What do you believe is the origin of the Book of Mormon?

1) the BOM mentions forged metal (coins, swords, armor, nails, strappings), yet the Europeans brought metallurgy to the Americas., Metal does not disappear, there are multiple museums and storage rooms full of contemporarily-same Persian, Asian, European, African metal artifacts. And yet, there are no native coins, swords, armor, metal strappings, nails, etc. found in any artifacts in the Americans. Metal does not just disappear. The Aztecs eg had gold but it was used for jewelry, they had other means of currency. Metal does not disappear.

2) Meso-American (Aztec, Olmec) cultures were not Judaic or Christian, nor were South American (Incan), nor were North American cultures (Hopewell, etc.). Judaic/Christian artifacts and remnants of such large-scale societies described by JS in the BOM would exist, but it's clear these were not such religious societies. Smithsonian, our nations leading scientific (oops, 4-letter word :) institution, has made written statements that there is no archeological evidence for the societies described in the BOM in the Americas. You will find 0 people in the scientific community (outside of BYU/LDS to support the BOM depictions). The church has smartly backed away from BOM archeological claims in its Gospel Topics Essay. In Nov, 2021 Pres Nelson rightly said, "The BOM should not be read as a historical document, but as a spiritual document."

3) there are no mega structures cities and surviving stone walls in North America, although there in Meso-America and South America -- but they were clearly not Judeo-Christian societies, nor do the cities described in the BOM match, i.e. large city, fortress walls (like those found in Persia, the middle east and Europe). Cities across an entire area don't just disappear in a cataclysmic event, e.g. Pompay was under volcanic ash and has been excavated, old Alexandria and other coastline cities slipped into the sea and lakes and one can scuba dives and can see those stone walls.

4) Columbus/Europeans brought horses to the America. There are zero pre-Columbian horse bones found in the Americas, nor are there any elephants bones every found (only wooly mammoths, way north and way prior-period from Nephites/Lamanites). We still have dinosaur bones from millions of years ago despite the catastrophic event that took them out (bones don't just disappear). If horses and elephants were on this continent, we'd have their bones.

5) the BOM talks about wheat, but that was also brought by the Europeans. The BOM does not talk about corn or maize, which were stables of the Meso and North American diets.

6) the BOM talks about major roads, and those don't exist archeologically.

7) DNA evidence does not support the claim that people native to the Americas have middle eastern decent. Recognizing this, the LDS church in the last 10-years modified the BOM title page from American Indians being "direct descendants of Lamanites" to "among the descendants." the LDS church also published a Gospel Topics Essay on this in the early 10's, saying the origins may never be known (quite a shift from what was taught prior, but smartly adapting to the lack of evidence, now that science has progressed).

8) Anachronisms (things written in a CE, ascribed to a prior): when the KJV scholars did their translation in 1620 they added italics for non-matching words. The BOM manuscript (and current editions still) have those exact italics (JS or OC copied the 1620 KJV exactly). Did ancient Jewish authors/rabbis who wrote Isaiah ("on the Plates of Brass, which was not customary, they wrote on scrolls) thousands of years ago, add italics in ancient Hebrew?

9) Many sources of contemporary books and newspapers were available to JS and HS, and many similarities exist in the stories in the BOM. Contemporary books that Hyrum would have had access to and studied (religion classes were taught at Dartmouth and there was a famous couple of professors there) include: View of Hebrews, Spaulding Manuscript (the original, not the revised, written in VT), the KJV Bible (replicated stories and verses, Isaiah was copied directly from 1620s KJV, italics as all), Emanuel Swedenborg's "Heaven and Hell" (he had a church in Eastern PA, there are still followers there), Thomas Dick's "Future State," The Healing of Nations, The First Book of Napolean, The Chronicles of Eri, the Book of Nullification, The Late Great War, etc.

Much of the LDS doctrine is already found in these contemporary 1700s/early 1800s books, such as pre-existence (Swedenborg taught this), Native Americans as House of Israel (common speculation of the time, Spaulding Manuscript), a former white race killed off by the Native Americans (View of Hebrews, common speculation), three degrees of glory (taught in Sydney Rigdon's Campbellite Restoration tradition, he was a preacher of that denomination) (that doctrine is not in the BOM, b/c SR introduced it to JS in 1831 or later. Native American origins were topics being commonly speculated upon and were written about even by the Governor of NY and various newspapers of Joseph's time.

A lot of LDS doctrine that members believe is unique to the LDS tradition, was not novel. Recall that SR was a professional minister in Cleveland of the American Restoration Movement, aka Stone-Campbell movement (present day Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. You can see Stone-Campbell doctrines (restored priesthood, a higher priesthood, etc.) in LDS doctrine. It was JS and OC in BOM 1829 publishing time (Oliver was from the same town as View of Hebrews author and attended his congregation), but by 1835 JS was well established in Kirtland with really advanced theologians such as Sydney Rigdon, and that's when the first bulk of "modern" doctrine came about (second period being Nauvoo, which is where Joseph started preaching privately about Theocratic Kingdom of God on Earth, polygamy, becoming a God, etc.). Joseph's stretching stuff (man can become a God, God was once a human, temple endowments, celestial marriage/polygamy) was in the Nauvoo period (King Follett Discourses, Council of 50 minutes). Ironically, the LDS church has discontinued (polygamy), denied (that men can become Gods, see comments made by apostles in 2022 about getting a planet), or shied away from much of Joseph's later teaching. Recall that Joseph took 24 wives in 24 months in Nauvoo, and he got up to 35-38, i.e. he wasn't the same when he came out of Liberty -- and hell he raised an army/legion. His later speculations are now shied away from, and his earlier teachings (higher priesthood, 3 degrees of glory, etc. are not unique).

The Kirtland period was a beautiful amalgamation of collected (Sydney, Oliver, and Hyrum influences) and composed ("revelation") material. I do believe Joseph heavily borrowed from ideas and content of the time, but I also believe he was inspired (although he would claim his works were not what they were, i.e. evidence is so clear now that the BOM is not historical, nor is the BoA written when he said it was 5k years ago by Abraham, and he was duped on the Kinderhook plates trap).
Also sadly for Joseph, he derailed himself morally in his later years with polygamy. We can learn from ALL of Joseph's experiences if we honestly look at his history, and like anyone he is nuanced.

10) the "gold plates" that disappeared is a very apologetic and convenient claim, Joseph saying he had them, for realzies he had them just pray about it, God took them away to test your faith and stuff -- that is quite the claim. Occam's Razor is a better place to start. see Book of Abraham section, the history of that papya is quite interesting and you see the pattern with Joseph, claiming things were ancient. President Nelson's 2021 capitulating words, and the church's early 10s Gospel Topics Essay, go to a place that 10 years prior would have been considered "anti-Mormon," i.e. the president and church itself now quietly (it's hard to find that essay, you have to search in the search bar of the church's site) acknowledges the lack of archeological evidence for the BoM and BoA.

10) speaking of plates, research Kinderhook plates, a hoax set for JS by local farmers which he fell for (they created plates and gave them to him to translate, he attributed them to be of Jaredite timeframe and a T and S article was published showing a drawing of them and saying that Joseph would have them translated and available for sale by Spring). The LDS church has those Kinderhook plates in their possession; they had them on display until the early 1980s (I saw them in the museum west of the tabernacle), and they stopped displaying them when scientific analysis showed them to be (as the farmer's who created and laid them claimed) of 1800s origin. That same museum used to display Indian relics as well, suggesting that all American Indians and Aztec/Olmecs and Polynesians were of "Lamanite" origin. The Church has a good Gospel Topics Essay on Race, and they now no longer make that claim. I respect the church for their essays -- and they don't promote them in Sunday reading, so the myths live on and people can be defensive, until they hear or read what the church says -- and then turn on a dime from that external direction.

11) the witnesses were unreliable:

a) the witnesses were either Smiths (dad, brothers), Whitmers (or relatives of like Oliver Cowdery, who married in), or Martin Harris. Relationship of the witness to the person is key to credibility in any investigation or proceeding and is a sound measure of evidence.

b) many were unreliable characters, e.g. read what BY and JS aid about Martin Harris. Harris joined five churches before Mormonism, his wife said he was trying to profit from it, he said he saw God as a deer in the forest, he said he had a Godly creature on his chest whom only he could see, and like most of the other witnesses he later witnessed to the ancient authenticity of the Voree plates of James Strang, who led a group of disaffected Mormons to MI, after the schism in Nauvoo 1844.

c) many of the BOM plates witnesses went on to be signed witnesses for plates "found" (created) by James Strang, which he called the "Voree" plates. Strang was a man who claimed he had a letter from JS to make him the successor (he, Sydney and Brigham were the men there on 8/8/1844 vying to be the successor). Many people followed him to MI (an island in Lake MI), and many of the same BOM witnesses signed the same-type of worded witness statement of the Voree plates, that they appeared to be of ancient origin with ancient characters, etc. Those plates survive and are scientifically shown to be of 19th century origin. Credibility of witnesses is key in establishing truth.

d) all witnesses later indicated they "saw and felt" the plates with their "spiritual eyes" (in a vision), and Matin Harris gave a very specific account that he was having difficulty picturing them and so Joseph had to take him outside, into the woods away, and help him to pray so he could see with his spiritual eyes. the "hefting" were metallic plates under a towel, and once in a wooden box. The "feeling of the plates" (Emma, while the plates were on the kitchen table) was under a towel. It's very likely that Joseph had plates (metallic plates would be easy to create).

e) all the witnesses either left the church or were excommunicated. David Whitmer in 1838, like Oliver Cowdery, had stated concerns about Joseph's morality (alleged affair with Fanny Alger, which the LDS church now claims was his first wife). Whitmer was also stated concerns about Joseph's late introduction of the first vision story, of its changing nature, and of changing doctrine. I think many people in Kirtland were disillusioned by what they likely perceived as Joseph's greed with the banking scandal. Whitmer was excommunicated for failure to observe the word of wisdom (laughable for its time, JS had a bar in his Nauvoo Mansion home), and for speaking ill of the Lord's anointed (for stating concern about Joseph's affair with Fanny).

f) Joseph tried to profit from the BOM, D and C records how he sent men (three) to Toronto to sell the copyright of the book (all printing rights would be given up). When the Nauvoo House cornerstone was laid Joseph placed the original manuscript (!) into the cornerstone as a time capsule (sadly, poorly sealed and badly water damaged when later recovered). Joseph was asked why and he is recorded as saying "That book has caused me enough trouble."

12) if the BOM "Is the most perfect book ever made," why the archeological and literary issues, why the changes (significant content changes such as "white and delightsome" changed to "fair and delightsome"), and why are important doctrinal issues not in the BOM which Joseph later added to D&C (God as three personages, living people doing baptisms for dead people, living people participating in covenant endowments made with Masonic-like temple rites, for themselves and for dead people, higher priesthood, etc.). The answer to these questions is, Joseph wrote the book in 1829, with the doctrinal views he had at the time. Meeting SR later in 1830-31) (a trained Campbellite minister who was teaching higher priesthood and God as three personages), would greatly affect Joseph's later doctrinal additions to the faith's growing canon of understanding.

13) Moroni 10 gives a nice pattern and challenge to read the book, ponder and pray about it.
a) reading and pondering is what investigators and members are asked to do, but once you're a member you are only supposed to read from church-approved materials and rely on that one experience for the rest of your life. Is that a good method for expanding knowledge and spiritual understanding?

b) having a feeling about a book is something that can be good, but pinning your whole life to a singular journey based on a good feeling, can be a pattern for close-mindedness, lack of exploration, and gaslighting those who do research and expand. The LDS pattern is kind of carte blanche, that you get a warm feeling and then you know it is ALL true (anything a past, present or future leader ever or will say). It's quite dangerous to give that much authority away.

The truth is people and histories are nuanced, anything touched by man is not all true, nor is one person, or one church. For example, it's nuanced that Joseph made claims of the BOM's historicity (and the BoA), and yet that's now shown archeologically to not be true. Thus, it's important to see the BOM simply as spiritual (as President Nelson said in Nov of '21). The church gets itself into trouble with absolutist (non-nuanced) language by saying the BOM Is or Is Not, Joseph Smith Was or Was Not. The truth is, Joseph and the modern church have made claims that weren't true (that the BOM is a historical document, and the truth is the church in their Gospel Topics Essay have backed away from that literality, and also echoed in President Nelson's wise statement.

13) the BOM talks about final battles (Jaredite) with millions of people at the Hill Cumorah. Such a battle would have been bigger than any recorded in Asian, African, or European history. And. no. artifacts. The surrounding areas of the hill have had ground penetrating radar, metal detection -- and it's declared "a clean and unremarkable site archeologically." Millions of bones, swords, armor would be there, and across the continent for battles described. Joseph's math and story of huge battles wasn't just grandiose in contrast say to Greek, Roman or Persian numbers and conquests, but it makes archeology that much more findable at that large scale.

14) Linguistic authorship does not support the BOM having multiple authors, or being of ancient origin.
a) many analyses now show similarities to contemporary books and newspapers of the time
b) entire verses (not to mention Isaiah) are replicas of KJV, both OT and NT
c) Apologists make the BOM out to be more than it is linguistically and literarily (and it is a creative masterpiece), but it is not ancient. The poem Hickory Dickory Dock is a poetic chiasmus.
d) if an 1829 book used Hebraic words (names, cities), it doesn't make it of Reformed Egyptian origin. We can use Hebraic words now in current text. because Joseph Smith used Hebrew words in the BOM, does it make the book of ancient origin? And though Joseph used Hebraic names, he said the Nephite/Lamanite language was written in Reformed Egyptian (a language that doesn't exist). There are no semblances of ancient Hebrew or Egyptian in American native languages. Yes 90% of native peoples died from European disease, and their languages survive. We have modern speakers of passed-down native languages.
e) many of the names and cities in the BOM have strong resemblance to other cities, areas, countries that were known to Joseph's time (e.g. Cumoras Islands were "discovered" in the 1820s), Lehigh Valley was/is in PA, Moroni is the major city in the Cumoras Islands, etc.).
f) recall that Hyrum attended Dartmouth for 4-years (the prep school adjacent/on the same campus), to attend there you had to be fluent in Latin and Greek and Hebrew was taught. Hyum was Joseph's older brother and he'd come home on the weekends (the Smith family lived about 5-miles from campus) and in the Summers. Hyrum took a leave to care for Joseph when he had his major leg surgery and was recuperating. It's very plausible that Hyrum was a teacher to Joseph. And not to take away from Joseph in any way, there is no doubt that he had a brilliant mind, both for imagination and memorization (his mode of preaching was mainly dictation, which requires tremendous memory). That said, literally, while it's a very creative book and very detailed in certain descriptions (coinage), it reads like an early 18th century book, it has archeological faux pas, and it has modern anachronisms -- because it's an early 18th century book. Recall in context that the times then were full of speculation of origin of Native Americans, which the BOM provides an answer for, just as View of Hebrews and other contemporary books did. No doubt Hyrum would have had input into the book's creation. Credit to Joseph for producing a masterful book.

If all of this is troubling to you as a member of the CoJC of LDS, take comfort in what President Nelson said in November of 2021, "There are some things the Book of Mormon is not, It is not a textbook of history..., It is not a definitive work on ancient American agriculture or politics. It is not a record of all former inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, but only of particular groups of people.”

I'm glad the church president is wisely placing the BOM into its proper place, a spiritually-inspired book (and not a book of history). This runs counter to what we were taught -- but that's how churches adapt over time, as science (archeology, literary analysis, etc.) catch up with the times and religious stories once believed to be literal, are put into the realm where they should be, as simply meaningful.

In summary on the BOM, I read that book probably 30-40 times in my life, as it was so stressed as "the most correct of any other book, and a person would get closer to God by reading it than any other book, and a history of the American people and resurrected Jesus visiting them, and is or is not true."

While the BOM has many inspiring, Bible-like stories (Alma's being struck road on a road - Paul's road to Taursus, the Beatitudes are 100% similar, etc.), the book falls into the category of 1820s pseudigraphical fiction. And while it was disappointing for me to learn that it's not history, things can be non-historical and simply a valuable story to learn from. Most religious stories are mythical stories (an arc, the red sea, a man in a whale). The value of the teaching is not in the historicity, but in the value of the story/meaning itself.

I'm good with that and the BOM to that extent, an inspiring book to read. That said, I don't see it as historical, I think the author got himself in trouble by saying it was, as has the LDS church until last year, and there are parts that are 1820s wrong, i.e. "White and delightsome" was changed to "Fair and deligthsome," because facts -- that's racist. And ironically, the BOM for my reading clearly states that polygamy is not allowed (showing at least that JS was contemplating that even in 1829).

The LDS Church Gospel Topic Essay on BOM acknowledges a lot of these issues; I highly recommend all LDS members read those essays (they're hard to find on the church website, yo have to use the search tool). They're where I started. What you'll find in those church essays is that many things that are considered anti-Mormon, things which authors had been excommunicated for, are acknowledged by the church.

Mark Twain said he wouldn't be convinced of gold plates if the whole rest of the Whitmer family had seen them! And he criticized the literary construction and prose (the over-use of "And it came to pass and the use of 1620s, non-colloquial even for its time -- so it would sound more scriptural). The BOM reads like a modern document, b/c it is. There's a reason OT reads so foreign to us and God can seem like an angry desert God (b/c that was their understanding of God of the time and the stories/records handed down).

Lucy Mack Smith noted in her auto-biography (early 1850s) that Joseph was a highly imaginative boy (before the plates), that he'd tell fantastical stories of the Indians, how they lived, what their modes of transportation were and what food they ate (BTW the BOM does not mention corn but does mention wheat -- corn would have been a staple of Meso-American and North American diet, while wheat was introduced to this continent by the Spaniards and Portuguese).

Scripture is limited by the world views of the author (e.g. Paul said women should stay silent in church), and OT customs 4-5k years ago were vastly different (Leviticus says someone who works on Sunday should be killed, that a man who rapes a woman should pay her father, etc.). The OT was so long ago that it seems like an angry desert God of justice, as those were the times and ways.

The BOM reads more modernly, as it was written in 1829 (although the prose of 1620s KJV was used to enhance is scripture sheek!), b/c that was the author's (JS) timeframe.

In the end, what is scripture? Does it have to be historical to be true, or should we simply gain the good from the meaning we discern from the story? Yes BOM is problematic for the above reasons, and for the fact that JS claimed it was ancient and from gold plates now in heaven - but the book is an incredible work and it does testify of Christ and speaks to social issues of Joseph's time, e.g.

a) answering for his view, the question about the American Indians
b) cautioning on the danger of secret societies (which ironically JS later joined and promoted)
c) setting a utopian society for hundreds of years when there were no matter of 'ites

In the end, scripture does not have to be be historical, so regardless of BOM's ancient historicity or not, if the book helps you be a better person and it's good for you, then it's good for you! I appreciate the BOM for that and it guided me well for many years, and I now see it for what it is, and I agree with President Nelson's statement that is is not a history book. Joseph and the LDS church, got themselves in the current pickle, but saying for all those years, that it was a historical book of ancient origin.

shawnmatheson profile image for wasmormon.orgshawnmatheson

The Book of Mormon is rich with themes, names and geography that were common in daily life in New England during Joseph's life. There is a significant amount of content in the Book of Mormon that was taken from the Bible, The View of The Hebrews and the Spaulding Manuscript. Joseph likely combined these sources, with some help from Oliver and/Or Sidney to produce the Book of Mormon. Nobody ever saw Golden Plates except for with their "spiritual eyes", which leads me to believe the Gold Plates did not exist. Although I cannot definitely say how the Book of Mormon was produced, I'm 100% certain it is a modern production and not of ancient origin.

Daniel Johnson profile image for wasmormon.orgdanieljohnson

Aside from the parts copied from his version of the bible, the book was written by scribes as dictated by Joseph Smith. He was known as a particularly good orator and often gave sermons for hours without any prepared notes. He also practiced telling stories about native Americans as a teen based on legends of the mound-builders of Hebrew heritage which, per his mother, entertained his family for hours. He borrowed stories like Lehi's vision of the tree of life from his father's experience and contemporary religious themes (like baptism of infants) from local preaching. His deep immersion in a biblical/ magical christian community may have been a source for some hebraisms (such as names and chiasmus) as they continue to appear in subsequent revelations.

Brandon Shumway profile image for wasmormon.orgBrandon Shumway