View of the Hebrews
View of the Hebrews is an 1823 book written by Ethan Smith which argues that Native Americans were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes, a not uncommon view in the nineteenth century. Numerous commentators on Mormon history, from LDS Church general authority B. H. Roberts to Fawn M. Brodie, biographer of Joseph Smith, have noted similarities in content of this work and the Book of Mormon, first published in 1830.
Biography of Ethan Smith
Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith) was a New England Congregationalist clergyman. Born in 1762 into a pious home in Belchertown, Massachusetts, Smith abandoned religion following the early deaths of his parents. After a prolonged inner struggle, he joined the Congregational Church in 1781, and shortly thereafter began training for the ministry. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1790, though finding "but little of the spirit of religion there."
After serving congregations in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, Smith accepted an appointment as "City Missionary" in Boston and also served as a supply pastor for vacant pulpits. "He was a warm friend of what he accounted pure revivals of religion; though he was careful to distinguish the precious from the vile" in matters of religious experience. Smith enjoyed a "robust constitution and vigorous health" and continued to preach until within two weeks of his death. At eighty his sight "became very dim, and he was no longer able to read, though he never became totally blind. So familiar was he with the Bible and Watts, that it was his uniform custom to open the book in the pulpit, and give out the chapter and hymn, and seem to read them; and he very rarely made a mistake, to awaken a suspicion that he was repeating from memory."
Besides View of the Hebrews, Smith published A Dissertation on the Prophecies (1809), A Key to the Figurative Language of the Prophecies (1814), A View of the Trinity, designed as an answer to Noah Webster's Bible News (1821), Memoirs of Mrs. Abigail Bailey, Four Lectures on the Subjects and Mode of Baptism, A Key to the Revelation (1833), and Prophetic Catechism to Lead to the Study of the Prophetic Scriptures (1839). Ethan Smith died in Royalston, Massachusetts in 1849.
Smith lived in Poultney, Vermont, the same town as Oliver Cowdery, who later served as Joseph Smith's scribe for the Book of Mormon. Ethan Smith also pastored the Congregational church that Cowdery's family attended from 1821 to 1826 while he was writing View of the Hebrews.
The first edition of Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews was published in 1823, and a second expanded edition appeared in 1825. Ethan Smith's theory, held by many theologians and laymen of his day who based history on the Bible, was that Native Americans were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who had disappeared after being taken captive by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE. Terryl Givens calls the work "an inelegant blend of history, excerpts, exhortation, and theorizing."
Smith's speculation took flight from a verse in the apocryphal 2 Esdras 13:41, which says that the Ten Tribes traveled to a far country, "where never mankind dwelt"—which Smith interpreted to mean America. During Smith's day, speculation about the Ten Lost Tribes was heightened both by a renewed interest in biblical prophecy and by the belief that the aboriginal peoples who had been swept aside by European settlers could not have been the same as the ancient people who created the sophisticated earthwork mounds found throughout the Mississippi Valley and southeastern North America. Smith attempted to rescue Indians from the contemporary myth of mound builders' being a separate race by making the indigenous people "potential converts worthy of salvation."
"If our natives be indeed from the tribes of Israel," Smith wrote, "American Christians may well feel, that one great object of their inheritance here, is, that they may have a primary agency in restoring those 'lost sheep of the house of Israel.'"
Comparison with Book of Mormon
Several authors have noted parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. In 1922 B.H. Roberts (1857–1933), a prominent LDS apologist and historian, was asked by the LDS Apostle James E. Talmage to answer a non-believer's five critical questions. He produced a confidential report that summarized eighteen points of similarity between the two works. In a letter to LDS Church president Heber J. Grant and other church officials, Roberts urged "all the brethren herein addressed becoming familiar with these Book of Mormon problems, and finding the answer for them, as it is a matter that will concern the faith of the Youth of the Church now as also in the future, as well as such casual inquirers as may come to us from the outside world."
Roberts' list of parallels included:
- extensive quotation from the prophecies of Isaiah in the Old Testament;
- the Israelite origin of the American Indian;
- the future gathering of Israel and restoration of the Ten Lost Tribes;
- the peopling of the New World from the Old via a long journey northward which encountered "seas" of "many waters;"
- a religious motive for the migration;
- the division of the migrants into civilized and uncivilized groups with long wars between them and the eventual destruction of the civilized by the uncivilized;
- the assumption that all native peoples were descended from Israelites and their languages from Hebrew;
- the burial of a "lost book" with "yellow leaves;"
- the description of extensive military fortifications with military observatories or "watch towers" overlooking them;
- a change from monarchy to republican forms of government; and
- the preaching of the gospel in ancient America.
Roberts continued to affirm his faith in the divine origins of the Book of Mormon until his death in 1933. As Terryl Givens has written, "a lively debate has emerged over whether his personal conviction really remained intact in the aftermath of his academic investigations."
Fawn Brodie, the first important historian to write a non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith, believed that Joseph Smith's theory of the Hebraic origin of the American Indians came "chiefly" from View of the Hebrews. "It may never be proved that Joseph saw View of the Hebrews before writing the Book of Mormon," wrote Brodie in 1945, "but the striking parallelisms between the two books hardly leave a case for mere coincidence."
A number of Mormon apologists have argued that the parallels between the works are weak, over-emphasized, or non-existent.
- "Although not predominant, the lost tribes theory did appeal to religious thinkers eager to link Indians to the Bible. From the seventeenth century onward, both Christians and Jews had collected evidence that the Indians had Jewish origins." Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 96.
- William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1866), II, 296–300.
- Palmer, 59-60.
- See View of the Hebrews (1825).
- "Although not predominant, the lost tribes theory did appeal to religious thinkers eager to link Indians to the Bible. From the seventeenth century onward, both Christians and Jews had collected evidence that the Indians had Jewish origins. Jonathan Edwards Jr. noted the similarities between the Hebrew and Mohican languages. Such Indian practices as 'anointing their heads, paying a price for their wives, observing the feast of harvest' were cited as Jewish parallels. Besides Edwards, John Eliot, Samuel Sewall, Roger Williams, William Penn, James Adair, and Elias Boudinot expressed opinions or wrote treatises on the Israelite connection." Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 96.
- Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 161.
- 2 Edras 13.
- Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2004), 123.
- View of the Hebrews, 248.
- Roberts was ranked the greatest intellectual in Mormon history in surveys by LDS scholars Leonard Arrington in 1969 and Stan Larson in 1993. Leonard J. Arrington, "The Intellectual Tradition of the Latter-day Saints", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Spring 1969), 13-26; Stan Larson, "Intellectuals in Mormonism: An Update", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Fall 1993), 187-89.
- According to LDS authors, Roberts' study was intended to "preempt criticisms that could be leveled at the Book of Mormon." Ashurst-McGee, Mark (2003). "A One-sided View of Mormon Origins". FARMS Review (Maxwell Institute) 15 (2): pp. 309–364. Retrieved 2006-12-22.. After Roberts' death, copies were made of his report, which "circulated among a limited circle in Utah." (Fawn McKay Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 47fn.) Part of Roberts' manuscript was published in 1956 in the Rocky Mountain Mason. The complete text was published in 1980 by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, noted anti-Mormons. In 1985 a scholarly edition of the work was published by University of Illinois Press, and a second edition was published by Signature Books in 1992.FARMS book review, Brigham Young University.
- December 29, 1921 in Studies of the Book of Mormon, 47. See Brigham D. Madsen, "Reflections on LDS Disbelief in the Book of Mormon as History", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30 (Fall 1997), 87-89. Concerning the Book of Mormon accounts of three anti-Christs in Nephite America, Roberts wrote that they "are all of one breed and brand; so nearly alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and undeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator." Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, 271.
- Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2002), 60–64.
- Truman D. Madsen and John W. Welch, Did B. H. Roberts Lose Faith in the Book of Mormon?(Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1985), 27. According to Jack Christensen, less than a month before Roberts died, he told Christensen that Ethan Smith had "played no part in the formation of the Book of Mormon."
- Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 110–111. For the view that Roberts found View of the Hebrews so disturbing that he abandoned his faith, see Brigham D. Madsen, "B. H. Roberts' 'Studies of the Book of Mormon,'" Dialogue 26 (Fall 1993), 77-86; and "Reflections of LDS Disbelief in the Book of Mormon as History", Dialogue 30 (Fall 1997), 87-97.
- "Bernard DeVoto considered it Brodie's distinction 'that she has raised writing about Mormonism to the dignity of history for the first time.'" Givens (2002), By the Hand of Mormon, 162.
- Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, 2nd. ed.,(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 46-47.
- Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 83-7, and n.a., A Sure Foundation: Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1988), 69-71. John W. Welch, "An Unparallel" (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1985) is an essay listing 84 differences. Spencer J. Palmer and William L. Knecht, "View of the Hebrews: Substitute for Inspiration?"], BYU Studies 5/2 (1964): 105-13. Apologists have also pointed out that Smith quoted from View of the Hebrews, stating that if he had plagiarized from it, he would not have brought it to his audience's attention. Joseph Smith, Jr., "From Priest's American Antiquities," Times and Seasons (June 1, 1842) 3:813–815.
- Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, ed. Charles D. Tate Jr., 2nd ed. (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1996).
- Smith, Ethan (2002). View of the Hebrews 1825. Colfax, Wisconsin: Hayriver Press. ISBN 1-930679-61-0.
- View of the Hebrews, 1823 first edition
- View of the Hebrews, 1825 edition
- Biography of Ethan Smith
- LDS Maxwell Institute Review of "View of the Hebrews", Mormon apologetics.
- LDS Maxwell Institute Yet More Abuse of B. H. Roberts, Mormon apologetics.
- LDS Maxwell Institute B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon, Mormon apologetics.