Mormon History

Plagiarism of the BOM - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune April 17, 1879


In Howe's History of Mormonism, ("Mormonism Unveiled,") it is not claimed, as stated by the News, the "the manuscript fraud" of Spaulding was "a romance purporting to have been translated from the Latin, found on twenty-four rolls of parchment in a cave," but written in modern style, giving "a fabulous account of a ship being driven upon the American coast, proceeding from Rome to Britain a short time previous to the Christian era -- this country being inhabited by the Indians."

There is evidence, however, that Spaulding did originally design a voyage of another people to this continent, in the year 1, (or thereabout,) and that the "twenty-four rolls of parchment," descriptive of the migration of his Latin colony from Rome to this continent, were afterwards transmitted by the writer of the Book of Mormon into "twenty-four plates of gold," from which came the Book of Ether, chronicling the migration of certain Jaredites from the Tower of Babel, and their very Romish "secret oaths and combinations." Secret oaths and combinations, in his own time, were ever according to the widow Spaulding, a pet aversion with the ingenuous Solomon.

What were the Spaulding writings which Hurlbut procured from Mrs. Davison at Monson, in the year 1834? What became of this valuable document? We shall see. It is well attested that Spaulding wrote several works in a vein of historical fiction, thus following -- at a long interval -- the immortal Gulliver, Sir Thomas More, Defoe and others, in a legitimate and pleasing exercise of the imagination. Spaulding never pretended that he wrote under divine inspiration; he never pretended that his writings came, or were to be received as having come from seers or prophets inspired. He never assumed for his fanciful chronicles which

Amazed the gaping rustics gather'd round.

that they contained a message of salvation (or damnation) to the human family, or that they were revealed and dug out of the earth by the ministration of angels. There is a difference as wide as the antipodes between what he did, and what he (or they) who manufactured the Book of Mormon from his writings did.

The only plausible point made by the News for non-critical readers in its editorial, "the Dead Revived Again," is in this: "Any one who has read the Book of Mormon can easily see that it is impossible to eliminate the religious from the historical part of the work, each being identified with growing out of and essential to the other, forming one harmonious and consistent whole."

This is not the experience of intelligent readers of the Book of Mormon. To the careful and patient reader the "more history parts" and its "more ministry parts," so boldly noted and distinguished in the book itself, strike the key-note that the one was not originally and organically "identified with growing out of and essential to the other, forming one harmonious and consistent whole." It was undoubtedly the labor of years for a later hand nicely to dovetail the "more ministry parts" into Spaulding's "more history parts." As done, it shows some dexterity in the doing. But what is done may chance to be undone; what is so deftly knit may be unraveled and both parts of the wonderful record revert to their rightful authors.

Note 1: The Tribune writer anticipates the source critical analysis of later scholars like Clark Braden and William H. Whitsitt, in attempting to "unravel" the presumed editorial splicings within the Book of Mormon text. The writer, however, under estimates the demonstrated ability of Solomon Spalding to himself create pseudo-scriptures and fictionally chronicle the utterances of "seers or prophets inspired." With the subsequent disclosure (in 1884-85) of the contents of the Spalding manuscript discovered in Honolulu, it became clear that its writer was very much interested in pretending "that he wrote under divine inspiration" -- or, at least that some of his fictional characters in that story concocted sacred records and made oracular pronouncements and attributed their motivation to such inspiration. Clearly, Solomon Spalding had within him a strange fascination with the effects of religion and religious fraud upon the minds of "gaping rustics gather'd round." As he says in his story discovered in Honolulu: "multitudes of astonished Spectators... declared that when he [Spalding's fictional ancient American prophet Lobaska] took these excursions [into the heavens], his extraordinary wisdom & knowledge was communicated to him... no wonder that he managed an ignorant people as he pleased."

Note 2: The Tribune writer makes one important mistake, when he speaks of Spalding's "twenty-four rolls of parchment" being the literary eqivalent of the Book of Ether's "twenty-four plates of gold." The text of the Oberlin Spalding manuscript actually reads: "twenty-eight rolls of parchment... written in eligant hand... on a variety of Subjects." Spalding's "rolls" can only be compared with the Book of Mormon's "plates" in general terms. Both purport to contain the records of otherwise unknown ancient American chroniclers; both are lost for centuries; both are later discovered and translated, etc., etc. Clark Braden and William H. Whitsitt both make a place for the Book of Ether in their respective theories of how the Book of Mormon text was developed over time. In this they have somewhat of a meeting of the minds with the Tribune reporter (who, again, was probably influenced by the opinions of the local literary affectionado James T. Cobb). It may well be that Solomon Spalding was among those New Englanders who, in the late 1790s, grew increasingly antithetical to freemasonry and European illuminism -- at least E. D. Howe's unverified report, allegedly obtained from Spalding's widow, presents this picture of him. However, in the case of the Book of Mormon text, it appears that its own "pet aversion" to "secret oaths and combinations" spoke mainly to readers of the early 1830s who were caught up in the anti-masonic fervor resulting from the "William Morgan affair." At the very least, a textual analyst who attempts to trace the Book of Mormon's aversion for "secret oaths and combinations" back to the pen of Solomon Spalding, must take into consideration the proximity in time and space of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the advent of the Morgan affair.