Looking at the Spaulding Manuscript – Part 1

by: Mormon Heretic

December 5, 2011

Soon after the publication of the Book of Mormon, critics believed that Joseph must have plagiarized it from another source.  One of the most prominent theories since the 1830’s is the Spaulding (or Spalding) Theory.  Briefly, the theory states that Joseph Smith plagiarized (or at least used as a source) an unpublished book written by Solomon Spaulding.  Spaulding died in 1816, so the book must have been written before then.  There has been a relative resurgence of the theory because Stanford University published a statistical study in support of the theory.  BYU recently posted a rebuttal to the Stanford study.

Few people have actually read the Spaulding manuscript, and its whereabouts were secretive for quite some time.  A man by the name of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut (Doctor was his first name, last name is also spelled Hurlburt) tried to find the Spaulding manuscript, and obtained it from Spaulding’s widow.  Hurlbut hinted that the document was related to the Book of Mormon, but didn’t publish the document.  Hurlbut became embroiled in controversy when he threatened to (quoting from page 136 of the Sidney Rigdon biography),

“wash his hands” in the prophet’s blood.  In January 1834, Smith filed a legal complaint bringing Hurlburt to trial on 1 April.  The court found him guilty, fined him $200, and ordered him to keep the peace for 6 months.

The notoriety surrounding Hurlbut, compounded by an embarrassing incident when his wife was discovered in bed with Judge Orris Clapp, tarnished his image.  He sold his research to Eber D. Howe, editor of the Painesville Telegraph, who held a long-term grudge against Mormonism for converting his wife and daughter.

Howe kept up the pressure, printing a pamphlet called Mormonism Unvailed. After reading the manuscript, Howe hinted that there must be a second undiscovered manuscript, because the manuscript in his possession didn’t seem to match the Book of Mormon.  Howe didn’t keep Painesville Telegraph very long.  In January 1835, he sold the paper to his brother for $600, but the newspaper folded later that year.   A man by the name of LL Rice purchased the assets of the Painesville Telegraph in 1839-40.

Many documents came with the purchase, but Rice did not view them at the time.  Rice later moved to Honolulu, Hawaii.  In the 1880s, James Fairchild, president of Oberlin College in Ohio suggested that Rice look through the documents in search of pre-Civil war slavery information.  It was at this point that the Spaulding document was discovered.  Rice notes “There is no identity of names, of person, or places; and there is no similarity of style between them.”

The actual manuscript was given to Oberlin College in Ohio, and a copy of the manuscript can be downloaded here.  The document was labeled faintly in pencil “Manuscript Found—Conneat Creek”.  I thought it would be interesting to give a brief synopsis of the book so that you can get an idea of how different the book is from the Book of Mormon.  The RLDS church first published the contents of the manuscript, and it includes a section giving a brief background.

In the introduction to the book, there is a letter dated in 1885 offering the manuscript to Joseph Smith III rather than the LDS church.  Tellingly, Rice said to Smith:

“I am of the opinion that no one who reads the Manuscript will give credit to the story that Solomon Spaulding was in any wise the author of the Book of Mormon….Finally, I am more than half convinced that this is his only writing of the sort, and that any pretence that Spaulding was in any sense the author of the other, is a sheer fabrication.  It is easy for anybody who may have seen this, or heard anything of its contents, to get up the story that they were identical.”

Here is a brief summary of the contents of the book.


Spaulding tells how he came up with the manuscript.  The introduction actually bears some remarkable resemblances to the story in the Pearl of Great Price on how Joseph said he obtained the golden plates, though there are some notable differences.

Spaulding tells a story in which he discovers a stone covering an underground cavern.  After climbing into the cavern, Spaulding found 28 rolls of parchment, written in Latin behind another stone.  The rolls had a variety of subjects, but this is the story that captured Spaulding’s attention, “a history of the author’s life & that part of America which extends along the great Lakes & the waters of the Mississippy.”  (I have previously documented some of the horrendous spelling errors and humorous stories in this work.)

Chapter 1

Fabius tells that he was born in Rome.  The emporer Constantine sent Fabius on a mission to take supplies to “Brittain”.  On his way there, Fabius and his crew encountered a large storm blowing west, and they were lost.  They discovered a new land inhabited by natives with odd “jesticulations”, dancing, and singing.  Often these natives barked like dogs and sounded like bullfrogs.

Chapter 2

Fabius negotiates a treaty with the natives to obtain 6 wigwams.  In return the natives received 50 knives and a scarlet cloth.  Captain Lucian and Fabius become judges over their crew, and built houses of worship.  (Fabius and crew were Christians.)  Trojanus becomes their minister of choice.  Since there were 7 women on board, these women are allowed to make their choice of which man to marry, leaving 6 men single.  Fabius notes that the natives were uncivilized, like an “Orang outang”.  They ate dinner, got drunk, and “retired two by two, hand in hand.  Ladies heads a litte awri, blushing like the morn.”  They also resolved to build a church.

Chapter 3

The language of the natives was Deliwanucks.  They were tall, wore loin cloths and the clothing was made of animal hair.  “The one half of the head of the men was shaved & painted with red and the one half of the face was painted with black.”  Dogs were sacrificed to their god, and Fabius tells of a strange mud wrestling ceremony.

Chapter 4

Fabius begins a strange discussion about whether the sun or earth is the center of the universe.  He decided to go up river to find other civilizations.  Fabius, Crito, and a Delawan interpreter meet the king and bring an animal called a Mammoon back.  A Mammoon is bigger than an elephant, docile, provides milk, and its fur is shaved to make clothing.  Crito notes these people are also ignorant savages, but they are kind like Christians.  They go up the Suscowan River to a city called Owkwahon and received further gifts from the king there.

Chapter 5

After further travels, Fabius and crew meet a new race of people.  They meet a group of farmers with domesticated animals such as elk, horses, turkeys, and “gees” (geese).  This group of people manufactures iron, lead, and steel tools.  They make beautiful pottery, but buildings are very simple.

I’ll stop here, and continue with part 2 of this story next week.  From what you’ve read so far, do you think this is really the source of the Book of Mormon?

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69 Responses to Looking at the Spaulding Manuscript – Part 1

  1. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    I don’t think you can give a fair hearing to the “Spaulding History” without reading the wedsites of Dale Broadhurst. Dale and I traded 6 E-mails and I fould him to be a very nice and very smart guy.
    I feel “Spaulding” is still an open question.

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  2. Mormon Heretic on December 5, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    Bob, Dale and I have traded comments on a post I did a year or 2 ago. I agree that Dale is a very nice guy, and he even admitted that “plagiarism” isn’t the proper term to use, but that is the term that gets tossed around by most. He does have some interesting stuff on his website, but it is not convincing to me, and I think it is important to actually read the manuscript. As LL Rice said 100 years ago, “It is easy for anybody who may have seen this, or heard anything of its contents, to get up the story that they were identical.”

    I think reading the manuscript is the best medicine for the theory. Obviously Dale disagrees, but I think everyone should read the manuscript.

    Yes, there are war chapters, but I don’t find these very similar to the war chapters in the Book of Mormon. Yes the “finding” of the manuscript bears some similarities to Joseph’s Smith’s story, but that is in the Pearl of Great Price, not the Book of Mormon. The plot is way off, and the representations of the Indians is way off from the Book of Mormon. It is nearly devoid of the theology present in the Book of Mormon.

    There is no match, IMO.

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  3. Jake on December 5, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    I think a more compelling argument is the View of the Hebrews then Spaulding. I have never really been that impressed by the similarities, and I suspect that if someone was to read Spaulding and the Book of Mormon without an awareness of the debates regarding their relationship that no one would think ‘Ah ha! These two are so similar one must have been based on the other.’

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  4. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Spaulding nick name before the BoM was “Old Mr. It came to Pass”.
    I do not agree with ” I think reading the manuscript is the best medicine for the theory”. Spaulding wrote many manuscripts.
    Dale Broadhurst has done a life long study and is deserving of a review. He does not limit his study to just Spaulding’s writings.

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  5. Mormon Heretic on December 5, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    Bob, show me another manuscript written by Spaulding. I don’t recall seeing “It came to pass” in this manuscript at all. If it’s there, can you point it out to me?

    Here’s some of the author’s style of writing. Does this sound like the Book of Mormon?

    p 22 – “Methinks I could pick out a healthy plum Lass from the copper colored tribe that by washing & scrubing her fore & aft & upon the labbord & stabbord sides she would appear a wholesome bedfellow.”

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  6. Mormon Heretic on December 5, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    Jake, I haven’t studied View of the Hebrews much, but I did purchase a copy of the book recently, so I plan to look into it. What are your thoughts on View?

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  7. question on December 5, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    dont most people who believe spaulding had something to do with the BOM think that the manuscript that is found is not the one that is related to the BOM? or has that question been resolved

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  8. Mormon Heretic on December 5, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    I think that it is pretty obvious by looking at the manuscript that it is not the source of the Book of Mormon, so most people think there is a 2nd manuscript. Even Doctor Hurlburt and E.D. Howe figured that out in the 1800’s, which is why they never published this book and kept it suppressed for so long. They relied on neighbor’s recollections that Solomon must have written something like the Book of Mormon.

    I know that Dale has hypothesized that Joseph burned the manuscript after it was used. Well, it’s an interesting theory, but impossible to prove. The manuscript we have is so terrible, I have a hard time believing that Spaulding wrote something along the lines of the Book of Mormon.

    Proponents of the Spaulding Theory have to cling to this idea of a 2nd manuscript, because this one is so bad.

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  9. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    “In the one surviving manuscript from Solomon Spalding’s reported voluminous set of fictional writings……” ( Dale Broadhurst).

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  10. Mormon Heretic on December 5, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    Bob, the one surviving manuscript is this one I am highlighting. The introduction notes 28 pieces of parchment, but I’m not aware that Spaulding did anything other than mention these Latin parchments.

    What other novels of Spaulding are available besides this one?

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  11. Syphax on December 5, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    “Does this sound like the Book of Mormon? p 22 – “Methinks I could pick out a healthy plum Lass from the copper colored tribe that by washing & scrubing her fore & aft & upon the labbord & stabbord sides she would appear a wholesome bedfellow.””

    I wish!

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  12. Cowboy on December 5, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    I’ve never been to hip on the idea that Joseph Smith himself wrote the Book of Mormon. Not because I believe the Book of Mormon is really all too sophisticated, it just doesn’t seem like Joseph Smith was all that interested in the Book of Mormon. Still, we can’t deny that he more or less authored the D&C and the Pearl of Great Price, so mabey I need to revise that.

    In any case, as a cohesive theory, the Spaulding theory has only been refuted on technical grounds. There is no doubt that manuscript found is not the source document for the Book of Mormon. Still, that argument isn’t realistic on any grounds anyway. Whether we are talking about Spaulding or any other potential writer, the question is “where would we expect to find the source manual”? The logical place would be either in the possession of Joseph Smith or some other person of close proximity. If in theory Spaulding was the author and had a manuscript, then in order to find that manuscript in the belongings of spaulding or his ancestors, you would have to believe that either copies were made, or that Joseph Smith (or whoever) eventually gave it back. Neither of those positions seem tenable, so I think it is a bit ridiculous to expect to find a manuscript – at least in whole or largley in whole.

    So, can we prove that Spaulding was or was not the author? I would argue that at present there is not enough evidence to say either way. Still, there is an undeniably relevant bit of evidence that, as usual, gets side-stepped just as it was in this post, ie, on merely technical grounds. That is the story of finding the plates. It is very similar to the story told in Spauldings manuscript. True, it is not exactly the text of the Book of Mormon, but it does suggest a correlation. That is even more interesting given that Spaulding was already suspected as a potential author when this information was discovered. To my mind this seems to suggest that the possibility Spaulding may have authored the Book of Mormon or something similar, is not completely dismissable. Under the circumstances we have to argue that the similarities between the two stories are either coincidental (a fairly remarkable coincidence, but not completely impossible) or that Spaulding did manage to at least influence Joseph Smith’s thinking on the founding story related to the Book of Mormon. Under consideration of the latter, that still renders him a reasonable candidate.

    The real argument here is who wrote the Book of Mormon? The prevailing argument reiterated by Elder Holland, among countless Mormon defenders is that no human could have contrived such a “rich and complex” book. I say, “why not”? First, what is so sophisticated about the book that renders it so “humanly un-contrivable”. The next argument is a little weaker, and it essentially suggests that the ignorant farm boy Joseph Smith could not have written it. I tend to think he didn’t, but I don’t think it is stretching much to say that he couldn’t have. To respond to the insinuation that he was too unschooled, I would ask, what schooling would be required. It strains to sound biblical, but beyond that, what does a person need beyond a basic grasp of 19th century contemporary theology? It’s not like it contains complex physics, math, philosophy, or literary discourse.

    In sum, I’m fine with accepting that the Spaulding theory has some holes, particularly with Rigdon as a player, but not that it is completely (or even mostly) a closed case. Lastly, I completely disagree that the Book of Mormon is so self-evidently complex that the only explanation is that it is a true book.

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  13. Ben Park on December 5, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    John Hamer wrote a wonderful post a couple years back on the Spaulding theory: http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/07/18/the-spaulding-fable/

    He acts as if the Spaulding theory was indeed true, and then proceeds to lay out a narrative based on the theory. However, when you look at it that way, you realize just how easily the entire Spaulding conspiracy falls apart. He describes his experiment thus:

    “The reason I sat down and wrote it out this way is because it’s never told this way. I.e., it’s never spelled out in narrative form, as if it were coherent history. Instead it’s told backwards with factoids like, “Sidney Rigdon said he wasn’t in Pittsburgh, but he was, so there!” Or: “Look at how many parallels there are between Spaulding’s Manuscript Story and the Book of Mormon!” etc.”

    The theory really doesn’t survive beyond a few scattered connections, ideas, and assumptions. It just doesn’t hold water.

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  14. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 12:03 PM

    #12: Cowboy:
    “Spaulding theory has some holes, particularly with Rigdon as a player”.
    Are you talking about the writings of Spaulding being in the print shop were Rigdon worked?
    Yes, and why were fingers pointed at Spaulding’s writings from day one?

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  15. Cowboy on December 5, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Bob –

    So far as we know the history, Rigdon didn’t join the Church until after the Book of Mormon was published. Additionally it was Parley P. Pratt who brought him in, and Parley didn’t join until after it was published either. So, in order for your connections to make sense you have to have an elaborate conspiracy theory where either Sidney and Joseph Smith planned for all of this to work out that way, or that somebody doctored the history books. I have to tell you that I love a good conspiracy, and would love it if you can prove it, but so far I think your work is cut out for you.

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  16. Jeff Spector on December 5, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    The major problem is that the prevailing theories (Spaulding, View of the Hebrews, Rigdon, etc.) all have major problems with them. And while you can always play “connect the dots,” you cannot make solid connections to time, place, players. motive and method.

    And even if you think that Joseph Smith could not have written it and you don’t choose to believe Joseph’s story, no one has assembled a plausible explanation for its origin otherwise.

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  17. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    :15: Cowboy,
    What is your “Burden of Proof”? Beyond a reasonable doubt, or preponderance of Evidence”?
    The Book of Mormon was printed before there was a Church. Of course Regdon was not a member!
    I’m not saying Broadhurst is correct. But I do believe he has the most knowledge on the Spauding/Regdon Theory.
    #16″ Jeff, If you see the BoM as a supernatual event, it’s even harder at form an argument against it.

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  18. Cowboy on December 5, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    Regarding Jeffe Spector #16:

    I agree with this, but I think we should specify the nature of the “problems”. I would argue that the biggest problem is just a lack of totatl history. Both the conspiracy theorists and defenders (for lack of a better word) take full advantage of this. What we lack is a concrete chain that clearly points to how event A led to event B, in such a way that all other possibilities can be reasonably refuted. Is it possible that Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith met prior to Rigdons official timeline? I don’t think the history is concrete enough to say “absolutely not” to any level of empirical certainty (Perhaps I’m wrong, I’m not pretending to know the history by heart here). However, just as important, there is absolutely nothing of which I am aware to say reasonably
    “yes, they did meet”. In the case of maintaining historical integrity we should avoid making conspiratorial claims simply by taking advantage of the “empty spaces” in history. However again, while innocent until proven guilty is a good legal standard for criminal proceedings, the logic does not follow that because even though a connection is possible but not proven, that is proof that an event didn’t happen. In this sphere of reason the best/safest approach is to, in the words of Bertrand Russell, “suspend judgement” until we have more information.

    To take it step further, it is doubtful that most versions of the “Spaulding-Rigdon” theory are mostly true. It is further true that Manuscript Found is not a complete source manuscript to the Book of Mormon. On that point we agree. However, that does not mean that Spaulding was neither the original author, or a source of inspiration/influence on the text of the Book of Mormon. There still remain some unexplained similarities, which I have already discussed, that would need to be reconciled before Spaulding can be reasonably dismissed from consideration. Still, in and of itself, the story of how both characters found their plates/scrolls, is not satisfactory to complete name Spaulding as the undisputed author. There is a difference between data that invalidates an assumption, and data that contradicts and assumption. I don’t think we have enough data to invalidate that Spaulding theory, but I also freely admit that what data we do have is insufficient to entirely support the theory.

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  19. Cowboy on December 5, 2011 at 1:33 PM


    What difference does it make what my standard of proof is?

    I don’t think we have either a preponderance or “beyond a reasonable doubt” quantity either way.

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  20. Cowboy on December 5, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    “There is a difference between data that invalidates an assumption, and data that contradicts and assumption.”

    Sorry, should read:

    There is a difference between data invalidates an assumption, and data that fails to verify an assumption.

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  21. MH on December 5, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Bob, besides the manuscript, here’s my big problem with the Spaulding Theory. Let’s assume that Sidney Rigdon was part of a conspiracy for a minute. Why would Sidney concoct such an elaborate plan?

    In D&C 9, we see that Joseph already offered Oliver Cowdery the opportunity to translate. Wouldn’t Joseph have offered Sidney Rigdon the opportunity to translate as well? Why wouldn’t Sidney want to get in on the ground level of this, and be part of the 3 or 8 witnesses?

    Why would Sidney need Joseph anyway? Sidney was a trained preacher, Joseph was not. Why didn’t Sidney simply translate the plates/parchment himself, especially if he already had the Spaulding Manuscript?

    After he and Brigham parted ways, Sidney had his own revelations. What prevented him from doing this in 1829?

    Sidney consistently denied being part of the conspiracy throughout his life. There are much easier ways to accomplish this than the convoluted Spaulding Theory. I’ve never heard a reasonable answer to why Sidney would concoct such an intricate plan to be part of the conspiracy in the first place when there are much more feasible ways to have accomplished this “fraud.”

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  22. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    #19: Cowboy,
    If you read the full “data” of Spaulding/Rigdon, you might feel ”
    a preponderance” has been reached(?)
    The Joseph Smith story is much more “convoluted” that the Spaulding/Rigdon Theory.
    “Sidney consistently denied being part of the conspiracy throughout his life”. See Rigdon’s statement in Times and Seasons 6-1-1844.

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  23. Cowboy on December 5, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    “Sidney consistently denied being part of the conspiracy throughout his life”.

    You’ll have to be more specific. I’ve just read it, and I don’t find anything.

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  24. FireTag on December 5, 2011 at 4:28 PM


    In our discussion last week I referred to both the idea of an ancient origin and a 19th Century origin as having anomalies. IF we have two explanations that are BOTH unlikely, we have NO good scientific explanation for them, and we are going to decide what we believe based on broader worldviews. You’ve stated you follow Boas and believe humans do not have a spirit; that’s a perfectly rational reason to weight a 19th Century origin over an ancient one. People whose worldview carries a belief in the spiritual in general, and in a testimony of the BofM in particular, will place the burden of proof on the opposite side.

    But neither explanation for the Book becomes any more “scientific” as a result. That only happens as we develop more coherent ancient or 19th Century origins theories with fewer anomalies.

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  25. Jeff Spector on December 5, 2011 at 4:54 PM


    “would argue that the biggest problem is just a lack of totatl history. Both the conspiracy theorists and defenders (for lack of a better word) take full advantage of this.’

    Very true. However, due to a lack of any reasonable evidence to the contrary, I have to go with the Joseph Smith story.

    Now one can make the case that corroborating evidence is not present enough either, but that is true on many things in history which we choose to accept.

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  26. Cowboy on December 5, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    Jeff #25:

    I don’t think there is any other place to take the conversation from there. I agree with your take on things. You, like me and everyone else, are free to believe what you would like from the evidence given. I can always appreciate that willingness to believe when it is associated with the honesty that the existing evidence is inconclusive.

    While we are all guilty from time to time of making more the “evidence” than what is probably reasonable, the hope is that we are not as interested in winning the debate along partisan lines as much as we are in advancing the truth, whatever that may be. A huge part of that is being honest about what the evidence actually suggests.

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  27. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    I guess it is a matter of what you call “evidence”. If it’s Spirital or subjective, then it can be accepted by believers.
    But Science has made it’s review of the BoM, and does not find objective support.
    As to the Spaulding/Rigdon Theory, again, I don’t affirm it’s right. But my objection is to those who believe it’s “settled Law” it is wrong.

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  28. whizzbang on December 5, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    There was a critic that posted these questions a few years back about Sidney Rigdon and the then recent word print studies. I think they are worth some consideration

    “I am trying to rearrange my view of Mormon origins in light of this research.

    The most parsimonious interpretation might be that Rigdon and Smith collaborated. Rigdon relied on the more charismatic Smith to front for a new religious organization.

    However, that view is not consistent with Smith’s attempts to sell the Book of Mormon to publishers in Toronto.

    And what are we to make of Martin Harris’s investment?

    If Rigdon was Gepetto how could he have tolerated Smith’s shenanigans? May be, Joseph was trying to rip Sidney Rigdon off.

    In that case, why did Rigdon continue to cooperate with such an unreliable character? Rigdon must not have known about Smith’s recruitment of an investor and his attempt to sell the Book of Mormon.

    Another possibility is that Rigdon did not directly collaborate with Smith. Somebody like Oliver Cowdery might have brought Rigdon’s and Spaulding’s work to Smith who plagiarized it without permission.

    If that were true, why would Rigdon collaborate with Smith who has the nerve of stealing his ideas? “

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  29. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    I think those are all good questions.
    I believe Craig Criddle or maybe Broadhurst is who you are referring to as a ‘critic'(?)
    Also, The text of Oberlin College’s Solomon Spalding “Roman Story” is available on-line in several different formats.
    Again, if you have an interest in ‘Spaulding’, you must read Dale Broadhurst to know what the argument is about. He was an RLDS scholar .

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  30. whizzbang on December 5, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    @29-No, it was a person on the ‘net who is or was a critic of the Church responding to the Criddle article-i couldn’t recall the name of the author’s of that piece!

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  31. MH on December 5, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    Bob, I looked up June 1, 1844 Times and Seasons, and that has a notice announcing Sidney Rigdon as Vice President on Joseph Smith’s Presidential ticket. I don’t think that’s what you were talking about. Perhaps you could give a better reference in comment 22 above.

    Cowboy and all, I did a 6 part review of the Sidney Rigdon Biography (by Richard Van Wagoner) a few years ago. Part 6 deals directly with the Spaulding Theory (warning, it is a long post). Quoting from the book,

    Page 133,

    (1) During the spring of 1833 or 1834, while visiting the home of Samuel Baker near New Portage, Ohio, Rigdon stated in the presence of a large gathering that he was aware some in the neighborhood had accused him of being the instigator of the Book of Mormon. Standing in the doorway to address the audience in the yard, he held up a Book of Mormon and said:

    ‘I testify in the presence of this congregation, and before God and all the Holy Angels up yonder, (pointing toward heaven), before whom I expect to give account at the judgement day, that I never saw a sentence of the Book of Mormon. I never penned a sentence in the Book of Mormon. I never knew that there was such a book in existence as the Book of Mormon, until it was presented to me by Parley P. Pratt, in the form that it now is.’

    (2) On his deathbed with an interview to his son Wickliffe, “I found him as ever in declaring that he himself had nothing whatever to do in writing the book, and that Joseph Smith received it from an angel. On his dying bed he made the same declaration to a Methodist minister…. My mother has also told me that Father had nothing to do with the writing of the book, and that she positively knew that he had never seen it until Parley P. Pratt came to our home with it.

    (3) Nancy R. Ellis, Rigdon’s most anti-Mormon offspring, recalled in an 1884 interview the arrival of the missionaries to her Mentor, Ohio home when she was eight years old: “I saw them hand him the book, and I am positive as can be that he never saw it before…. She further stated that her father in the last years of his life called his family together and told them, as sure as there was a God in heaven, he never had anything to do in getting up the book of Mormon, and never saw any such thing as a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding.”

    (4) Former apostle William McClellin (who was excommunicated in 1838) said regarding Rigdon, “He never heard of the work of Smith & Cowdery, until C[owdery] and P[arley] P Pratt brought the book to him in Mentor, O[hio]. True enough, I have but little confidence in S. Rigdon, but I know he was more the tool of J. Smith than his teacher and director. He was docile in J.S. hands to my knowledge.

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  32. Bob on December 5, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    @31: MH,
    There is a photo in Broadhurst’s website showing and highlighting a copy of the T&S 6-1-1844 quote. Sorry, I don’t have the skills to get you to it.

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  33. MH on December 5, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    Bob, I went to http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/IA/misciow0.htm#060644 and http://solomonspalding.com/ and I still don’t know what you’re referring to. Feel free to post a link so we know what you’re talking about.

    As reference for June 1844, Joseph and Sidney were campaigning, and 10 of the 12 apostles were out on campaigning missions for Joseph. Just 27 days later, Joseph was killed. I would find it highly unlikely that Sidney said anything disparaging about either Joseph or the Book of Mormon in June 1844.

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  34. dpc on December 5, 2011 at 10:54 PM

    What I find puzzling is that the BOM doesn’t seem to describe any known culture (except maybe ancient Jewish culture in 1 Nephi, but that disappears remarkably fast). The Spaulding maniscript and Views of the Hebrews seem to describe local native tribes. If the BOM was just a product of its place and time or heavily influenced by existing works, why doesn’t it similarly describe local tribes. There were plenty of such tribes around. I’m troubled in thinking it is a book that seems to contain motifs and ideas that apply to many cultures in many places in many times. It’s almost Platonic it seems. How else could so many geographic theories fit the BOM narrative? Any theory that embraces the Views of the Hebrews or Manuscript Found has to account for these universals.

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  35. Cowboy on December 6, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    “It’s almost Platonic it seems. How else could so many geographic theories fit the BOM narrative? Any theory that embraces the Views of the Hebrews or Manuscript Found has to account for these universals.”

    That’s an excellent observation I think. As a critic myself I have to admit that some of the sensation it seems with trying to make something of Ethan Smith or Solomon Spaulding, is that it provides an answer to the Mormon challenge, “where did this book come from if not from God”. Tempting as this may be, that’s not the standard I work from. This isn’t a retreat, or a “crawl” as Holland would say, but rather a refusal to be ensared by an ridiculous proposition. That of placing the onus on me to justify the Book of Mormon. Conversely it is the responsible of Mormon advocates to do that, and their efforts are largely unsatisfactory and basically non-empirical. Here’s the answer – some human wrote it.

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  36. Bob on December 6, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    #5: Cowboy,
    IMO_ the BoM narrative can not be supported by any of the geographic theories. The large people numbers of the book could not have lived in a small area. The BoM narrative for a large area, (all of N/S America), shows no Culture that could sustain the story.
    The BoM narrative is ‘fixed’. Science, (always moving fast), will come up with even greater challenges than DNA.

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  37. Joseph S. on December 6, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    “(I have previously documented some of the horrendous spelling errors and humorous stories in this work.)”

    I was distracted by your repeated emphasis of Spalding’s poor spelling. You seem to be equating “spelling errors” with poor writing. English spelling was not standardized in the early nineteenth century. Many great works of literature employed spelling that would seem “horrendous” to us today–it is common practice to fix the spelling when creating modern editions of these works. If the Spalding manuscript was important enough, it would have such an edition and wouldn’t seem quite as poorly written.

    The Book of Mormon first edition had many “horrendous” spellings: http://lds.org/ensign/1983/12/understanding-textual-changes-in-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng. If you are going to compare Spalding’s work to the Book of Mormon, you have to do it on equal terms–using the first edition of the Book of Mormon, with its spelling mistakes included.

    It’s bad enough to mock someone’s poor spelling in our highly standardized era, let alone in an age when the very standard you are using hadn’t been invented yet. Many of the spellings may have been the choice of the printer rather than the author himself–there wasn’t much of a review process set up like there is today. Typos were quite common as well since printing establishments and equipment were not nearly as refined as they are now.

    I agree that Spalding’s manuscript is not nearly as well-written as the Book of Mormon, but that’s due to the less-complicated plot, overly-romanticized descriptions, trite dialogue, and characters that remain hard to relate to and not very compelling.

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  38. Cowboy on December 6, 2011 at 1:45 PM


    That has been my argument all along. The best that Mormon scholars can posit is “parallel evidence”. There is no direct evidence which is so problematic that it renders these squabbles over authorship moot. What if it wasn’t Spaulding or Ethan Smith who originally wrote the Book of Mormon. So far there is no reason beyond the Book itself to believe that Nephi did, so really, who cares? The whole notion that I as a critic am responsible for showing exactly how the Book of Mormon came into being, with proof positive, is a bit absurd given that:

    1) The history during that period is not all too concrete

    2) The real world doesn’t seem to corroborate the specific cultural, linguistic, theological, etc, characteristics of the Book of Mormon peoples. Unless of course you are a Mormon apologist, in which case the “parallel evidence” is overwhelming.

    So to follow suit with Nibley’s request for parsimony, it would seem that the simplest explanation for the book is that someone during the 19th century sat down and wrote it.

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  39. whizzbang on December 6, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    one thing to remember is that probably 99% of non Mormons have never read the Book of Mormon, heck even Mormons haven’t read it! So I don’t buy the whole “we should expect Non Mormon Archaeologists to know every tidbit of info in the Book of Mormon” argument. I don’t see the Book of Mormon being discussed positively in academic archaeology journals but I also don’t see it being discussed negatively either

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  40. Cowboy on December 6, 2011 at 2:14 PM


    It’s not discussed at all because it is not viewed as history by anyone other than Mormons.

    It would be akin to using Star Wars to further our understanding of space exploration…with the difference being that some people at least appreciate a level of entertainment value from Star Wars.

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  41. Bob on December 6, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    I would say most Non-Mormon Archaeologists know the ‘insides’ of the BoM. It just doesn’t work for their understanding of these things work. If an Archaeologist could find something in the book that worked__he would and make a big name for himself.

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  42. Heber13 on December 6, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    I haven’t read enough to think much of the Spaulding manuscript. Most arguments I hear from people on it was the source of the BoM seem like a stretch to me.

    I don’t subscribe to a bunch of conspiracy theories, although I find it more realistic that things were complicated…not a sanitized primary version of angels/plates/translation we hear at church now. There was something mystical about what was happening, and Oliver couldn’t do it, but the result was powerful, and I believe God’s hand guided things, even if we don’t understand how that works.

    But it seems strange to me there would be any writing from Spaulding or anyone else prior to Joseph Smith on anything close to these matters. Bushman documents many people at the time were fascinated with theories of Native Americans and their origins. It certainly wasn’t like there was nothing, then Joseph prayed, then there was this whole book about American ancestors and civilizations and scripture.

    Its puzzling to me, and yet I have a love for the Book of Mormon scripture.

    In a way, it almost seems like Joseph’s intent was good, but the revelation process is interesting that God can use 19th century things to still produce something, even if geography or details on stories are less literal, but still valuable to teaching important lessons.

    I might suggest a theory similar to Masonry and temples. One can’t deny the similarities, and perhaps influence of Masonry to develop temple ceremonies…but God’s power can still be strong and potent in how the Lord allowed Joseph to develop the temple ceremony and be influenced by things around him (like Masonry). Perhaps that also happened with the Book of Mormon and things like Spaulding and other materials during that time helped Joseph get some ideas going which opened up the windows of heaven??? And while Joseph’s face was in a hat…preconceived ideas turned into miraculous revelation and scripture. JS borrows from Masonry, yet the meaning and purposes are unique and very different. Perhaps JS borrows from other sources for the BOM, yet God makes it truth and powerful stuff??

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  43. Ray on December 6, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    I generally don’t comment on the Spaulding theory, because I’ve looked closely at it and think it’s incredibly weak.

    Sorry, that’s really all I’ve got on the topic.

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  44. Bob on December 6, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    #43: Ray,
    If the Spaulding Theory was ‘incredibly weak’, it would have died a hundred years ago. But it gains strength as time go on.
    It is in no way limited to the “Spaulding manuscript”. There is ‘meat’ to it, not just ‘milk’.

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  45. Ray on December 6, 2011 at 6:13 PM

    Bob, we simply disagree – about everything in #44.

    Literally, I disagree with every statement in your comment, but I have absolutely no desire to get into a conversation about why. Been there, done that, in great detail, far too many times.

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  46. FireTag on December 6, 2011 at 7:04 PM


    “The large people numbers of the book could not have lived in a small area.”

    Here is the latest on New World populations going back 10K-15K years.


    It conclusively supports previous information that millions of people could not have lived in a limited area of ancient America. SO WHAT?

    When we read the Old Testament, we see similar statements about the Hebrew migration from Egypt that contradict common sense. You can’t feed or provide water for the number of Israelites claimed. But we do not thereby conclude that Hebrews didn’t get to the land of Canaan. We place those numbers in a cultural context that includes the notion that writers did not use large numbers literally. That’s why nobody ever wanders in the wilderness for 38 years or it rains for 43 days and nights.

    The same thing is going on in the Book of Mormon — and the Book of Mormon is telling you that it is. Do a search on numbers in the Book and you will discover that a non-random pattern is buried there. Military discussions, which is where the accounts of “large numbers” occur, always emphasize the numbers 2 (two ones), 6 (two units, a one and a five), and 10 (two fives). That tells you you’re looking at a cultural context, not a literal number. (Literal numbers would be RANDOM). It’s a name for a military unit of unknown size, like a platoon, company, battalion, brigade, division, or corps. So when the final battle sees 24 commanders with their 10,000 slaughtered, the Book of Mormon is not saying 240,000 people were lying dead on the battlefield. It’s saying 24 “generals” had their troops slaughtered. (And I won’t comment about the parallelism buried in that deep pattern of numbers with Mayan numerical systems.)

    Come on, Bob. :D You just spent all week convincing me that cultural context is what Franz Boas was all about.

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  47. Bob on December 6, 2011 at 8:06 PM

    @46 FireTag:
    The Church has taugh the large numbers for years, be it military or cities. Your number argument comes from where? I have never heard them. I have heard God feed his people from Heaven(?)
    Large numbers need Civilization. Civilization needs large fixed agriculture. Large fixed agriculture took thousands of years to create. Old World and New World had two different agricultures. Why?
    As to Boas__He taught Man’s Culture was not an adaption to his environment, but the environment was adapted to Man’s Cultures. This made Man different from Darwin Evolution.

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  48. Bob on December 6, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    #45: Ray,
    Sorry you feel that way. I will not write you again.

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  49. FireTag on December 6, 2011 at 9:30 PM


    I don’t care what the church taught (as I’m RLDS anyway). I said you go where the science leads in order to deal with the conflict between testimony and science, and hopefully get closer to truth.

    Anyone can repeat the analysis of the non-random pattern of numbers for themselves. The 2, 6, 10 predominance is so obvious a high school level stats education is sufficient to notice it. Then, if you are afflicted with the particular itch to understand patterns of numbers that physicists and mathematicians have, and know a little military history, the explanation leaps out at you. You can find similar examples in Greek and Roman practices, for example. But why does a 19th Century author bury that kind of detail in the story, AND THEN NOT USE IT FOR ANYTHING? Those are the kind of anomalies that continue to intrigue me.

    Agriculture did indeed take thousands of years to create. But I linked you to an article from THIS WEEK’s Science News, unrelated to any BofM application, that shows the New World grew to a population of several million between 13,000 BCE and 8,000 BCE and stayed at that level until the Spanish brought their diseases with them. So Mesoamerica in particular had a LONG tradition of agriculture to support the budding high civilizations that developed later.

    Interestingly, the article has some other gems. One relatively rare maternal DNA line kept putting out new lineages over the whole 15K period, while the other four lines in the DNA didn’t generate variations until a few hundred years ago. I have no idea what that means to the story, but I find it fascinating.

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  50. Bob on December 6, 2011 at 10:24 PM

    #49: FireTag,
    Thanks for the reply! I am sure New World could support Millions at any given time. But there were very few who lived in Civilations, most in village settings, mostly hunting and gathering that takes a LOT of land space. These village settings can support large armies.
    Sorry, I no good at math/number ideas. Spaulding did like to write in 3 & 5 word sent sentences, for what that worth.
    I think you would like Boas. The frist half of his life he was a physicist and geophysics m You night also like “Make me a Map” about Civil War Maps. (I read you stuff on war maps).

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  51. Bob on December 6, 2011 at 10:26 PM

    #50 Bad spelling __going to bed.

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  52. FireTag on December 6, 2011 at 10:58 PM


    I did find Boas interesting, even from the wiki summary.

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  53. hawkgrrrl on December 7, 2011 at 6:16 AM

    Just one more shout out for John Hamer’s excellent article linked above.

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  54. Bob on December 7, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    #53: Kawkgrrl,
    One thing we know conspiracies__ is we only know about those that failed. Of those that were successful__we know nothing.

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  55. Cowboy on December 7, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    #53: Kawkgrrl,
    “One thing we know conspiracies__ is we only know about those that failed. Of those that were successful__we know nothing.”

    True Bob, and I hate to keep rehashing this, but as a recovering conspiracy theorist myself (I’ve been sober for almost 7 years now – [supportive clap from the audience]), the most important thing that we don’t know is whether those “successful” conspiracies actually exist. That’s the whole point dude. This argument is just like arguing for God or religion.

    “Just because you can’t prove that God exists, does not mean he doesn’t.”

    True, but if you expect me to be accountable to your God I’m going to want a little more evidence than your best efforts to manipulate my doubts. Same goes with conspiracy theories, you’re going to need more than just skepticism to advance a theory.

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  56. Bob on December 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    #55: Cowboy,
    Again, I am not saying the Spaulding Theory is true. But it is a far simpler story than the one given by Joseph Smith.
    The last time I traded E-mails with Dale Broadhurst,(years ago), he told me he was too sick to complete his Spaulding work. I pledged to him I would do what I could that his work was still be read. That’s my only dog in this fight.

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  57. Cowboy on December 7, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    “But it is a far simpler story than the one given by Joseph Smith.”

    On that point we agree. There is common bit of rhetoric posed by Nibley, and other Church leaders (yes I know that Nibley wasn’t a GA) that it “takes a lot more faith to believe that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, than to believe events happened just as he say’s they did”. It’s so common in fact that I think some people actually believe this. So to that end I can agree with your buck the system attitude that, “no, conspiracy is far more likely than angels and missing cultures”.

    Still, I’m not taking the bait where I must come up with an explanation with for the Book of Mormon, otherwise I’m “crawling” around it. The Book of Mormon can’t be verified in the real world (I haven’t had time to digest Firetags comments yet – #49, though it does seem like there are a few leaps inferred there), so the simplist explanation is that it is not a true history. At that point all of this debate over Spaulding and conspiracies is nothing but trivia at best.

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  58. Cowboy on December 7, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    As a quick follow up – as far as I am aware, the history surrounding the lives and interactions of the key players around the time of the “translation” of the Book of Mormon is quite scant, and mostly retrospect. In other words, the possibilities for how the book came about are quite limitless. The trouble with the Spaulding theory is that because it is one of the more prevalent attempts at empirically invalidating the divine origins of the BoM, it sort of leads to this binary thinking where some people seem to get it in their head that the range of possibilities are discretely between Spaulding plagiarism, or divine history. I would argue that there are more considerations beyond that, which we may have no awareness of.

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  59. Bob on December 7, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    #57: Cowboy,
    By the way, I think Man’s history come more by stupid mistakes than grand conspiracies.

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  60. Cowboy on December 7, 2011 at 11:32 AM


    I think we are starting to agree. I’ve had enough experience to know that it takes a certain level of genius to develop the kinds of conspiracies we think we see. Generally it would require someone so prescient that they can predict outcomes based on subtle stimuli. In retrospect it often looks like engineering, when in reality its just physics.

    In other words, I doubt Joseph Smith or________ (fill in the blank puppet-master here) had the forethought that the Church and religion would become what it has, or even what it was in their day. Instead, I think things just snow-balled. As a bad analogy, you could argue that a snow ball appears engineered based on it’s rough shape and approximate symetry. Yet, all it takes is a little bit of compacted snow to start rolling down a hill.

    I see this in the business world from time to time. I work very closely with some very successful businesses, a few of them since they were startups. If you interview the CEO’s of some these companies about how they grew their businesses “into what they’ve become today”, you’ll here these inflated stories about a vision the leader had to deliver their products on a large scale, yada, yada, yada. In reality, I never heard these stories when they were starting up. Instead what I generally see/saw are businesses with a great product or service, with a significant amount of unanticipated demand. Looking back these stories about vision seem believable because the present organization is very well planned. What we miss is all of the chaos from ten years ago when the intent was a realistic dream to just start a “small business”.

    That’s sort of how I see the Mormon growth.

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  61. mh on December 7, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    bob, have you studied any other theories like view of the hebrews?

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  62. FireTag on December 7, 2011 at 2:58 PM


    Occam’s razor is a very bad guide when both hypotheses are unlikely. The more likely hypothesis is really that you haven’t imagined the likely hypothesis yet.

    We have a saying in physics:, “Your ideas are crazy, sir, but probably not crazy enough.”

    I think in trying to understand ANY spiritual aspect to reality, we have a lot of work to do and should not be declaring “case closed” on the basis of picking between a highly unlikely hypothesis and a very highly unlikely hypothesis.

    Although I do confess to wondering how much fun it would be to see academics fume if every philosophy and theology department on the planet were shut down tomorrow on the grounds of being as useless as schools for alchemy. :D

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  63. Cowboy on December 7, 2011 at 3:24 PM


    Admittedly I’m probably making the same mistake here, but parsimony/Occams Razor is often misused when we imply that its purpose is to settle a debate, or settle in on a conclusion. The simplist explanation is often not the actual answer to a problem. From a standpoint of uncertainty, parsimony functions as a heuristic for problem solving. In other words we should first explore the simplist explanations for an event before we move towards complex and extraordinary phenomena.

    As an example, if I place my car keys on the desk at night and they are not there in the morning, I should first consider the possibility that they either fell behind the desk or were moved by one of my children before suspecting that I am being haunted.

    This I suppose is where the difficulty of parsimony comes into play. If you are a person who believes that the supernatural religious experience is as natural as water running down hill, then from at least that point of view supernatural explanations are some of the simplist. I find that given there is little consensus on such things that Joseph Smith’s claims are quite extraordinary. I say this on the basis that we have no generally accepted precedent for these types of things. Particularly given that no single meaningful event in the Book of Mormon can be verified, I would argue that far more simpler than supernatural intervention is to assume that it is 19th century fiction. At least as a starting point for questioning the origin of the Book of Mormon.

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  64. Glenn Thigpen on December 7, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    None of the Spalding enthusiasts have been able to come up with a coherent theory of how Rigdon obtained any document authored by Spalding and how he pulled off such a scam with Joseph with people from two or three households looking on.
    The statements from the Spalding witnesses are also contradictory and downright incorrect.
    For instance, seven or eight witnesses declared that Solomon was writing a book (the mythical second manuscript)about the lost tribes migrating to the Americas and becoming the ancestors of the American Indians, yet there is no lost tribes theme in the book of Mormon. That is one of the few details that can actually be checked, and it comes up empty.


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  65. FireTag on December 7, 2011 at 3:52 PM


    I don’t think we’re THAT far apart, but the point I would make is that we differ on the “problem set” that we’re trying to explain. If we define the problem set as explaining the existence of the BofM (or ANY OTHER testimony of a spiritual experience) while restricting the “solutions” to those that ASSUME a solution to the existence of spiritual experiences in the first place, our “simplest” solutions are totally dependent on what we ASSUMED about the existence of the spiritual. The solution to the particular scripture’s existence is contingent on the broader question of the existence of the spiritual.

    Spiritual real, BofM ancient — plausible.

    Spiritual real, BofM 19th Century — plausible.

    Spiritual unreal, BofM 19th Century — probable.

    Spiritual unreal, BofM ancient — very unlikely.

    I get your keys analogy, but if I wake up in the middle of the night and see a glowing cloud past through the floor…

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  66. Bob on December 7, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    “62-63: FireTag/Cowboy,
    I agree in “parsimony”__”God did it” is the simpler answer.
    But if God gave Man a Gospel to live by, then I peel it back to a simpler “All You Need Is Love”.

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  67. Cowboy on December 7, 2011 at 4:09 PM


    Simply put – I agree.


    If we’re going to invoke John Lennon as the rule for parsimony, then we’re just back to no God.

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  68. Bob on December 7, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    #61: Mh,
    I believe there was some “Pot of Gold” or something theory(??)
    The digging of the Erie Canal near Joseph Smith, unearthed many Indian items that lead to lot of ‘theories’in his time.
    I also recall, for the first 50 years of the Church, most Mormons thought Nephi was the Angel who JS the BoM(?)
    Then there is Dan Vogel and Bodie……

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  69. Manuscript Found – Part 2 | Wheat and Tares on December 12, 2011 at 5:03 AM

    […] of Spaulding’s manuscript can be downloaded from Oberlin College.  I posted a summary of  chapters 1-5 last week, and gave a very brief introduction to the Spaulding Theory.  Here is a brief summary of the […]

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