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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.
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 In 1834 a publication by Eber D. Howe claimed that Smith had plagiarized an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding, a theory that has been generally rejected in the 20th century. 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, The Wonders of Nature, and View of the Hebrews.
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 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.
Critics 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.
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 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.
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.[not in citation given]
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.
|This section requires expansion. (February 2011)|
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.
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.
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".
Though most changes are small spelling and grammar corrections, critics claim that even these are significant in light of Smith's claims of divine inspiration. Critics assert that some of these changes were systematic attempts to hide the book's flaws.