View of the Hebrews
View of the Hebrews is an 1823 book written by Ethan Smith, a United States Congregationalist minister, who argued that Native Americans were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. This was a relatively common view during the early nineteenth century, as most Europeans and Americans had a view of history as biblical. 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 the content of View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon, which was first published in 1830, seven years after Ethan Smith's book.
Ethan Smith suggested that Native Americans were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel; this theory was held by many theologians and laymen of his day who tried to fit new populations into what they understood of Biblical history, which they felt encompassed the world. These tribes were believed to have 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 was inspired by 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 North 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
The Book of Mormon shares some thematic elements with View of the Hebrews. Both books quote extensively from the Old Testament prophecies of the Book of Isaiah; describe the future gathering of Israel and restoration of the Ten Lost Tribes; propose the peopling of the New World from the Old via a long sea journey; declare a religious motive for the migration; divide the migrants into civilized and uncivilized groups with long wars between them and the eventual destruction of the civilized by the uncivilized; assume that Native Americans were descended from Israelites and their languages from Hebrew; include a change of government from monarchy to republican; and suggest that the gospel was preached in ancient America.
Early Mormons occasionally cited the View of the Hebrews to support the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In the 20th century, non-Mormon scholars noted the parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon and suggested that Joseph Smith had used View of the Hebrews as a source in composing the Book of Mormon, or that he was at least influenced by the popular 19th-century ideas expounded in the earlier work. It is unknown if Joseph Smith had access to View of the Hebrews when he dictated the Book of Mormon; he did quote from View of the Hebrews in 1842.
Critics of the Latter Day Saint movement also noted that Oliver Cowdery, who later served as Joseph Smith's scribe for the Book of Mormon, lived in the same small Vermont town as Ethan Smith and may have attended the Congregational church where the latter was pastor for five years. The critics suggested that Cowdery may have passed on knowledge of the book to Joseph Smith. Larry Morris, a Mormon researcher, has argued that "the theory of an Ethan Smith–Cowdery association is not supported by the documents and that it is unknown whether Oliver knew of or read View of the Hebrews."
When in 1922 Mormon apologist B. H. Roberts was asked by church leaders to compare View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon, he produced a confidential report, later published as Studies of the Book of Mormon, that noted eighteen points of similarity.
Fawn M. 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 or over-emphasized.
A photographic reprint of the 1823 edition of View of the Hebrews was published by Arno Press in 1977. The text was published in 1980 by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, with an introduction by the latter. 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. Brigham Young University published an edition in 1996.
- "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.
- "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.
- Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2002), 60–64.
- Givens, American Scripture, 96–93.
- Bushman, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling, 2005, p. 96; Joseph Smith, "From Priest's American Antiquities," Times and Seasons (June 1, 1842) 3:813–15.
- Persuitte, Origins of the Book of Mormon, 105–06; Palmer, 59–60.
- Larry E. Morris, "Oliver Cowdery's Vermont Years and the Origins of Mormonism," BYU Studies 39:1 (2000).
- 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 Mormon authors, Roberts's 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. 309–64. Retrieved 2006-12-22. . After Roberts's death, copies were made of his report, which "circulated among a limited circle in Utah." (Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 47fn.)
- There has been debate about whether Roberts continued to affirm his faith in the divine origins of the Book of Mormon until his death in 1933. 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," but 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." Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 110–11. 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: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Fall 1993), 77–86; and "Reflections of LDS Disbelief in the Book of Mormon as History", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30 (Fall 1997), 87–97. 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." 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.
- "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 M. 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, 83–87, 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 argued that Joseph Smith quoted from View of the Hebrews and would not have brought it to the attention of his followers if he had plagiarized from the book. Joseph Smith, "From Priest's American Antiquities," Times and Seasons (June 1, 1842) 3:813–15.
- FARMS book review, Brigham Young University.
- 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.