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 Briefly, the theory states that Joseph Smith plagiarized (or at least used as a source) an unpublished book written by Solomon Spaulding.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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?