I was surprised at the recent burst of activity on my post back in April titled, Debunking the Spaulding Manuscript Theory. One of my commenters (Roger) seem to believe the Spaulding Theory still has merit. I even had Craig Criddle stop by. He is a leading proponent of the theory and published a peer-reviewed article at Oxford in support of this theory. (You need a subscription to read it, but the abstract can be found there.)
Roger took issue Brodie’s characterization that Spaulding’s manuscript was “devoid of religious material”, and made several references to religious writings in this comment. So, if Roger is right, it seems there should be quite a few religious similarities between this Spaulding manuscript, and the Book of Mormon, right?
As the theory goes, Joseph wasn’t smart enough to write the Book of Mormon by himself. Sidney Rigdon must have stolen a copy of Spaulding’s manuscript, secreted it away to Joseph Smith somehow, and then Sidney pretended to convert in Dec 1830. According to the theory, both Rigdon and Spaulding lived in Pittsburgh, PA, so Sidney must have come across the manuscript at a printer’s office.
Spaulding’s manuscript was discovered by Doctor Hurlburt (Doctor is his first name–he is not a “real” doctor) in the home of Spaulding’s widow, Matilda Davison, who gave the manuscript to Hurlburt. Spaulding died on Oct 20, 1816, so this document was written well before Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1820. While there are some very general similarities, according to Brodie on page 144 of her book No Man Knows My History,
Now to his bitter chagrin he found that the long chase had been vain; for while the romance did concern the ancestors of the Indians, its resemblance to the Book of Mormon ended there. None of the names found in one could be identified in the other; the many battles which each described showed not the slightest similarity with those of the other, and Spaulding’s prose style, which aped the eighteenth-century British sentimental novelists, differed from the style of the Mormon Bible as much as Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded different from the New Testament.
LL Rice purchased the assets of the Painesville Telegraph in 1839-40. In 1885 or so, he looked through the assets and discovered Spaulding’s Manuscript. The manuscript was donated to Oberlin College after being discovered in Hawaii. You may view the manuscript here. Due to the obvious differences between the manuscript and the Book of Mormon, proponents of the theory have postulated that Spaulding must have another manuscript which is similar to the Book of Mormon. Proponents think that perhaps Smith and Rigdon burned the manuscript after completing the Book of Mormon.
So, after hearing Roger talk about how much religion was in the book, I decided that I must read it. I plan to review the introduction today, and in some future posts, I’ll outline the book, and offer my commentary on it.
Pages 3-11 tell how the document came into the hands of Oberlin College, and has letters to Joseph Smith III (Joseph’s son), who was ordained prophet of the RLDS church on April 6, 1860. Apparently the RLDS church published the manuscript sometime around 1885. Some interesting quotes from these pages start on page 5-6. The document was discovered in Hawaii by Rice who was a friend Fairchild, president of Oberlin College in Ohio. Many people wanted to claim the manuscript, but they felt it best to offer it to Joseph III, since he is the son of Joseph Smith. I have underlined some points I find interesting. Let me quote from pages 5-6,
“There seems to be no reason to doubt that this is the long-lost story. Mr. Rice, myself, and others, compared it with the Book of Mormon, and could detect no resemblence between the two, in general or in detail. There seems to be no name or incident common to the two. The solemn style of the Book of Mormon, in imitation of the English Scriptures, does not appear in the manuscript. The only resemblance is in the fact that both profess to set forth the history of the lost tribes. Some other explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon must be found, if any explanation is required.”
Signed, James H. Fairchild.
From page 7 is another interesting difference between the Book of Mormon and this Oberlin College Manuscript. This is the second half of a letter written March 28, 1885 from LL Rice to Mr. Joseph Smith III. Rice bought the assets of the Painesville Telegraph in 1839-40. President Fairchild of Oberlin College thought there might be some interesting slavery documents in the Telegraph assets. While searching through the assets, Rice discovered Spaulding’s Manuscript titled, “Manuscript Found.” Rice states that he unknowingly had the document for over 40 years. Rice describes the manuscript on page 7.
This manuscript does not purport to be “a story of the Indians formerly occupying this continent;” but is a history of the wars between the Indians of Ohio and Kentucky, and their progress in civilization, etc. It is certain that this manuscript is not the origin of the Mormon Bible, whatever some other manuscript may have been. The only similarity between them, is, in the manner in which each purports to have been found–one in a cave on Conneaut Creek–the other in a hill in Ontario County, New York. There is no identity of names, of persons, or places; and there is no similarity of style between them. As I told Mr. Deming, I should as soon think the Book of Revelations was written by the author of Don Quixote, as that the write of this Manuscript was the author of the Book of Mormon. Deming says Spaulding made three copies of “Manuscript Found,” one of which Sidney Rigdon stole from a printing-office in Pittsburg. You can probably tell better than I can, what ground there is for such an allegation.
As to this Manuscript, I can not see that it can be of any use to any body, except the Mormons, to show that IT is not the original of the Mormon Bible. But that would not settle the claim that some other manuscript of Spaulding was the original of it. I propose to hold it in my own hands for a while, to see if it can not be put to some good use. Deming and Howe inform me that its existence is exciting great interest in that region. I am under a tacit, but not a positive pledge to President Fairchild, to deposit it eventually in the Library of Oberlin College. I shall be free from that pledge, when I see an opportunity to put it to a better use.
P.S.–Upon reflection, since writing the foregoing, I am of the opinion that no one who reads this Manuscript will give credit that Solomon Spaulding was in any wise the author of the Book of Mormon. It is unlikely that any one who wrote so elaborate a work as the Mormon Bible, would spend his time in getting up so shallow a story as this, which at best is but a feebile imitation of the other. Finally I am more that 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 was easy for anybody who may have seen this, or heard anything of its contents, to get up the story that they were identical.
Another letter is found on page 8 dated May 14, 1885, also addressed to Joseph Smith III.
My opinion is, from all I have seen and learned, that this is the only writing of Spaulding, and there is no foundation for the statement of Deming and others, that Spaulding made another story, more elaborate, of which several copies were written, one of which Rigdon stole from a printing-office in Pittsburg, etc. Of course I can not be certain of this, as of the other two points. One theory is, that Rigdon, or some one else, saw this manuscript, or heard it read, and from the hints it conveyed, got up the other and more elaborate writing on which the Book of Mormon was founded. Take that for what it is worth. It don’t seem to me very likely.
Finally, Rice says on page 10,
It devolves upon their opponents to show that there are or were other writings of Spalding–since it is evident that the writing is not the original of the Mormon Bible.
So, that’s the introduction. In the coming days, I’ll post some excerpts from the book, and you can see how similar/different it is to the Book of Mormon. What do you think of Rice and Fairchild’s descriptions so far?