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 Briefly, the theory states that Joseph Smith plagiarized (or at least used as a source) an unpublished book written by Solomon Spaulding.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.
Fabius reports that a group of people called the Ohons had an alphabet and wrote on parchment. “Their constitution & laws are committed to writing.” They loved to write poetry.
Spaulding discusses their religion. They believed in an omnipotent being “who is self-existent & infinitely good & benevolent.” This being formed 7 sons that “manage the affairs of his empire.”
“There is also another great intelligent Being who is self-existent & possessed of great power but not of Omnipotence. He is filled with infinite malice against the good Being & exerts all his subtlety & power to ruin his works.”
After death, “Material Bodies are prepared for the souls of the righteous. But the wicked are denied etherial bodies”. He goes on to describe some of their religious laws, telling them to be kind and not lustful, among many religious laws.
“it is ordained that on every eighth day, ye lay aside all unnecessary labour, that ye meet in convenient numbers & form assemblies, that at each assembly a learned holy man shall preside, who shall lead your devotions & explain this sacred Roll & give you such instruction as shall promote your happiness in this life & in the life to come. Once in three months ye shall hold a great festival in every great city & town, & your priests shall sacrifice an Elk as a token that your sins deserve punishment, but that the divine mercy hath banished them into shade of forgetfulness.”
Chapter 8 “An account of Baska”
A partial story of a man named Baska is told, “he was celebrated as a man of the most brilliant & extraordinary talents.”
Chapter 8 (yes labeled the same as above.)
Spaulding takes a break from the story “with a few sceches of Biography” and proceeds to tell of
“the great and illustrious Lobaska. He is the man who first introduced their present method of writing.
As for instance he is represented as forming a curious machine & having placed himself upon it he mounted into the Atmosphere & assended a great hight & having sailed a considerable distance thro’ the air he desended slowly & received no damage that multitudes of astonished Spectators had a number of times seen him perform this miraculous exploit.”
Lobaska was about 40 years old, affable, but not locquacious, and “none could withstand the energy of his reasoning.” He set up schools of “Schollars”, teaching them writing as well as making tools of iron. He lived among a group called the Siotans.
A man named Tobaska taught theology “comprised in the sacred Roll.” The king and chiefs allowed Tobaska to teach throughout the kingdom. The message revealed to Tobaska by “the second son of the great & good Being…They forgot their old religion which was a confused medly of Idolitry & superstitious nonsense.”
However, war came because Bombal, King of the Kentucks “had taken great umbrage against Kadokam the King of Siota.” Kentucks had “exclusive right to wear in their caps a bunch of blue feathers” but the Siotan princes “assumed the liberty to place bunches of blue feathers upon their caps.” Spaulding discusses war strategy, noting that Lobaska had a cunning plan. After the battle, a peace treaty was signed that anyone could wear blue feathers.
Chapter 9 Government and Money
The people lived on both sides of the Ohio River, “Excepting the Cities of Golanga & Gamba, whose Kings claimed jurisdiction over an extent of country of about one hundred & fifty miles along the River Ohio.” Lobaska devised “a system of Government with a design of establishing two great Empires one on each side of the River Ohio.” The Sciotan constitution is described with “Emporer, Labamack the oldest son of Lobaska.” Government will pass to his eldest son, and they must marry within the Siotan kingdom. Money shall not depreciate. “Lambon the third son of Lobaska shall preside over them & shall have the title of high Priest.”
Chapter 10 – Military Arrangements, Amusements, Customs, & Extent of the Empires
The Sciota and Kentuck Indians believed that a strong military was the best deterrent. Both groups held military drills for soldiers 4 times per year, with a mock battle once per year.
Then Spaulding starts talking about courting rituals. Men and women wear different colors of feathers to show they are available. Once a couple has decided they like each other, they meet the parents and arrange to date 10 times within 60 days. If all goes well, a marriage follows.
The Sciota had a son (Elseon) and the Kentucks had a daughter (Lamesa) of marrying age. Their constitutions said that they were only to marry within the kingdom. However, an exception was made to allow them to marry. Some were not happy, and tried to disrupt the wedding, but finally Elseon and Lamesa were married in a traditional wedding.
Following their marriage, Elseon (of the Kentucks) and his bride Lamesa (of the Sciota) surreptitiously leave for the land of the Kentucks. Apparently this was not part of the bargain of the Sciota. They demanded that Lamesa return to Sciota, and said if she did not return, they would declare war on the Kentucks. (It was their understanding that that would remain in Sciota.) After much discussion, the Kentucks would not return Lamesa, but offered to give the Sciota something as reparations to avert war.
There are quite a few speeches from the leaders of the Sciota and Kentucks about how to handle the situation. Â The Sciota considered reparations, and asked for the death of Elseon. Of course, that was rejected, and so they made preparations for war. Lamesa and Elseon felt sad for starting the conflict, but declare their love for each other.
This is the last chapter, although it doesn’t appear to be finished. The war grinds on. There is so much death, at one point the two sides declare a two-day armistice so they can bury the dead. The leaders begin to work on different “stratigems” to win. They attack at night, assuming the other side is asleep. Once again, there is more death. They bury the dead in giant mounds of mass graves.
Sambul, king of Sciota attacks a fort and finds Lamesa. Cruelly, he kills a woman trying to protect Lamesa. Lamesa asks him to kill her too because she does not want to return. Then Elseon leads a counter-attack on the fort, and ends up fighting Sambul in hand to hand combat. Elseon kills Sambul with a sword, and frees everyone in the fort. The war appears to be winding down with the death of Sambul, but it is not clear how the story ends. The story ends abruptly,
Hamback altered his plan & determined to wait for the return of Sambul. As for Hamboon he concluded to wait until Elseons return. These determinations of the hostile Emporers prevented for the time any engagements between the two grand armies. But when the fate of Sambuls division was decided & Elseon had returned with the joyful news of his victory, the Kentucks were all anxious for an immediate Battle.
There is more to the manuscript, but it does not appear to be part of the story. To me, it appears to be Spaulding talking in his own voice, not of the book. I am only quoting a portion here–See the original manuscript for a full quote. A note on page 156 that says,
Note – This was found with the foregoing manuscript an in the same handwriting.
But having every reason to place the highest confidence in your friendship & prudence I have no reluctance in complying with with your request. in giving you my sentiments of the christian Religion….In giving you my sentiments of the Christian religion, you will perceive that I am not trameled with traditionary & vulgar prejudiuce that I do not believe certain parts & certain parts & certain propositions to be treu merely because that my ancestors believe them & because they are popular….But notwithstanding I disavow any belief in the divinity of the Bible, & consider it as a mere human production designed to inrich & agrandize its human production designed to inrich and agrandize its authors & to enable them to manage the multitude. Yet casting aside a considerable mass of rubbish & fanatical rant, I find that it contains a system of ethics or morals which cannot be excelled on account of their tendency to amiliorate the condition of man….having a view therefore to those parts of the Bible which are truly good & excellend I sometimes speak of it in terms of high commendation. Â And indeed I am inclined to believe that notwithstanding the mischeifs & injuries which have been produced by the bigoted zeal of fanatics & interested priests yet that such evils are more than counterbalances in a Christian land by the benefits which result to the great mass of the people by their believing that the Bible is of divine origin. Â & that it contains a revelation from God. Such being my view of the subject, I pre fer my candle to remain under to remain under a bushel, nor make no exertions to dissipate their happy delusion, as
Note to Copyist.–On the other side of the paper on which the above is written & in what seems the same hand is the following:
Itham Joyner privlg to erect Mill, & the pvlg of wtr. Wright has prefern & he next. To fix to take out wtr for himslf & to be at one 1/4 expense of keeping dam in repair. If wishing to sell to gv Wrt pvlg buing if dont buy to sel to another his works but not pvlg of wtr I. Joyner & W. Brigham agree to build a house for their use. Â Sd B. to 6 feet on the water below the width of the house & J to have for six feet & B to 12 feet on the same side in the rear bank & 12 feet of the garret. to be at equal expense in the water works. To be at equal expense in the partitions of the rooms.
The writings of Sollomon Spaulding Proved by Aron Wright Oliver Smith, John N Miller & others. The testimonies of the above Gentlemen are now in my possession.
D. P. Hurlbut.
With that ending and summary, do you think this is really the source of the Book of Mormon?