Criticism of Mormon sacred texts

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The standard works of Mormonism—the largest denomination of which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)—have been the subject of various criticisms. Latter-day Saints believe the Book of Mormon is a sacred text with the same divine authority as the Bible; both are considered complimentary to each other. Other Mormon sacred texts include the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants, which are also recognized as scripture. Religious and scholarly critics outside Mormonism have disputed Mormonism's unique scriptures, questioning the traditional narrative of how these books came to light and the extent to which they describe actual events. Critics cite research in history, archeology, and other disciplines to support their contentions.

Book of Mormon[edit]


There are several theories as to the origin of the Book of Mormon. Most adherents of Mormonism view the book as a work of inspired scripture. The most common theory accepted by adherents is that promoted by Joseph Smith, who said he translated the work from an ancient set of golden plates inscribed by prophets. Smith said he discovered these near his home in Palmyra, New York, in the 1820s after being told to go there by the angel Moroni and translated them "by the gift and power of God". Besides Smith himself, there were 11 witnesses who said they physically saw the plates in 1829 (three stating they were visited by an angel as well). Several other witnesses, some of them friendly to Smith and some hostile, observed him dictating the text that eventually became the Book of Mormon.

Nevertheless, critics have explored a number of issues, including (1) whether Smith actually had golden plates, or whether the text of the Book of Mormon originated in his mind or through inspiration; (2) whether it was Smith himself who composed the book's text, or whether an associate of Smith's such as Oliver Cowdery or Sidney Rigdon could have composed the text; and (3) whether the book was based on a prior work such as the View of the Hebrews, the Spalding Manuscript, or the Bible.

A painting of Joseph Smith Jr. receiving the golden plates from the angel Moroni.

Existence of golden plates[edit]

Two separate sets of witnesses—a set of three and a set of eight—testified as having seen the golden plates, the record from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Critics, including Jerald and Sandra Tanner and the Institute for Religious Research (IRR), note several pieces of evidence that, they argue, call into question the authenticity of the experience. These include letters and affidavits in which Martin Harris stated that the Eight Witnesses never saw the plates, and that his own witness was more spiritual than physical. Additionally, each of the Three Witnesses (Harris, Cowdery, and David Whitmer) left the church during Smith's lifetime and considered Smith to have been a fallen prophet. Harris[1] and Cowdery[2] later returned to the church. However, the IRR disputes the sincerity of their conversion and return.[3]

Apologists note that the witnesses in most cases affirmed their witness until their death, and claim that the aforementioned affidavits and letters are either fraudulent, or otherwise not reliable. In 1881, Whitmer, the one witness who never returned to the church, issued an affidavit reaffirming his testimony of the experience.[4]


Richard Abanes, the Tanners, and others state that Smith plagiarized the Book of Mormon, and that it is therefore not divinely inspired.[5][6][7] Alleged sources include View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith (published 1823, seven years before the Book of Mormon); The Wonders of Nature by Josiah Priest (published in 1826, four years before the Book of Mormon); the Bible; and the Apocrypha. LDS Church leaders Bruce R. McConkie and Spencer W. Kimball counter that repetition from previous texts validates the Book of Mormon because it shows God's consistency and equal revelation to all peoples and fulfills prophecy. Moreover, they argue that warnings need be repeated in the face of ageless problems.[8][9][10]


The Book of Mormon purports to be a record of an ancient Israelite migration to the New World. The question of whether it is an actual historical work or a work of fiction has long been a source of contention between members of the Latter Day Saint movement and non-members. For most adherents of the movement, Book of Mormon historicity is a matter of faith. For others, its historicity is not accepted, and specific claims made in the Book of Mormon have been questioned from a number of different perspectives. Critics of the historical and scientific claims of the Book of Mormon tend to focus on four main areas:

Within the Latter Day Saint movement, there have been many apologetical counter claims attempting to reconcile these apparent discrepancies. Among those apologetic groups, a great deal of research has been done by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), and Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR), in an attempt to either prove the veracity of Book of Mormon claims, or to counter arguments critical to its historicity.


Since the introduction of the Book of Mormon in 1830, both Mormon and non-Mormon archaeologists have studied its claims in reference to known archaeological evidence. Latter Day Saints generally believe that the Book of Mormon describes historical events; however, the existence of the civilizations and people described in the Book of Mormon is not accepted by mainstream historians or archaeologists.

The Book of Mormon contains an account of peoples who, in succeeding groups between 2500 BC [19] and 600 BC, traveled from the Middle East and settled in the Americas. Evangelical lecturer and journalist Richard Abanes and author David Persuitte argue that aspects of the Book of Mormon narrative (such as the existence of horses, steel, and chariots in pre-Columbian America) are not supported by mainstream archaeology.[20][21][22] Apologist Michael R. Ash, of FAIR, counters that obtaining archaeological evidence to prove or disprove specific ancient events is difficult.[23] Joseph Allen, along with other LDS scholars, have found sites in Mesoamerica that they believe may represent ancient Book of Mormon cities.[24] John L. Sorenson does not dispute that other peoples may have been present in the Americas concurrent with Book of Mormon peoples (see limited geography model).[25]


A traditional Mormon hypothesis of the origin of Native Americans is that they are descended solely from Hebrews in Jerusalem. Scientist Yaakov Kleiman, Mormon anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy, and ex-Mormon molecular biologist Simon Southerton argue that this hypothesis is inconsistent with recent genetic findings,[26][27][28] which show the genetic origins of Native Americans to be in Central Asia, possibly near the Altay Mountains. FARMS counters that testing and drawing generalizations from this hypothesis alone is an overly simplistic approach, and that the resulting conclusions would not stand up under peer review.[29] In addition, the traditional Mormon hypothesis under test may itself be based on assumptions unsupported by the Book of Mormon narrative (see limited geography model).

Writing in FARMS, apologist David A. McClellan concludes it is not probable that "the genetic signature of a small migrating family from 2,600 years ago" can be recovered.[30]


Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner and Marvin W. Cowan contend that the Book of Mormon's use of certain linguistic anachronisms (such as the Americanized name "Sam"[31] and the French word "adieu"[32]) provide evidence that the book was fabricated by Joseph Smith, rather than divinely inspired.[33] [34] In addition, Richard Abanes argues that because the first edition of the Book of Mormon contained hundreds of grammatical errors (removed in later editions), the book was therefore fabricated by Smith and not divinely inspired.[35]

Book of Abraham[edit]

Facsimile No. 1 from the Book of Abraham
Extant papyri showing original vignette considered the source of Facsimile 1. Note the lacuna, or missing portions of the vignette.

The Book of Abraham differs from the other Mormon sacred texts in that some of the original source material has been examined by independent experts.

The Institute for Religious Research and the Tanners claim that Smith fraudulently represented the Book of Abraham, part of the church's scriptural canon, as a divine document.[36][37] Richard and Joan Ostling note that non-Latter Day Saint scholars have concluded that translations of surviving papyri which they believe are portions of the source of the Book of Abraham are unrelated to the content of the book's text.[38] Joseph Smith states he came into the possession of several Egyptian papyri, from which he claimed to translate the Book of Abraham,[39][40] part of the modern Pearl of Great Price. The papyri were lost for many years, but in the late 1960s, portions of the papyri were discovered. The extant papyri, as well as the facsimiles preserved by Smith in the Pearl of Great Price, have been translated by modern Egyptologists, and have been conclusively shown to be common Egyptian funerary documents unrelated to the content of the Book of Abraham.[41] Mormon scholars Michael D. Rhodes and John Gee came to the same conclusion, but argue that Smith may have been using the papyri as inspiration.[42]

General statements by Egyptologists[edit]

Sometime in 1856, Theodule Deveria, an Egyptologist at the Louvre, had the opportunity to examine the facsimiles published as part of the Book of Abraham.[43] His interpretation, juxtaposed with Smith's interpretation, was published in T. B. H. Stenhouse's book The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons in 1873.[44] Additionally, later in 1912, Reverend Franklin S. Spalding sent copies of the three facsimiles to eight Egyptologists and Semitists soliciting their interpretation of the facsimiles, the results of which were published in Spalding's work Joseph Smith, Jr. As a Translator. Deveria, and each of the eight scholars immediately recognized the facsimiles as portions of ordinary funerary documents, and some harshly condemned Smith's interpretation, as shown below:

Egyptologist Dr. James H. Breasted, of the University of Chicago noted:

these three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the "Pearl of Great Price" depict the most common objects in the Mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith's interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.[45]

Dr. W. M. Flinders Petrie of London University wrote: "It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations"[46]

Dr. A. H. Sayce, Oxford professor of Egyptology: "It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud.... Smith has turned the goddess [Isis in Facsimile No. 3] into a king and Osiris into Abraham."[47]

Doctrine and Covenants[edit]

Unlike the other Mormon scriptures, the Doctrine and Covenants does not purport to be an ancient manuscript, but is instead composed of revelations received by modern prophets and other documents of instruction to church members. There has been criticism of apparent revision, omission and addition of material in it.

In 1876, Sections 101 from the 1835 edition (and subsequent printings) was removed. Section 101 was a "Statement on Marriage" as adopted by a conference of the church,[48][49] and contained the following text:

Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.[50]

It was superseded by section 132 of the modern LDS edition, which contains a revelation received by Smith on eternal marriage and teaches the doctrine of plural marriage.

In 1921, the LDS Church removed the "Lectures on Faith" portion of the book, with an explanation that the Lectures "were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons".[51] The Lectures contain theology concerning the Godhead and emphasize the importance of faith and works.

Until 1981, editions of the book used code names for certain people and places in those sections that dealt with the United Order. The 1981 LDS edition replaced these with the real names, relegating the code names to footnotes. The Community of Christ edition still uses the code names.

Some of the material in the Doctrine and Covenants relates to the production of the Book of Mormon, for which see above.

Joseph Smith Translation and Book of Moses[edit]

The LDS Church includes Joseph Smith–Matthew (an extract from Smith's revision of the Gospel of Matthew) and the Book of Moses (an extract from Smith's revision of the Book of Genesis) as part of the Pearl of Great Price. However, it has not canonized the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible in its entirety. The entire translation is, however, used by the Community of Christ. Several critics[52] and linguists[52] have noted areas where the translation appears to have been faulty. In 2017 BYU professor Thomas Wayment and graduate student Haley Wilson announced they had discovered a textual dependence of the Joseph Smith Translation on a popular 18th century bible commentary by Adam Clarke.[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Millennial Star, 6 February 1882, p. 87.
  2. ^ The Return of Oliver Cowdery - Maxwell Institute Papers Archived 2007-10-13 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Facts On The Book Of Mormon Witnesses — Part 1".
  4. ^ "An Address," 27, in EMD, 5: 194.
  5. ^ Abanes 2003, pp. 67–75
  6. ^ Tanner 1987, pp. 84–85
  7. ^ Persuitte 2000, pp. 155–172
  8. ^ McConkie, B.R. (1966). Mormon Doctrine. Deseret Book: Salt Lake City.
  9. ^ Kimball, S.W. (Apr., 1976). Ensign, p. 6.
  10. ^ Kimball, S.W. (1981). President Kimball Speaks Out, p. 89.
  11. ^ Citing the lack of specific New World geographic locations to search, Michael D. Coe, a prominent Mesoamerican archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University, writes (in a 1973 volume of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought): "As far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing [the historicity of The Book of Mormon], and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group".
  12. ^ 1 Nephi 18:25
    LDS scholars think that this may be a product of reassigning familiar labels to unfamiliar items. For example, the Delaware Indians named the cow after the deer, and the Miami Indians labeled sheep, when they were first seen, "looks-like-a cow."
    John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 294. ISBN 1-57345-157-6 Archived April 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ a b c d 1 Nephi 18:25
  14. ^ Ether 9:19
  15. ^ 1 Nephi 4:9
  16. ^ Alma 18:9
  17. ^ Lyle Campbell. 1979. "Middle American languages," The Languages of Native America: Historical and Comparative Assessment. Ed. Lyle Campbell and Marianne Mithun. Austin: University of Texas Press. Pages 902-1000.
    Lyle Campbell. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford University Press.
    Jorge Súarez. 1983. The Mesoamerican Indian Languages. Cambridge University Press.
  18. ^ The traditional view of the Book of Mormon suggests that Native Americans are principally the descendants of an Israelite migration around 600 BC. However, DNA evidence shows no Near Eastern component in the Native American genetic makeup. For example:
    Simon G. Southerton. 2004. Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church. Signature Books. The entire book is devoted to the specific topic of DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon. "...[T]he DNA lineages of Central America resemble those of other Native American tribes throughout the two continents. Over 99 percent of the lineages found among native groups from this region are clearly of Asian descent. Modern and ancient DNA samples tested from among the Maya generally fall into the major founding lineage classes.... The Mayan Empire has been regarded by Mormons to be the closest to the people of the Book of Mormon because its people were literate and culturally sophisticated. However, leading New World anthropologists, including those specializing in the region, have found the Maya to be similarly related to Asians. Stephen L. Whittington...was not aware of any scientists 'in mainstream anthropology that are trying to prove a Hebrew origin of Native Americans....Archaeologists and physical anthropologists have not found any evidence of Hebrew origins for the people of North, South and Central America.'" (pg 191)
    Defenders of the book's historicity suggest that the Book of Mormon does not disallow for other people groups to have contributed to the genetic makeup of Native Americans;[citation needed] nevertheless, this is a departure from the traditional view that Israelites are the primary ancestors of Native Americans, and therefore would be expected to present some genetic evidence of Near Eastern origins. A recently announced change in the Book of Mormon's introduction, however, allows for a greater diversity of ancestry of Native Americans. See, for example, the following Deseret News article published on November 9, 2007: Intro Change in Book of Mormon Spurs Discussion
  19. ^ Sacred Sites: Searching for Book of Mormon Lands. by Joseph L. Allen Published: October 2003 p.8
  20. ^ Abanes 2003, pp. 74–77
  21. ^ Wolverton, Susan (2004), Having Visions: The Book of Mormon : Translated and Exposed in Plain English, Algora, pp. 84–85, ISBN 0-87586-310-8
  22. ^ Persuitte 2000, pp. 102
  23. ^ Ash, Michael R. "Archaeological Evidence and the Book of Mormon". [1]. Accessed 7 December 2007.
  24. ^ Sacred Sites: Searching for Book of Mormon Lands. by Joseph L. Allen Published: October 2003
  25. ^ John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1985).
  26. ^ Kleiman, Yaakov (2004), DNA and Tradition: The Genetic Link to the Ancient Hebrews, Devora, p. 88, ISBN 1-932687-13-0
  27. ^ Southerton, Simon G. (2004), Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-181-3
  28. ^ Murphy, Thomas W. "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics Archived 2013-10-21 at the Wayback Machine." In Vogel, Dan and Brent Metcalfe, eds. American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon Salt Lake City: Signature, 2002: 47-77. ISBN 1-56085-151-1
  29. ^ Whiting, Michael F (2003), DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective Archived 2007-06-30 at the Wayback Machine, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, at 24–35.
  30. ^ McClellan, David A., [2], Detecting Lehi's Genetic Signature: Possible, Probable, or Not? Farms Review, Volume 15, Issue 2, Pp. 35–90, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2003.
  31. ^ 1 Nephi 2:5,17
  32. ^ Jacob 7:27
  33. ^ Beckwith, Francis (2002), The New Mormon Challenge, Zondervan, pp. 367–396, ISBN 0-310-23194-9
  34. ^ Cowan, Marvin (1997), Mormon Claims Answered
  35. ^ Abanes 2003, pp. 73
  36. ^ Larson, Charles M. (1992), His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, Institute for Religious Research, ISBN 0-8024-1234-3
  37. ^ Tanner 1979, pp. 329–363
  38. ^ Ostling, Richard and Joan Mormon America, pp.278-85
  39. ^ Joseph Smith stated in his History of the Church, "with W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. — a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them". History of the Church, Vol. 2, Ch. 17, p. 236.
  40. ^ Smith additionally stated that he, "was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients." History of the Church, Vol. 2, Ch. 17, p. 238
  41. ^ Tanner 1979, pp. 329–362
  42. ^ Michael D. Rhodes and John Gee, Interview on KSL Radio on January 29, 2006 and Michael D. Rhodes, "I Have a Question", Ensign, July 1988, pp. 52–53.
  43. ^ Larson 1985, pp. 25
  44. ^ Stenhouse 1878, pp. 510–519
  45. ^ Spaulding n.d., pp. 26–27
  46. ^ Spaulding n.d., p. 24
  47. ^ Spaulding n.d., p. 23
  48. ^ History of the Church, vol. 2, at 247 (August 1835)
  49. ^ Messenger and Advocate (Aug 1835), at 163
  50. ^ Doctrine and Covenants [1835 Edition] 101:4
  51. ^ See Introduction, 1921 edition.
  52. ^ a b Examples: 5 books published by the Lighthouse Ministry: Inspired Revision of the Bible, and Kevin Barney, The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19:3 (Fall, 1986): 85-102}
  53. ^ Thomas A. Wayment and Haley Wilson-Lemmon, “A Recovered Resource: The Use of Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary in Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,” in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, eds. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 262–84.


External links[edit]

LDS Standard Works
Apologetic websites
Critical websites