Criticism of the Book of Mormon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

The Book of Mormon, published in 1830 by American religious leader Joseph Smith, has been the subject of criticism relating to its origin, text, and historical accuracy. This article is an attempt to categorize the types of criticism that have been made.

Ancient origin[edit]

No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.

George Q. Cannon,[1]

Critics reject Smith's explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was originally an ancient native-American record written on golden plates, and that God gave him the power to translate it into English. Critics note that there is no physical proof of the existence of golden plates; Smith said that the angel Moroni reclaimed the plates once he had completed the translation. Smith acquired affidavits from 11 men, known as the Book of Mormon witnesses, claiming that they had been shown the plates; their testimony is typically published at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. While none of these men ever retracted their statement, critics nevertheless discount these testimonies for varying reasons, primarily because most of these men were closely interrelated.

Critics deny that the Book of Mormon is of ancient origin. In 1834 a publication by Eber D. Howe claimed that Smith had plagiarized an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding, a theory that has been generally rejected in the 20th century.[2][3][4] Critics today have varying theories about the true authorship of the Book of Mormon, but most conclude that Smith composed the book himself, possibly with the help of Oliver Cowdery, drawing from information and publications available in his time, including the King James Bible,[5][6] The Wonders of Nature,[7][8] and View of the Hebrews.[9][10][11]

Text and language[edit]

Joseph Smith provided a sample of "reformed Egyptian" characters. Critics assert this language was merely Smith's invention.

Critics view the language patterns, phrases, and names in the Book of Mormon as evidence that it is not authentic.

Joseph Smith claimed that he translated the Book of Mormon from a language called Reformed Egyptian. It is said that archaeologists and Egyptologists[citation needed] have found no evidence that this language ever existed. However, Hugh Nibley, in a book entitled "Teachings of the Book of Mormon" (a transcription of lectures he gave on The Book of Mormon) on page 13 states "And at the very same time, the priests who used to be in the former royal court at Napata fled farther to Meroe. There they produced a new type of Egyptian at this time which was Meroitic (I've got a picture of it here). When you compare the Anthon transcripts with Meroitic, it's very impressive. In fact, Brother Bushman back at Brown University (which is one of the four universities in the country where Egyptian has always been a big thing), showed them the Anthon transcript, and Parker immediately recognized them as Meroitic. He said, "They're the closest thing you can get to Meroitic." ... This is the new Egyptian which was invented way up the Nile, way up in Meroe, which is even south of Napata. That's the Nubian kingdom. It's very interesting that so many Book of Mormon names come from way up there."

"Furthermore, the Book of Mormon implies that at least some native Americans came from the Jerusalem area; however, Native American linguistic specialists have not found, so far to date, any native American language that appears to be related to languages of the ancient Near East.[citation needed]

Critics[citation needed] claim that language patterns in the Book of Mormon indicate that it is merely a repetition of rhetorical patterns found in the Old Testament. They point out that the Book of Mormon contains many words and phrases that are not consistent with the time frame or location of the stories included in the book.

Supporters point out the interesting elements of the creation drama that turn up in temple, tomb, or coffin texts from ancient Egypt that is described in detail in the Book of Mormon as the coronation of King Mosiah long before these ancient texts were understood by Egyptologists.[12]

Supporters of the Book of Mormon note its repeated use of chiasmus—a figure of speech utilizing inverted parallelism—and claim it is evidence to support the book's ancient origin. Critics[citation needed] argue that while chiasmus appears in short form within ancient classical works of Rome, the complex stylization of these passages found in the Book of Mormon is more similar to that found in works of the Renaissance and into the 18th/19th centuries.[citation needed]

Some critics theorize that Smith derived the account of the golden plates from treasure-hunting stories of William Kidd. Critics base this theory on the similarity of the names from Smith's account—Moroni and Cumorah—to the location Moroni, Comoros, related to Kidd's hunt for treasure. Apologists argue that it was unlikely that Smith had access to this material since at the time of the writing and publishing of the Book of Mormon his family were living in backwoods America, were very poor and there was no public library available to read such a book.[13][not in citation given]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Critics discredit the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon. They note various issues, including anachronisms, geographical inconsistencies, and lack of genetic evidence.


Critics point out that the Book of Mormon contains references to various plants and animals (horses, swine, etc.) that did not exist in the Americas at the time of the story. Critics also point out that the Book of Mormon contains references to various technologies (chariots, steel, etc.) that did not exist in the Americas at the time of the story.

Apologists offer varying views on these anachronisms, typically countering them in one of two ways. One claim is that archaeological evidence may exist that has not yet been found. Another is that Joseph Smith used English words in a generic way, sometimes referring to an item other than that which the direct English word would imply.


Map showing the possible lands and sites of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica (speculative)

Critics point out that there are many inconsistencies and implausibilities in the story of the Israelites coming from the Mid-East to the Americas, and in the geographical descriptions of the lands in the Americas in which the stories take place.

Native Americans and genetics[edit]

The Book of Mormon suggests that the Native Americans are descended from people who came to the Americas by boat from the Middle East. However, scientists have used techniques involving genetic markers to conclude that Native American genes are of East Asian, not Middle Eastern in origin. Apologists argue that the Middle Eastern genes in Native Americans may have been diluted beyond what can now be detected; there is currently no way to verify this claim with genetic evidence.

Divine nature of the book[edit]

Egyptologists' translations of these fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri do not coincide with Smith's translation.

Critics reject the belief that the Book of Mormon is of divine origin; they discredit the book's divine origin by discrediting Joseph Smith. Critics point out that Joseph Smith also translated the Book of Abraham. Unlike the Book of Mormon, fragments of the documents from which Smith translated the Book of Abraham are available for inspection; Egyptologists find no resemblance between the original text and Smith's translation, casting doubt on Smith's claimed divine gift of translation.

Supporters point out that the Church has never claimed that the fragments of papyri which include facsimile 1, 2, and 3 are where Joseph Smith obtained his material for the Book of Abraham. These fragments are from the Egyptian Book of the Dead which was just one of the scrolls from Egypt that Joseph Smith had in his possession. When these fragments were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum many years ago, Hugh Nibley wrote a book called "The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, An Ancient Egyptian Endowment" showing how the fragments that had been discovered had nothing to do with the Book of Abraham but everything to do with Egyptian funeral texts from "The Book of the Dead".

Critics also discredit the divine origin of the Book of Mormon by noting the numerous revisions that have been made to the text.[9][10][14][15][16][17]

Though most changes are small spelling and grammar corrections,[18] critics claim that even these are significant in light of Smith's claims of divine inspiration.[19] Critics assert that some of these changes were systematic attempts to hide the book's flaws.[20][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “The Twelve Apostles,” in Andrew Jenson (ed.), The Historical Record, 6:175.[year needed]
  2. ^ Howe, Eber D (1834), Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, p. [page needed] 
  3. ^ Spaulding, Solomon (1996), Reeve, Rex C, ed., Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding" Manuscript, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, p. [page needed], ISBN 1570082979, OCLC 37469063 
  4. ^ Roper, Matthew (2005), "The Mythical "Manuscript Found"", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, BYU) 17 (2): 7–140, retrieved 2014-01-13 
  5. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 72
  6. ^ Tanner 1987, pp. 73–80
  7. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 68
  8. ^ Tanner 1987, pp. 84–85
  9. ^ a b Brody, Fawn (1971), No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (2nd ed.), New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p. [page needed] 
  10. ^ a b Krakauer, Jon (2003), Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, New York: Doubleday, p. [page needed] 
  11. ^ Roberts, Brigham H. (1992) [1985], Madsen, Brigham D., ed., Studies of the Book of Mormon (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City: Signature Books, p. [page needed], ISBN 1-56085-027-2, OCLC 26216024 
  12. ^ Nibley, Hugh; Rhodes, Michael D; Lyon, Michael P (2009), One Eternal Round, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, pp. 112–113, ISBN 9781606412374, OCLC 465330437 
  13. ^ Lowe, Bob (1998), 1900's, "A Brief History of Palmyra", (Town & Village of Palmyra, NY), "In 1899, the Palmyra King’s Daughters Free Library was begun as a reading room. Two years later (1901) the library was chartered as a lending library and has remained so until the present." 
  14. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 73
  15. ^ Beckwith, Francis (2002), The New Mormon Challenge, Zondervan, pp. 367–396, ISBN 0-310-23194-9 
  16. ^ Cowan, Marvin (1997), Mormon Claims Answered, [publisher missing], p. [page needed] [ISBN missing]
  17. ^ There have been numerous changes to the text of the Book of Mormon between the 1830 edition and modern LDS editions, almost four thousand changes according to one count by Jerald and Sandra Tanner; see: Tanner 1996, Introduction.
  18. ^ The majority of these changes are spelling and grammar corrections; see: Changes to the Book of Mormon, "All About Mormons", (Russell Anderson) .
  19. ^ Critics claim that even changes in spelling and grammar are important when considering the claims concerning the translation which were made by Joseph Smith and the witnesses to the book. Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was "the most correct of any book on earth," and Martin Harris said that the words which appeared on the seer stone would not disappear until they were correctly written; see: Tanner 1980, p. 132.
  20. ^ Some critics claim that some revisions are systematic attempts to remove evidence that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon, and other revisions were made to hide embarrassing aspects of the church's past; see: Abanes 2003, p. 59–80.
  21. ^ Tanner 1987, pp. 50–96


Further reading[edit]