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Spalding–Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Spalding–Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship is the theory that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized in part from an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding. The theory first appeared in print in the book Mormonism Unvailed [sic], published in 1834 by E. D. Howe. The theory is that a Spalding manuscript was stolen by Sidney Rigdon, who used it in collusion with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to produce the Book of Mormon. Although Rigdon claimed that he was converted to the Latter Day Saint movement through reading the Book of Mormon, Howe argued that this story was a later invention to cover the book's true origins.

Contemporary Mormon apologetics state that the theory has been disproved and is discredited and argue that "few historians—whether friendly or hostile to the truth claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)—believe that the historical data support the Spalding manuscript hypothesis."[1]

Spalding's works

Around 1812, Spalding completed a historical romance entitled Manuscript, Found which "purported to have been a record found buried in the earth".[2] Spalding moved to Pittsburgh and reportedly took Manuscript, Found to the publisher Patterson & Lambdin. Spalding died in 1816,[3] without Manuscript, Found being published.[4]

Oberlin Manuscript

An unfinished manuscript copy of a historical fiction by Spalding, written from 1809 to 1812, about a Roman discovery of the Americas exists, called the "Oberlin Manuscript" or "Honolulu Manuscript".[5] It is a historical romance "purporting to have been translated from the Latin, found on 24 rolls of parchment in a cave, on the banks of the Conneaut Creek". It tells of a Roman ship which discovers America.

In 1884, this manuscript, known as Manuscript Story – Conneaut Creek, was discovered and published, and the manuscript now resides at Oberlin College in Ohio.[6] Some authors claim it contains parallels in theme and narrative.[7][8][9]


This Spalding Manuscript is a fictional story about a group of Romans who, while sailing to England early in the fourth century A.D., were blown off course and landed in eastern North America. One of them kept a record of their experiences among eastern and midwestern American Indian tribes."[4]

Full Manuscript

An 1885 book printed by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church) said it contained the wording of the original, previously unpublished work, and was a "verbatim copy of the original now in the Library of Oberlin College. Ohio; including correspondence touching the Manuscript, its preservation and transmission until it came into the hands of the publishers."[10]

Hypothetical lost manuscript

Though the Oberlin manuscript, Manuscript Story – Conneaut Creek, is not the same story as 'Manuscript Found'",[11][2][12] Vernon Holley allegedly thought he found many similarities between the earlier manuscript and the Book of Mormon.[8][9] In 1977, graphologists claimed to have detected similarities between the handwriting of Spaulding and of one of the scribes who transcribed some of the Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith's dictation. After considerable media attention and further scrutiny, anti-Mormon spokespersons acknowledged that they had been too hasty. The handwriting evidence did not support a connection between Solomon Spaulding and Joseph Smith.

Similarity to Book of Mormon

In 1832, Latter Day Saint missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde visited Conneaut, Ohio, and preached from the Book of Mormon. Nehemiah King, a resident of Conneaut, who knew Spalding when he lived there, felt that the Mormon text resembled the story written by Spalding years before.

In 1833, Spalding's brother John and seven other residents of Conneaut signed affidavits stating that Spalding had written a manuscript, portions of which were identical to the Book of Mormon. Spalding's widow told a similar story, and stated that "the names of Nephi and Lehi are yet fresh in my memory, as being the principal heroes of his tale."[13] These statements were published in E. D. Howe's 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed.[14]

Historian Fawn Brodie expressed suspicion regarding these statements, claiming that the style of the statements was too similar and displayed too much uniformity. Brodie suggested that the witnesses had a "little judicious prompting."[15] (Despite her suspicions about these claims, Brodie, in her study of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, found him to be a fraud who “improvised” the Book of Mormon.)

In an article published in June 1834, the Hudson, Ohio Observer[16] printed interviews with some of the Conneaut witnesses.

Sidney Rigdon

Sidney Rigdon
Sidney Rigdon

The theory that Sidney Rigdon was the true author of the Book of Mormon first appeared in print in a February 15, 1831 article.[17] Rigdon's role as author was also proposed in an August 1831 article by James Gordon Bennett, who had visited the PalmyraManchester area and interviewed several residents.[18]

Rigdon's denial

In 1839, Rigdon published a letter to the editor in which he denied that he had anything to do with the creation of the Book of Mormon.[19] Rigdon acknowledged a "slight acquaintance" with publisher Robert Patterson, but denied any firsthand knowledge of a printing office. He emphatically denied any prior knowledge of Solomon Spalding or his manuscripts.

Later statements supporting the theory

In January 1841, Adamson Bentley gave a statement saying, "I know that Sydney Rigdon told me there was a book coming out (the manuscript of which had been found engraved on gold plates) as much as two years before the Mormon book made its appearance in this country or had been heard of by me."[20]

In 1873, Darwin Atwater gave a statement saying, in part: "That [Rigdon] knew before of the coming of The Book of Mormon is to me certain, from what he said the first of his visits to my father's some years before [at about the close of January 1827]." "He gave a wonderful description of the mounds and other antiquities found in some parts of America, and said they must have been made by the aborigines. He said there was a book to be published containing an account of those things.[21]

In 1879, Rebecca Eichbaum gave a statement connecting Rigdon to the Patterson & Lambdin printing office.[22] An 1816 notice in the Pittsburgh Commonwealth shows mail at the Pittsburgh post office for both Rigdon and Spalding.[23]

In 1884, Lorenzo Saunders gave an interview where he reportedly claimed that Peter Ingersoll introduced him to Sidney Rigdon in 1827.[24]

Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? by Robert Patterson, the son of the Patterson of Patterson and Lambdin book publishers, contains these statements and others by about 30 witnesses who knew the people involved in these events and stated that they knew the Spalding story to be true.[25]

Rigdon's grandson, Walter Sidney Rigdon, stated in an interview that the family knew that the "Golden Bible" was a hoax, contrived by Rigdon and Joseph Smith Junior, to make money and that it was based on the Spalding manuscript.[26]

J. H. Beadle's version of the theory

In the book Life in Utah[27] (1870) by J. H. Beadle, a version of the theory was presented with some additional details. Beadle states that in 1812, Spalding presented Manuscript, Found to a bookseller named Patterson in Pittsburgh, wishing to have it published as a "historical romance, to account for the settlement of America", and proposing to write a fictional preface describing "its having been taken from plates dug up in Ohio." Patterson declined, as he "did not think the enterprise would pay." Beadle states that Rigdon was then at work in the office of Patterson, who died in 1826. Spalding had died of tuberculosis in 1816, and apparently the manuscript had not been returned, because the subsequent fate of that copy of the manuscript was said by Beadle to be unknown. According to Beadle, Spalding's widow "had another complete copy, but in the year 1825, while residing in Ontario Co., N. Y., next door to a man named Stroude, for whom Joe Smith was digging a well, that copy was also lost. Mrs. Spalding thinks it was stolen from her trunk." Beadle’s story seems to be an abridgement of that in the 1855 book “The Mormons: Their Book, Prophets and Mysteries”. There, Rigdon was a journeyman printer for the publisher Patterson in Philadelphia. Spaulding brought the manuscript to Patterson, they could not come to terms as to its publication, and Spaulding left a copy with Patterson, who was intrigued with the story, and often read bits aloud to various people. Rigdon would sometimes borrow the manuscript, and read it to his co-workers for their amusement, though Rigdon was fascinated by its oddity, and protested it sounded vastly like truth, with all its absurdities. Rigdon obtained the manuscript when Paterson died in 1826.[28]

Reaction within the Latter Day Saint movement

Most Mormons give the Spalding–Rigdon theory little credence, believing that it has, as asserted by the Maxwell Institute, "fallen on hard times."[29]

In a paper titled "The Mythical 'Manuscript Found'", Matthew Roper concludes:

Whether one accepts the Spalding explanation or some other theory, one still has to explain not only if, but how Joseph Smith or any other candidate could write such a book, a point upon which critics have never agreed and probably never will agree. The Book of Mormon will always be an enigma for the unbeliever. The Latter-day Saint, of course, already has an explanation that nicely circumvents that puzzle. For those who are unwilling to believe Joseph Smith's explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon but who still cannot see the ignorant Palmyra plowboy as responsible for its contents, some variation of the Spalding theory with its mythical "Manuscript Found" may be the best fiction they can contrive.[29]

In 1840, Benjamin Winchester, a Mormon defender who had been "deputed ... to hunt up the Hurlbut case,"[30] published a book rejecting the Spalding theory as "a sheer fabrication." Winchester attributed the creation of the entire story to Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, one of Howe's researchers.[31]

Regarding Rigdon's alleged involvement, Rigdon's son John recounted an interview with his father in 1865:

"My father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with tears glistening in his eyes: 'My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story.'"[6]

Daniel C. Peterson contends that there is little or no evidence supporting the Spalding–Rigdon theory and that extensive evidence, including "very sophisticated statistical analysis," renders it "deeply improbable and only desperate necessity would ever have given rise to it in the first place. But the Spalding theory nonetheless limps on in certain circles."[32]

Peterson also argues that the Spalding–Rigdon theory must be placed in the larger historical context of the advent of Mormonism, asserting that "[e]ven so, it doesn't even begin to explain the Witnesses, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and a host of other matters."[32]

Computer analysis

Computer analyses of authorship of the Book of Mormon have resulted in conflicting results and dueling assertions about which methodologies yield the most reliable analyses.

Early wordprint or computer studies led by the Mormon Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research claimed the Spalding–Rigdon theory to have little support from such analysis.[33] A 1980 study done by Mormon John Hilton with non-Mormon colleagues at Berkeley concluded that the probability of Spalding having been the sole author of the First Book of Nephi was less than 7.29 x 10−28 and less than 3 x 10−11 for the Book of Alma.[34]

Jockers study

A 2008 Stanford study (Jockers et al.) of the text of the Book of Mormon compared it to writings of possible authors of the text showed a high probability that the authors of the book were Spalding, Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery. It concluded that "our analysis supports the theory that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple, nineteenth-century authors, and more specifically, we find strong support for the Spalding–Rigdon theory of authorship. In all the data, we find Rigdon as a unifying force. His signal dominates the book, and where other candidates are more probable, Rigdon is often hiding in the shadows".[35] The study did not include Smith as one of the possible authors, arguing that because of Smith's use of scribes and co-authors, no texts can be identified with a surety as having been written solely by Smith.

Mormon critics of the study have argued that this is a significant problem, claiming that a "naive application of NSC methodology" led to "misleading results" by Jockers et al. because they had used a closed set of seven authors for their study. In their own study (Schaalje et al., 2009), these critics from Brigham Young University found that an open set of candidate authors "produced dramatically different results from a closed-set NSC analysis."[36][37]

The Jockers study found a strong Spalding signal in the books of Mosiah, Alma, and Ether and the first half of the Book of Helaman. The Spalding signal was weak in those parts of the Book of Mormon likely produced after the lost pages incident (1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, some of the middle part of 3 Nephi, Moroni). They found the Rigdon signal distributed throughout the Book of Mormon (except for the known Isaiah chapters), and a weak Pratt signal in 1 Nephi. They also found a strong Cowdery signal in mid-Alma and weaker Cowdery signals in locations that contain content similar to Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews.

The study by the scholars of the Mormon university, also published in the Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing, critiqued the methodology used by Jockers et al. claiming that the closed set analysis forced the choosing of a winner while excluding the possibility that an author outside the closed set could be selected. By using Jocker's methodology to analyze the (known) authorship of the Federalist Papers by including and excluding Alexander Hamilton as a candidate author, Jockers's methodology picked Rigdon when Hamilton was excluded. Using Schaalje’s open-set method, Schaalje's method picked "none of the above" when Hamilton was excluded. When Hamilton was included, both Jockers's and Schaalje's method correctly picked Hamilton.[36][37]

By using Smith's personal writings written in his own handwriting, the Schaalje rebuttal concluded that stylometric evidence supports neither Smith nor Spalding–Rigdon authorship.[36]


  1. ^ Matthew Roper, and Paul Fields. "The Historical Case against Sidney Rigdon's Authorship of the Book of Mormon". Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Chase, Lance D. (1992), "Spaulding Manuscript", in Ludlow, Daniel H (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 1402–1403, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Reeve 1996
  7. ^ Norwood, L. Ara. "Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look". Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  8. ^ a b Vernal Holley; BOOK OF MORMON AUTHORSHIP: A Closer Look Enlarged 3rd edition (1992)
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ The 'Manuscript Story' of Reverend Solomon Spalding; or 'Manuscript Found', Lamoni, Iowa: RLDS Church, 1885, OCLC 8062295 – via Internet Archive
  11. ^ Shook, Charles Augustus (1914). The True Origin of the Book of Mormon. Standard Publishing Company. p. 71. Manuscript Story -- Conneaut Creek.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Howe 1834, p. 279
  14. ^ Roper 2005
  15. ^ Brodie 1971, pp. 446–47
  16. ^ (Masthead of Vlll:15 – June 12, 1834).
  17. ^
  18. ^ Bennett, James Gordon (31 Aug 1831), "Mormonism—Religious Fanaticism—Church and State Party", New York Courier and Enquirer, 7 (562) in Arrington, Leonard J. (1970), "James Gordon Bennett's 1831 Report on 'The Mormonites'", BYU Studies, 10 (3), archived from the original on 2013-10-21.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Patterson, Robert (May 3, 2017). Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? (Classic Reprint). Forgotten Books. ISBN 978-1332212057.
  26. ^ Beadle, J. H. (April 7, 1888). "The "Golden Bible"". The Salt Lake Daily Tribune. Retrieved February 8, 2018. Sidney Rigdon's Grandson Says Their Family Understood it to be a Fraud.
  27. ^ Beadle 1870
  28. ^ Beadle 1870, pp. 30–1
  29. ^ a b Roper, Matthew. "The Mythical "Manuscript Found"". Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  30. ^ Testimony of Benjamin Winchester, Nov. 27, 1900; accessed at[better source needed]
  31. ^ Winchester 1840, p. Title page
  32. ^ a b Peterson, Daniel. "Joseph Smith's account of the Restoration is difficult to counter". Deseret News. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  33. ^ For a history of such studies from the perspective of a Mormon group, see the article on Book of Mormon Wordprint Studies at the FAIR wiki.
  34. ^ John L. Hilton, "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, Noel B. Reynolds (ed.), (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), chapter 9.
  35. ^ Jockers et al., Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification, Literary and Linguistic Computing, December 2008.
  36. ^ a b c Schaalje, G. Bruce, Paul J. Fields, Matthew Roper, Gregory L. Snow. "Extended nearest shrunken centroid classification: A new method for open-set authorship attribution of texts of varying sizes." Literary and Linguistic Computing.
  37. ^ a b "Rebuttal to Jockers". Retrieved 28 April 2012.


External links

This page was last edited on 5 February 2021, at 00:30
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