair's book, all of which echoed the
earlier Puritan contention that the Indians were unchurched
descendants of the lost tribes who had come to America from Asia via
a land bridge or, at most, "by canoes, or other craft" (p.
84) across the Bering Straits.
close reading of View of the Hebrews suggests that, while some
aspects of this reconstruction could be debated, it is generally so
complex as to be quite inflexible, based as it is on a relatively
conservative reading of the biblical text and a number of
suppositions so interdependent that if one should prove false, the
whole model would collapse.
modifications would have to be relatively small and insignificant,
which explains why the basic outlines of the model remained virtually
unchanged over the course of two centuries' worth of discussion.
example, churchmen over the centuries could (and did) debate how much
of the Mosaic law the Indians as the lost tribes had retained after
arriving in America. They could do this because such debates did not
alter in the least the basic structure of the paradigm, which posited
a pre-Christian migration of Israelites who had some knowledge of Old
churchmen did not, however, at any time debate the possibility that
the Indians' ancestors knew of Christ's birth before the event, had
engaged in such New Testament practices as baptism in Old Testament
times, and had been visited by Christ after his resurrection.
was because the mere suggestion of these things would have done
violence to their understanding of the Bible, contemporary evidence
from Indian cultures themselves, and other parts of the model.
such a suggestion to be true in the context of early America's
understanding of the Bible, for example, the Indians' ancestors would
have to have been believing Christians who left the Old World after
the time of Christ, since early American scholarship emphatically
held that the ancient Israelites completely misunderstood their own
messianic prophecies and that ordinances like baptism had not been
practiced in Old Testament times.
reconstruction would have flown in the face of all existing
anthropological evidence, however — none of the practices in
the native cultures studied resembled New Testament practices —
and, unlike the lost tribes thesis, had no basis in scripture.
the parameters in which they had to work, the suggestion that the
Indians' ancestors engaged in New Testament practices would have
created rather than solved problems and would have required an
entirely new reconstruction of events — based on a new reading
of the text and other evidence — to be taken seriously.
short, keeping with our example, either the suggestion that the
Indians' ancestors practiced baptism or the model proposed by Adair,
Smith, and others would have to be false; they could not both be
true, nor — and this is important — could the former be
considered an unimportant, inconsequential, and perfectly logical
modification of the latter.
Book of Mormon, of course, makes precisely this claim about baptism,
along with several others that likewise cannot be reconciled with the
nineteenth-century model explaining Indian origins. Thus it was that
the further I read in View of the Hebrews, the greater the distance
between it and the Book of Mormon appeared.
of course, the two resemble each other, and it was easy to see how
someone with an ax to grind against the LDS Church could, with a
little creative negligence, make a case against the Book of Mormon.
But as I came to understand the complexity and inflexibility of
Smith's model, it became increasingly clear to me that the Book of
Mormon's teachings concerning Indian origins and destinies were
something entirely new on the American scene and represented far more
than mere modifications of the existing explanation. They were, to
borrow a phrase, a "strange thing in the land" in every
another useful resource, L. Aran Norwood's book review, "Joseph
Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon”
(FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1990, pp. 187-204) deals with
one of the most significant anti-Mormon efforts to explain the Book
of Mormon. Her review of David Persuitte's Joseph
Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon
discusses both strengths and weaknesses of Persuitte's approach.
also shows that Persuitte's analysis, even if unchallenged, at best
accounts for less than 5% of the verses in the Book of Mormon.
Further, the scattered parallels Pursuitte points to do nothing to
explain away numerous elements pointing to ancient origins (things
like chiasmus, Hebraisms, the accurate details from the Arabian
I note elsewhere on this page, parallels between unrelated books are
easier to find than you might think. I believe that the
parallels between the Book of Mormon and Walt Whitmans's The Leaves
are more impressive than anything you'll find by reading View
of the Hebrews,
but that is due entirely to chance since Whitman's work came long
after the Book of Mormon and obviously was not influenced by it (no,
don't try to craft an argument that Whitman was secretly
collaborating with Mormons to account for these chance parallels!).
finding of parallels by itself means very little.
than 5% of the Book of Mormon "related" to View of the
Hebrews? I bet if I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and worked hard
enough, I could find 7% to be "related" to Whitman. But
that's a 7% solution you don't want to drink.
key issue in dealing with Ethan Smith or other proposed sources for
the Book of Mormon is their failure to account for some of the most
impressive elements pointing to ancient origins.
is nothing in View
of the Hebrews
that provides the kind of evidences for authenticity that we see in
the Book of Mormon such as correctly and precisely identifying the
on the Arabian Peninsula.
in view of the Hebrews, for example, could have given Joseph Smith
any clue about the directions to follow through the Arabian Peninsula
(there is no discussion of frankincense trails, or anything Arabian
at all, other than a couple general references that provide no useful
information), nor is there any clue about the existence of the place
Bountiful in present-day Oman. The most exciting evidences of Book of
Mormon authenticity have no ties to Ethan Smith.
important fact to remember is that many people in the early 1800s
assumed that the Indians had some connection with the Old World, and
popular theories included descent from the lost tribes of Israel. For
example, Josiah Priest wrote in 1833, "The opinion that the
American Indians are the descendants of the lost Ten Tribes, is now a
popular one, and generally believed" (as cited by Hugh Nibley,
The Prophetic Book of Mormon, p. 195).
had no need to plagiarize from Ethan Smith for this view, which is
probably the most "impressive" parallel between the two
works. Ethan Smith's view, though developed in great detail, may not
have seemed unusual or noteworthy at the time.
may be why critics of the Book of Mormon in the nineteenth century
saw no cause for linking the Book of Mormon to View of the Hebrews
— the apparent parallels were not specific, distinct, or
far as I know, it was only around the turn of the century, when newer
theories had supplanted earlier speculation about the origin of the
Indians, that Ethan Smith's book began to be mentioned as a possible
source for the Book of Mormon.
it may seem significant that Ethan Smith proposed an Israelite origin
for the Indians, for that idea seems odd and unusual from our
perspective, but this broad parallel apparently did not seem
noteworthy to critics in the early days of the Church.
there is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever even saw a copy of Ethan
Smith's work, it is still physically possible that he could have had
one. I have heard claims that Oliver Cowdery's family had a
connection to Ethan Smith. There is no proof of any such connection.
course, if Oliver knew of anything close to plagiarism involved in
the Book of Mormon, it's interesting that he never mentioned it or
denied his testimony of the divinity of that book, even during the
time when he was bitterly upset with Joseph Smith and had left the
Joseph really did use View of the Hebrews as his primary
source, then he must have assumed it was accurate and reasonable. If
so, one would expect that he would have relied on it for important
details, themes, and concepts. Instead, we find that he repeatedly
contradicts its content.
Joseph plagiarized from Ethan Smith, we would expect to find that
unique aspects of View of the Hebrews — ideas, names,
stories that are not also found in the Bible or other sources —
would have been incorporated into the Book of Mormon, but no such
"fingerprints" are found. There is no real evidence of
Joseph relying on that text.
fact, there are extreme differences between the two texts at every
turn, which seriously challenge the hypothesis that Joseph
plagiarized from Ethan Smith. Consider the following anti-parallels
noted by John Welch in his article "View of the Hebrews: An
Unparallel" in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, Deseret
Book, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, pp. 83-87:
of the Hebrews begins with a chapter on the destruction of Jerusalem
by the Romans. It has nothing to say, however, about the destruction
in Lehi's day by the Babylonians.
of the Hebrews tells of specific heavenly signs that marked the
Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Joseph Smith ignores these singular
and memorable details.
2 lists many prophecies about the restoration of Israel, including
Deuteronomy 30; Isaiah 11, 18, 60, 65; Jeremiah 16, 23, 30-31,
35-37; Zephaniah 3; Amos 9; Hosea and Joel. These scriptures are
essential to the logic and fabric of View of the Hebrews, yet, with
the sole exception of Isaiah 11, none of them appear in the Book of
3 is the longest chapter in View of the Hebrews. It produces
numerous "distinguished Hebraisms" as "proof"
that the American Indians are Israelites. Hardly any of these points
are found in the Book of Mormon, as one would expect if Joseph Smith
were using View of the Hebrews or trying to make his book
example, View of the Hebrews asserts repeatedly that the Ten Tribes
came to America via the Bering Strait, which they crossed on "dry
land." According to View of the Hebrews, this opinion is
unquestionable, supported by all the authorities.
there View of the Hebrews claims that the Israelites spread from
north to east and then to the south at a very late date. These are
critical points for View of the Hebrews, since Amos 8:11-12
prophesies that the tribes would go from the north to the east.
Population migrations in the Book of Mormon, however, always move
from the south to the north.
of the Hebrews reports that the Indians are Israelites because they
use the word "Hallelujah." Here is one of the favorite
proofs of View of the Hebrews, a dead giveaway that the Indians are
Israelites. Yet the word is never used in the Book of Mormon.
a table showing thirty-four Indian words or sentence fragments with
Hebrew equivalents appears in View of the Hebrews. No reader of the
book could have missed this chart.
Joseph Smith had wanted to make up names to use in the Book of Mormon
that would substantiate his claim that he had found some authentic
western hemisphere Hebrew words, he would have jumped at such a
ready-made list! Yet not one of these thirty-four Hebrew/Indian words
(e.g., Keah, Lani, Uwoh, Phale, Kurbet, etc.) has even the remotest
resemblance to any of the 175 words that appear for the first time in
the Book of Mormon.
note: Likewise none of the names created by Spaulding, or given by
James Adair or other modern sources, are found in the Book of
of the Hebrews says the Indians are Israelites because they carry
small boxes with them into battle. These are to protect them against
injury. They are sure signs that the Indians' ancestors knew of the
Ark of the Covenant! How could Joseph Smith pass up such a
distinguished and oft-attested Hebraism as this? Yet in all Book of
Mormon battle scenes, there is not one hint of any such ark, box, or
bag serving as a military fetish.
Indians are Israelites because the Mohawk tribe was a tribe held in
great reverence by all the others, to whom tribute was paid.
Obviously, to Ethan Smith, this makes the Mohawks the vestiges of
the tribe of Levi, Israel's tribe of priests. If Joseph Smith
believed that such a tribe or priestly remnant had survived down to
his day, he forgot to provide for anything to that effect in the
Book of Mormon.
Indians are Israelites because they had a daily sacrifice of fat in
the fire and passed their venison through the flame, cutting it into
twelve pieces. This great clue of "Israelitishness" is
also absent from the Book of Mormon.
of the Hebrews maintains that the Indians knew "a distinguished
Hebraism," namely "laying the hand on the mouth, and the
mouth in the dust." Had Joseph Smith believed this, why is the
Book of Mormon silent on this "sure sign of Hebraism" and
dozens of others like it?
to View of the Hebrews, the Indians quickly lost knowledge that they
were all from the same family. The Book of Mormon tells that family
and tribal affiliations were maintained for almost one thousand
of the Hebrews claims that the righteous Indians were active "for
a long time," well into recent times, and that their
destruction occurred about A.D. 1400, based upon such convincing
evidence as tree rings near some of the fortifications of these
people. The Book of Mormon implicitly rejects this notion by
reporting the destruction of the Nephites in the fourth century A.D.
of the Hebrews argues that the Indians are Israelites because they
knew the legends of Quetzalcoatl. But the surprise here is that View
of the Hebrews proves beyond doubt that Quetzalcoatl was none other
than - not Jesus - but Moses! … Besides the fact that the
View of the Hebrews's explanation of Quetzalcoatl as Moses is
inconsistent with the Book of Mormon, none of these hallmark details
associated with Quetzalcoatl are incorporated into the account of
Christ's visit to Bountiful in 3 Nephi.
foregoing twelve points could be multiplied literally seven times
over. In the face of these differences, the few vague similarities
for the apparent similarities, they are hardly startling and are far
outweighed by the differences. It's important to realize that
parallel between stories and documents are easy to find. There are
many dozens of parallels between the story of the Pilgrim coming to
the New World and the Book of Mormon.
are even parallels between the written history of man's journey to
the moon and the Book of Mormon that a mildly creative person can
find in just a few minutes. One of many: Special high-tech lighting
elements were needed for the sealed Jaredite vessels, just like the
electric light sources used by the astronauts.
more: One group was guided by the strong arm of the Lord, while the
other group was led by Neil Armstrong. Surely this is more than mere
point is that broad similarities — and even a few apparent
specific ones — do not mean that one text is the source for the
other. We must look for consistent, specific, and unique similarities
to make a case for plagiarism (and they must be more widespread or
impressive than the many "impressive" ones I have found in
the unrelated text of Whitman).
considering the possibility of plagiarism, one should ask if there is
any consistent relationship between the two texts to show that one
was used to construct the other. There is not for the candidates that
critics have proposed for the Book of Mormon. There is simply no
substance to the alleged link between View of the Hebrews and
the Book of Mormon.
if we assume that every apparent parallel is a genuine sign of
plagiarism, View of the Hebrews would only account for a tiny
fraction of the Book of Mormon, and would account for none of the
truly unique elements such as geographical locations, place names
(e.g., Nahom) and human names (e.g., Alma), poetical forms, parallels
to other ancient documents, accurate description of ancient warfare,
accurate description of ancient olive culture practices, New Year's
kingship rituals, etc., etc.
of the Hebrews apparently was not considered as a probable source
for the Book of Mormon by critics in the 1800s, and with good reason,
in my opinion: its apparent similarities are too vague and its
differences too great. Rather, I propose that it's high time for the
critics to seriously consider the possibility that books on the lunar
voyages could have been Joseph's source, or, more plausibly (but
still impossibly), Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
the June 1 and June 15 issues of the 1842 Times and Seasons
there appeared printed extracts from Josiah Priest's book, American
Antiquities (1838 edition), which cites and quotes passages from
VOTH [View of the Hebrews]. Priest's book was cited as
evidence for the Book of Mormon. At that time, Joseph Smith was the
editor of the Times and Seasons.
natural question arises: If Joseph Smith had copied from VOTH, would
he have risked drawing attention to it by publicly quoting from a
book which contained extracts from it? This would have indeed been
extremely puzzling behavior if the Prophet had borrowed from VOTH,
especially if it had been his "foundational source"!
is an obvious but important point, and anti-Mormons have yet to
satisfactorily explain it. It is just common sense that plagiarists
don't go around drawing attention to their sources, especially in a
it had not yet occurred to anyone to accuse Joseph Smith of borrowing
from VOTH, why on earth would he have risked exposure by quoting (or
allowing to be quoted) a book which contained extracts from it?
indeed? By calling attention to View
of the Hebrews,
Joseph provided additional evidence that he had not used it as a
source for a deceptive fabrication. Ethan Smith simply was not a
source for the Book of Mormon. (For related information on this
topic, see my page, Alexander
von Humboldt and the Book of Mormon.)
a postscript, I received this e-mail from an LDS couple:
have done a tiny bit of research (one letter) and found that the one
possible source for Joseph to have read the View of the Hebrews by
Ethan Smith was supposed to have been in the local Palmyra library.
Palmyra Kings Daughters Free Library, 127 Cuyler St., Palmyra, New
York, 14522 is supposed to be the first library in Palmyra.
WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1899! As a reading room only!
librarian wrote that the closest library in the 1820's and 1830's was
perhaps in Canandiague, NY, 13 miles away. Typing on the internet for
a library in that city did not even come up with a library now, so
probably not in Joseph Smith's time.
recall reading that there was another reading room in Palmyra present
before 1899, but will need to check again. On the other hand, I have
since found a Web page at Palmyra
NY.com giving the history of Palmyra, New York,
which states: "In 1899, the Palmyra King's Daughters Free
Library was begun as a reading room. Two years later (1901) the
library was chartered as a lending library and has remained so until
the present." This is consistent with the e-mail given above.
any case, nineteenth-century Palmyra does not appear to have been a
richly developed source of scholarly information for eager young
bookworms, even if Joseph had been one. Of course there were books
and booksellers and perhaps even reading rooms — but how can
that possibly explain the Book of Mormon, even if Joseph Smith had
been interested in such things?
Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his
LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on
the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton,
Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra.
He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.
He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent
Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.
Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering
Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US
patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications.
Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.