Spalding–Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship
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theory of Book of Mormon authorship is the theory that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized in part from an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding. This theory first appeared in print in the book Mormonism Unvailed [sic], published in 1834 by E. D. Howe. The theory claimed that the Spalding manuscript was at some point acquired by Sidney Rigdon, who used it in collusion with Joseph Smith 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 the 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—believe that the historical data support the Spalding manuscript hypothesis."
- 1 Spalding's works
- 2 Sidney Ridgon
- 3 Later statements supporting the theory
- 4 J. H. Beadle's version of the theory
- 5 Reaction within the Latter Day Saint movement
- 6 Computer analysis
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Solomon Spalding (1761–1816) was the author at least two related texts: the unfinished but extant Manuscript Story – Conneaut Creek, and the finished (but lost) Manuscript, Found, an unpublished historical romance about the lost civilization of the mound builders of North America.
Manuscript Story – Conneaut Creek
From 1809 to 1812, Spalding worked on a historical fiction about a Roman discovery of the Americas. An unfinished manuscript copy of this work exists, called the "The Oberlin Manuscript" or "Honolulu Manuscript". 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. Witnesses reported that Manuscript Story – Conneaut Creek bore "no resemblance to 'Manuscript Found'".
In 1884, a Spalding manuscript known as Manuscript Story was discovered and published, and the manuscript now resides at Oberlin College in Ohio. This manuscript appears to bear little resemblance to the Book of Mormon story, but some critics claim it contains parallels in theme and narrative. The second "lost" manuscript purported to exist by Howe has never been discovered.[original research?]
Around 1812, Spaulding completed a historical romance entitled Manuscript, Found which "purported to have been a record found buried in the earth". Spaulding moved to Pittsburgh and reportedly took Manuscript, Found to the publisher Patterson & Lambdin. Spaulding died in 1816. Manuscript, Found was never published and is now a lost work.
The plot of Manuscript, Found told "of the first settlers of America, endeavoring to show that the American Indians are the descendants of the Jews, or the lost tribes. It gave a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem, by land and sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of NEPHI and LEHI. They afterwards had quarrels and contentions, and separated into two distinct nations, one of which he denominated Nephites and the other Lamanites. Cruel and bloody wars ensued, in which great multitudes were slain. They buried their dead in large heaps, which caused the mounds so common in this country."
Manuscript, Found was written "in scripture style of writing". Readers recalled its repetitive usage of phrases like "and it came to pass" or "now it came to pass", as well as the repeated phrase "I Nephi".
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." These statements were published in E. D. Howe's 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed.
Historian Fawn Brodie expressed suspicion regarding these statements, claiming that the style of the statements was too similar and displayed too much uniformity. Brodie suggests that the witnesses had a "little judicious prompting."
The theory that Sidney Rigdon was the true author of the Book of Mormon first appeared in print in a February 15, 1831 article. Ridgon's role as author was also proposed in an August 1831 article by James Gordon Bennett, who had visited the Palmyra–Manchester area and interviewed several residents.
In 1839, Rigdon published a letter to the editor in which he denied the theory that he had anything to do with the creation of the Book of Mormon. Ridgon 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."
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.
In 1879, Rebecca Eichbaum gave a statement connecting Rigdon to the Patterson & Lambdin printing office. An 1816 notice in the Pittsburgh 'Commonwealth shows mail at the Pittsburgh post office for both Rigdon and Spalding.
J. H. Beadle's version of the theory
In the book Life in Utah (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."
Reaction within the Latter Day Saint movement
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.
In 1840, Benjamin Winchester, a Mormon defender who had been "deputed ... to hunt up the Hurlbut case," 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.
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.'"
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."
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."
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 Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research claimed the Spalding–Rigdon theory to have little support from such analysis. 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.
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". 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. Critics of the study have argued that this is a significant problem, demonstrating 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. Another study (Schaalje et al., 2009) showed that an open set of candidate authors "produced dramatically different results from a closed-set NSC analysis."
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.
Jockers et al., in the peer-reviewed publication in the Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing, reviewed the (non-peer reviewed) Hilton study and pointed out numerous flaws in it. Jockers et al. found that the Book of Alma is a mixture of Rigdon, Cowdery, and Spalding. The Hilton study does not indicate what text they used for Alma. If one lumps all the signals for Rigdon, Cowdery, and Spalding together, one is left with a corrupt signal that does not match Spalding.
The Schaalje peer-reviewed study, also published in the Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing, critiqued the methodology used by Jockers et al. in their 2008 study by noting numerous problems, including the closed set analysis that 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.
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.
- 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.
- Reeve 1996
- Norwood, L. Ara. "Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look". Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
- Howe 1834, p. 279
- Roper 2005
- Brodie 1971, pp. 446–47
- (Masthead of Vlll:15 – June 12, 1834).
- 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).
- Beadle 1870
- Beadle 1870, pp. 30–1
- Roper, Matthew. "The Mythical "Manuscript Found"". Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
- Testimony of Benjamin Winchester, Nov. 27, 1900; accessed at http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/1900winc.htm[better source needed]
- Winchester 1840, p. Title page
- Peterson, Daniel. "Joseph Smith's account of the Restoration is difficult to counter". Deseret News. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jockers et al., Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification, Literary and Linguistic Computing, December 2008.
- 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.
- "Rebuttal to Jockers". Retrieved 28 April 2012.
- Beadle, J H (1870), Life in Utah or the Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism, being an expose' of the Secret rites and ceremonies of the Latter Day Saints, with a full and authentic history of polygamy and the Mormon sect from its origin to the present time, Phildelaphia, PA: National Publishing Company.
- Brodie, Fawn M (1971), No Man Knows My History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-679-73054-0.
- Cowdrey, Wayne (2005). Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. ISBN 0-7586-0527-7..
- Howe, Eber D (1834), Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press.
- Roper, Matthew (2005), "The Mythical "Manuscript Found"", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 17 (2): 7–140, retrieved 2007-01-31.
- Spaulding, Solomon (1996), Reeve, Rex C, ed., Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding" Manuscript, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, ISBN 1-57008-297-9.
- Winchester, Benjamin (1834), The origin of the Spalding story, concerning the Manuscript Found; with a short biography of Dr. P. Hulbert, the originator of the same; and some testimony adduced, showing it to be a sheer fabrication, so far as in connection with the Book of Mormon is concerned. By B. Winchester, minister of the gospel, Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, Printers.
- Vogel, Dan (1998), Early Mormon Documents (Vol. 2), Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-093-0.
- Cowdrey, Davis, Vanick research on Spalding-Rigdon theory
- Spalding Studies
- Craig Criddle's analysis of Spalding-Rigdon connections
- Spalding's "Manuscript Story" and parallels
- A fragment comparing Sidney Rigdon's biography with a known passage from Solomon Spalding
- An article criticizing the Spalding-Rigdon theory
- LDS Church historian Bruce D. Blumell response to Spalding-Rigdon theory
- Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look